More people than ever before are changing jobs, or at least thinking about it. To help you decide, says Dan Zigmond, contemplate the nature of change.
The global pandemic that began in 2019 has upended almost every facet of our lives, from our health to our homes, from our sustenance to our livelihood. An initial wave of job losses in 2020 became a wave of job leaving in 2021. But whether we lost our job or quit our job or tried to stay the course, the way we approach our working life has fundamentally changed.
Teaching 2,500 years ago, the Buddha had a lot to say about change. He called it annica, or impermanence, and listed it among the three fundamental marks of all existence. Everything that exists, he told us, is subject to change. As hard as we might look, we will never find anything that does not change. The Buddha said that understanding this is an integral part of living an awakened life. Nothing lasts forever, and our jobs are certainly no exception.
This may sound like bad news. Stability can be comforting, at work and everywhere else. Many of us have an instinctive fear of change, and this can lead to real suffering. We fear losing what we have, not getting what we want, or getting what we don’t want—all of which are forms of change. And changing jobs can be among the scariest changes many of us have to face.
Yet I think when we understand the ubiquity of change, it becomes a bit less frightening. If everything is always changing, that means we’re experiencing change all the time. It’s nothing extraordinary or unusual. It’s nothing new. Change is just the normal course of human life, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.
When we contemplate leaving a job, for example, we often think of this as a choice between changing or not changing. But if we understand the Buddha’s teaching of impermanence, then that is not really the choice we face at all. Change is everywhere, so we are never choosing between change or no change. We are just choosing between different sorts of change.
Rather than asking ourselves if we want to change jobs, we can start asking ourselves how we want our jobs to change. The change itself is a given. The only question is what that change will look like and how we might influence the change we see.
That doesn’t necessarily make the decision to leave a job an easy one. At times, it might even make it harder!
After all, if we assume our current job will stay the same, then we’re choosing between the known and the unknown. But when we acknowledge that change is everywhere, we’re always choosing between two unknowns. Our job will change whether it’s a new job or the one we already have. How can we possibly know we’re making the right choice?
We can’t. One of the many lessons of this pandemic is that the future is always uncertain. I didn’t know anyone in 2019 who predicted that 2020 would turn out the way it did. Or predicted correctly in 2020 what 2021 would be like. We’ve come face-to-face with life’s uncertainty. Yet while this uncertainty can be frightening, it also lets us off the hook. We can never know the future. That’s a given. So we make the best decisions we can, but we can’t be expected to predict every possible outcome. We will make mistakes, and that is okay.
Meditation can help. Buddhists believe that seeing things clearly is always preferable to living in an illusion, and meditation helps us develop this skill of seeing the world as it really is. This is what mindfulness is all about. I think of it a little like cleaning my glasses each morning. Mindfulness is the practice of seeing clearly and paying attention—paying attention to the world around us as it actually exists, rather than as we might wish it was.
If you’re trying to decide whether to leave your job or not, try to look at your options as clearly and thoroughly as you can. Be honest with yourself. What kinds of changes might these new opportunities bring? What sorts of change might you experience in your current job? And how much of the change you’re looking for is really about your job anyway? Many of us suffer in our work, and yet often our job is not the root cause of that suffering. Do we need to dig deeper to find the change we really need? Do we need a different sort of change altogether?
If you already have a new job—whether by choice or by chance—try to notice what is changing and what is not. How does the change you’re experiencing in the new job differ from the changes you experienced before? What hasn’t changed in the way you thought it might?
Even if you haven’t left your job and have no plans to, notice how it, too, is changing. For some of us, this pandemic has felt at times like an endless loop, where every day is exactly the same. Yet the Buddha tells us that change is everywhere, even in this seeming monotony. If we’re not seeing the change, we’re not looking hard enough. Try looking harder.
The ancients had a saying that we can never step into the same river twice. The same could be said of every office, warehouse, factory, or store. No place of work truly stays the same. Every day we are doing a different job. It doesn’t matter if we have a new title, new boss, new employer—or nothing new at all. Every day is our first day.