Should I stay or should I go?
As the end of 2014 approaches with expectations for bonuses and promotions being made, the million-dollar question starts lurking in the back of everyone’s mind:
Should I stay or should I go ?
If you missed the promotion along with some zeroes in your bonus, should you tough it out for another year, join a competitor, or leave the industry altogether ?
Maybe you should just be grateful that you have a job.
Well it turns out, the decision is actually quite easy to make once you consider the right things and think about the big picture. You’ll also have to ignore the fears, anxiety, or doubts that can cloud your judgment. It starts by understanding three things: value, scarcity, and something called the dip.
Anyone who is in a position to hire you, promote you, or recommend you will wonder if you are the best in the world.
Not the best among 7 billion people on this planet, but best as in what they believe, what they know right now, and how you match up. World means within their budget, availability, pool of candidates, and resources. This definition is selfish because it’s based on their situation, not yours.
But if you are the best in the world you command a premium - think Noma, Jiro Ono, or Andrew Hall. Premium comes from scarcity, which is the secret to value. Within investment banking it’s the scarcity of salespeople with the right client relationships, bankers that bring in deal flow, or client advisors that bring in large AUMs for wealth management.
But scarcity doesn’t just show up on it’s own, it’s created through something called the dip. The dip is a temporary setback of situations that will get better if you keep pushing through.
Sometimes it can take months, but often it will take years.
In the investment community, the CFA is a recognized credential that sets people apart whether you are an equity analyst, salesperson, or fund manager. It requires passing three levels of the exam, hundreds of dollars, and a few years of relevant work experience to put that title on your business card, email signature, and resume.
With less than half of the candidates passing each level of the exam, there is scarcity and value that’s eventually recognized by going through this dip. But if you quit on Level 2, it isn’t worth the time, money, and energy - you might as well never have started in the first place.
To become the best in the world you must not only survive the dip, but also use it as an opportunity to hone your craft and create something so exceptional that people in the industry can’t help but talk about it, recommend it, and choose it.
It’s the equity analyst that’s at the top of the pack in Institutional Investor, star banker that brings in landmark deals, or fund manager that always outperforms the market. Because the vast majority of rewards go to those in the top, what’s the point in sticking out if you’re not going to be the best in the world?
More importantly, how do you know if the dip you are going through has light at the end of the tunnel or if it’s just a dead end ? Both situations feel the same when you’re stuck in the office working 100 hours a week. So here is the litmus test:
Is the pain of the dip worth the benefit of the light at the end of the tunnel ?
When you feel like quitting your job, recognize that you have two good choices: quit or be exceptional. If you have no desire to be number one, you might as well quit now because average is the path of least resistance.
It is much easier to be mediocre than it is the confront reality and quit. Finding the courage is easier said than done, so most people just suck it up and try to average their way to success. But having that mindset never leads to exceptional performance. It wastes your time, misdirects your energy, and certainly won’t get you that promotion.
In my situation, seeing new regulations such as Dodd-Frank, lower industry margins, and a more competitive landscape - the long-term prospects just didn’t add up for me. It was the same theme echoed by industry veterans whether they were clients, colleagues, or competitors - the good old days wouldn’t be coming back.
When you compare that sentiment to newer industries with long-term growth potential such as e-commerce, mobile ecosystems, or cloud computing - it’s a no-brainer why new graduates are flocking to Silicon Valley instead of Wall Street.
But there’s one more thing that usually keeps people from leaving - pride.
Pride keeps people in the same career years after it has become unattractive and no fun (as what happened to me). It’s the same pride that keeps a restaurant open long after it is clear that business is not going to pick up.
If pride is the only thing keeping you from quitting and there’s no dip to go through, you’re likely wasting an enormous amount of time and energy defending something that will heal pretty quickly.
But if you enjoy what you do, use it to become the best in the world, to change the game and set the agenda for the market. Gather up all your resources to put a dent in the world and become exceptional.
On the other hand, if quitting is going to be a strategic decision that enables you to make better life choices, you should outline a quitting strategy before the discomfort sets in.
Decide when and under what conditions you will quit, not when you are in the middle of it or part of you is begging to quit, because that’s when you make bad decisions. Use it as a competitive tool and assault the dips that really matter, whether it’s joining a new company, new industry, or switching careers entirely.
If it scares you it might be a good thing to try, because pushing the limits of your comfort zones is the only way to grow and learn.
Terry Lin is the founder of #BALLER Leather a boutique leather accessories company that offers 100% handmade travel wallets, card holders, and ultra-slim minimalist wallets. You can find him @itsmeterrylin on Twitter or email email@example.com.