Dear Shannon: Should I switch companies or just my CSR job?

Dear Shannon

Dear Shannon: Should I switch companies or just my CSR job?

Greener pastures image by Anneka via Shutterstock.

Dear Shannon is a career advice column for sustainability professionals and wanna-be professionals. If you have a question for Shannon, send it to [email protected].

Dear Shannon,

This is quite a broad question, so please bear with me. Lately, I've been reading about happiness projects, happiness skills and the happiness economy, which has made me think about my career. At the moment, I'm running community investment programs for a solar energy company in Oslo. As much as I think I love my job, I wonder if I could be happier in another company or even in another role within CSR. How can I decide if I need to jump ship now, later or stay put?

-- Jaz, Oslo

Hello Jaz,

One of my favorite quotes is from Dale Carnegie: "It isn't what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about."

When I work with clients on their career change decisions, I try to help them unpack the difference between the perceived reality of what a job change might look like and the reality of actually making that change: what it would feel like sitting at a new desk, in a new job, with new colleagues.

Sometimes our craving for something new and unknown is what keeps us from feeling happy with what we have. But while it is important to resist the urge for change simply for change's sake, it is equally important to continue challenging ourselves in order to grow professionally, and thereby feel happy.

Weighing the balance on this decision requires careful handling. I'd advise you to do a reality check on your dream of doing something else, somewhere else. First, identify your options if you were to move: Would it be to an equivalent position at another company, to a different position within your current company, or a different position at a new company? Do a job search for each scenario and see if anything appeals to you. If it does, make contact with the employer and monitor your own reaction. What feelings come up? Perhaps do some research on the companies through their website and social media to visualize what it would be like to work there, warts and all.

Greener pastures image by Anneka via Shutterstock.

Define your values

Whether you decide to make the move or stay put, it could be useful to define your values. Start by identifying your intrinsic values or life stance (i.e. multiculturalism, environmentalism, etc.). Your personal intrinsic value can be your ethical ideal.

Wikipedia explains this well: "Happiness has intrinsic value, while having a family may not have intrinsic value, yet be instrumental, since it generates happiness."

Mapping out the values that drive your decision-making and thoughts is an important step to ensuring that your work achievements and the company culture support you. I like to get clients to map out their Top 5 values in context of what they need from the company or team to make sure that their personal values are aligned with the culture in which they are working.

Then you need to map your extrinsic values and what they're based on. These are the physical or abstract objects you value as means of achieving something else. You may value money as a way to pay for a day of sitting on a beach. Or your bicycle may have extrinsic value as a way of getting exercise, in turn making you happier. But we need to balance money (extrinsic) with the value of making a difference (intrinsic).


Identify new ways that you personally can "create shared value" within your sphere of influence. It has been proven that if we have close, trusting personal relationships and camaraderie, our happiness levels go up. You could take steps to nurture new connections by joining professional networks related to your passions or build on old ones by stepping up to lead a volunteering day at the office. Try this experiment: Map out how you will share more, collaborate more and connect with other humans more, then implement your plan during the next three weeks. In the fourth week, review your progress. Are you any happier? If so, what worked?

Stay motivated

Whether you venture out for new opportunities or hunker down to challenge yourself in your current role, finding ways to tap into online tools that are aligned with your values and your work will keep you motivated and inspired on a daily basis. Don't forget to share these, too.

I subscribe to the DailyGood, which has wonderful, real-world stories of people stretching the boundaries to make a social and community difference. A recent insight was that "Happiness is a skill." So fill your head (and heart) with spirited, motivating and positive stories and insights that inspire you both personally and professionally. Social media also can help you identify someone in your professional circle with whom you can develop a mentoring relationship. We all need mentors to bounce ideas off, give us perspective and help us stay motivated in our career journey.

Pick a problem

If, however, you come to the conclusion that only greener pastures will fulfill you, then ensure that you get to know the current market.

At the moment, the sustainability jobs market is decreasing its need for generalists and instead is seeking niche experts in specific areas, such as renewables, water, waste or human rights.

Your success in winning a new role hinges very much on aligning three core concepts:

• What you are great at
• What you love doing
• What the market needs
Find where these intersect and link it to a niche environmental or social problem that you can make your mission to fix, even if just in incremental steps.

Mine is "getting the right people into the right jobs" because I saw so many hiring mistakes and so many candidates reacting to their career rather than driving it forward. It's not an easy job, but as succinctly put by a recent Harvard Business Review blog, "The happiest people pursue the most difficult problems."

According to them, the three primary sources of motivation in high-innovation companies are mastery, membership and meaning, which links back well to the three core concepts I outlined above.

The challenges you face in finding personal sustainability within a sustainability job are common ones that can be overcome with mindful, proactive behavior: first try changing your thinking and behaviors, and if that doesn't work, look at changing your job.

But don't be beguiled by the mystery of the unknown -- sustainable happiness is a long-term endeavor, and mystery -- while thrilling at first -- can wear off quickly.