Career Counseling: Rational probability analysis leads to long term career happiness

Jerry wanted to leave his career path. He worked in a relatively large company in the Hartford, Connecticut area in a business analyst role.  He had an all too typical career path: hired out of college in the early 2000s – pre Great Recession – he thought he would work for his current company for a few years and then move on to something else.  

As 2008’s economic collapse rolled around, Jerry clung tightly to his job. His company weathered the storm better than others.  But his view that he could simply move on at will had shifted.  He had become more security oriented after watching some of his friends struggle through periods of unemployment.  He also understood – correctly – that the world of jobs had become scarcer so the likelihood that he could move to something else as he had envisioned had also lowered.  

Jerry also understood – profoundly – that he had become increasingly unhappy at work and that he could not foresee becoming happier in his company.  His salary had also plateaued. If anything, he thought he would become unhappier and, given the more mercurial fortunes of the economy, unemployed soon enough. 

Jerry also had a solid idea for a business, a friend who was willing to make the jump with him, and enough savings that he would not go broke for at least one year. He had “considered” starting the business for the last several years. He was too afraid of failure.  His friend urged him to come see me for career counseling.   

Jerry was a math guy by training.  His business analyst position started due to his statistics background. I told him that I would provide a statistics lesson that might change his life.

Jerry said that he knew he would continue making $100,000 (it was a bit more but we’ll round the numbers) until his position/department/company ended (bad) or continue doing so for decades (which he found more depressing).

In his calculations, I pointed out that he had a 90% chance of making 100k this year, 85% the year after, 80% the year after etc. The lower percentage was due to the likelihood that there would be an economic disruption that would lead to unemployment.  I also pointed out that if/when his position ended, he would be making 0 (recognizing some unemployment and not including severance which his company was not giving except in rare cases).

Further, in his calculations, he had a 100% (or close) chance of being unhappy in the present and based on his views a 100% (or close) chance of staying unhappy (and likely even unhappier in the future.)

Jerry agreed with that analysis.

Jerry’s friend had two friendly clients lined up whenever the business started.  Jerry had three potential clients in mind.  We did the calculations – assuming two of the five clients did not come through – and concluded that Jerry would have a 90% chance of earning at least $50,000 year 1 (50k was important because it represented what he believed he needed to pay his bills).  Of course, that meant he had a 10% chance of earning less than $50,000. That was what was stopping him.

Jerry agreed that if he survived year 1, the likelihood that he would earn more money would increase greatly as he would build on his client base, be better at marketing, and be using his energy fully to build the business.

I also showed him that he would likely be making as much if not more money in his business by year 3 and, more importantly, be on probability track towards success as opposed to his downward tracking probability in his current job.

Here’s the lesson: 

The probability of earning 100k each year at his job would be decreasing each year and the probability of earning 100k in his business would be increasing each year.  Due to his mathematical way of viewing the world, Jerry’s expression immediately shifted.  He got it! 

Jerry’s happiness analysis had an even happier outcome.  If his company survived the first year, he believed he would have a 90% chance of happiness (as opposed to his 100% chance of unhappiness at his current job).

Jerry went through this analysis with me three years ago and credited our meeting with compelling him to start the business.  He recently wrote me an e-mail thanking me for my probability lesson because he was incredibly happy.  And, by the way, he added, “I made $175,000 last year.”