The great thing about a question like this is that it presupposes so many things. I mean the easiest answer could be I decided to change jobs when I was fired. But there’s always more to the story than that, isn’t there? Also, which jobs are we talking about? We’re no longer in the age of being a “company man” where you live and die within a singular corporate structure. We’re a long way from Tennessee Ernie Ford’s stylized hero.
If I look at my career history in relation to the question of how did I decide to change, one of the things I notice right off is that I may have had no choice in most of them. I wasn’t fired often, and never for cause, but in most cases when I left a job it was because the job itself ended. When I was working in the film industry, when the film ended, so did my gig. We used to laugh that when we were working, we had all the money but no time, and when we were between shoots, we had all the time, and no money.
But in the spirit of the question, let’s take a look and see if we can’t find specific times and places when I decided to change. Like when I was working for an independent producer (whose name escapes me now) on a Monday in the middle of January one year. I heard her on the phone, laughing with another producer how she hadn’t expected him to be working on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Her exact wording was “that n***er’s holiday.” That was also my last day working for her. I never went back.
In other times, changing jobs was a matter of finding something better, which paid more, had more advancement potential, or was in a different city. I once left a gig as a paste-up/designer for a weekly paper called the Argonaut because they wouldn’t give me the time off for a week-long theatre gig. So, there you have it, really. I always prioritized my creative work over my day job. And when the two overlapped, all the better, certainly.
At the same time, I’ve (almost) never done just one thing. I’ve been a professional writer for many years, even if I wasn’t a full-time one. No matter what else I was doing, I was always writing. In this way, there was always the fallback, always the option to trade out one of the jobs for something more suitable.
When I worked for the Groundlings, which was only on weekends, I tried to make sure whatever else I was doing, I was free on Friday and Saturday nights. My blood pumped for theatre, for performance.
In general though, the time to change jobs is when the job no longer fulfills a purpose for you. You don’t always have to love it. In fact, that’s a great myth, that “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” There are a lot of things wrong with that statement, but the biggest problem is that it implies that if you do something you don’t love, you’re somehow selling out, or not living up to your potential or whatever. No. I refute that. But what I will say is that while you don’t have to do what you love, you should always try to love what you do.
When I worked at Borders on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, there were times when I’d have to work in the café. I was working in there one day with a girl named Amy and we were singing and dancing while we made various beverages. This one octogenarian smiled at us and she said to me, quietly, “you must really love what you do.”
“No, ma’am,” I responded. “But they don’t pay me enough to be able to hate it.”
I’ve been fairly lucky in that regard. No, I’ve never made huge amounts of money, but I’ve always been able to find the fun and enjoyment in what I was doing. When you get to that point, where the money isn’t good enough to make you want to stay regardless of anything else, or when you’re not able to find any fun in it, to me, that’s the time to change jobs.