Let me tell you about Ty.
Ty's young, smart, and dynamic. I've known him for about six months; we met when he initially reached out to say he enjoyed my writing (along with a request for advice), and we hit it off immediately. Ty holds a great management position for one of the major tech companies in San Francisco (he's been there for three years), and he loves his job.
But his most recent email didn't surprise me at all. In it, he confessed:
"I'm thinking about leaving."
You see, Ty's side project is a start-up that's begun gaining traction. Additionally, he has lofty writer aspirations (he's highly capable of reaching them), and he's afraid of spreading himself too thin--so he was curious to hear my thoughts.
If you read my column, you know I'm a big proponent of using emotional intelligence (EI), the ability to recognize and understand emotions, to help guide decision making. EI (also referred to as EQ, Emotional Intelligence Quotient) can help prevent emotions from getting in the way of rational thinking--especially helpful regarding a decision like this, which will greatly affect the course of your life.
Of course, there's no "right" or "wrong" decision for Ty; it all depends on what he really wants.
So, here's the advice I gave him:
Happy to hear all the great developments in your career. I can understand the temptation to leave [your company]; sounds like you've got a great thing going with [your startup].
My two cents: I'd advise making a short-term goal for remaining at [your current company].
Years ago, I had the privilege of working at an awesome non-profit organization that had a really standout culture. I wanted to make sure I made the most of my time there, so I sought advice from my manager, who had become a great mentor. He talked about how he had seen many come and go without taking advantage of the experience, although there were so many opportunities to learn.
He then advised that I make a short-term goal (whether a few months, a year, or more) to give me focus and a structured way to continually re-evaluate where I was.
As you've mentioned, you're learning a lot in your current role. And the experience you're gaining will only better prepare you for going full-time with [your startup]. Try taking a step back to think it through and decide what you really want to do, and then make a goal in connection with [your current company]. That might mean another two years to make a full five [with the company], or maybe it means just three more months. Either way, force yourself to commit to a time, and then re-evaluate when that time comes. Use that focus to help you make the most of the time you have left.
Of course, you'll learn loads once you go full-time with [your startup], too. They'll just be different lessons. ;)
You're going to do some great things and I look forward to hearing more from you. Keep it up and we'll be in touch.
The key is to not make a hasty decision. We've all had moments where we're inspired and ready to leave to build something great ourselves, or when we're discouraged and ready to just "get out" as quickly as possible.
It's helpful to recognize the value of these emotions and consider them in making a decision; however, it's dangerous to allow those emotions to make the decision for you.
I've said it before; I'll say it again: Be proactive. Not reactive.
How did it work out for me? I made an initial goal of staying with the non-profit for a year. Once I hit that, I made another goal to reach five years. After the five, I took things one year at a time.
In the end, I ended up spending 13 great years working for a stellar organization.
I learned so much from a number of outstanding mentors--including that excellent advice I received on an otherwise ordinary day, so long ago. Those mentors didn't just shape my career, they shaped my personality.
Five years ago, I left that non-profit and ended up building my own company. (That's a whole other story.)
I've learned countless invaluable lessons from that experience as well: There's nothing quite like becoming your own marketing, sales, and accounting departments--and no better teacher than failure.
Putting It into Practice
Which path will you take?
If you're thinking of leaving for something new, I recommend taking a step back and making a specific, time-bound goal. (Remember, it doesn't have to be long.) Once you reach it, re-evaluate. Above all, make the most of whatever time you have left.
Then, use that experience and go do something great.