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Are You Betraying Yourself if Your Career Values Change?

By Paige Kassalen

When I started my career, I valued three things: promotions, salary bumps and being recognized as a top performer.

I associated any successes in my career with accomplishing those three things. It was an easy and tangible way to measure my growth and feel confident that I was working towards my overarching goals. But as I get further and further into my career, I’ve realized that achieving those three things doesn’t always equal success.

This begs the question: are we betraying ourselves if our career values change?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently when presented with new opportunities. For example, is it worth taking a new job for a 15% salary bump, if it also requires you to work an extra 20 hours a week?

According to my mentality when I started my career, any salary bump was a career success; but when thinking through this scenario, I realized that I might value having enough time away from work much more than a 15% raise.

It is scary to turn down a new job with a raise because it can feel like we are betraying ourselves or lacking ambition. But are we?

This is why things get a bit murky as we progress in our careers. We can no longer define success based on what we valued in our early 20s. Instead, we need to be comfortable letting ourselves and our values grow. This is easier said than done, so if you are struggling to accept that your career values are changing, remember these three things:

1. Your values haven’t changed, but they’ve expanded

Do I still want to receive promotions, salary bumps and be recognized as a top performer? Absolutely! The only difference is that I’ve realized that I value other things as well. Adding more attributes to the list of things I value is driven by a greater appreciation for myself, my time and my abilities.

If we look at the scenario above, a 15% bump for 50% more work means we are reducing the hourly value of our time and efforts. Saying no to an offer like that is not being complacent or not being open to the idea of working hard — it is being aware of the value we bring and wanting to be properly compensated for it.

Values that I have added to the list of things that now define my career success are: being a part of organizations with strong company culture; generous paid time off; leaders that serve the organization vs. make demands; and efforts for diversity and inclusion. If my career is not moving towards more organizations and roles with these attributes, then I could not consider a promotion or salary bump as a success.

2. Your fears are derived from your imposter syndrome

One of the scariest things I’ve done was decline a job offer while I had nothing else lined up. I was finishing up my masters and was offered a job with a prestigious company. The problem was that it came with an average salary and required that I move to a small, rural town. Even though the company was prestigious, this was not what I wanted for my next step.

I decided to decline the offer with nothing else lined up.

It is easy to look back on this decision now and realize it was the right move, but at the time it was terrifying. A million questions were flooding into my head — what if I can’t find a better job? What if I can’t find any job? Am I overestimating my value? Am I being dramatic about the location?

This was the imposter syndrome kicking in. I thought I always wanted to work for that company, so was I betraying my early career values by saying “no”? In those moments when you have ambiguity in your career, you start worrying about the possibilities of failure.

Don’t let yourself be consumed with these fears, though. Recognize it as imposter syndrome, and saying “no” to the wrong opportunities gives you the chance to say “yes” when the right ones pop up!

3. It is your life, so live it the way you want

Are you betraying yourself if your career values change? The answer surprisingly isn’t yes or no. The answer is actually “who cares!” We only have one life to live, and we want to live that life making the best moves for ourselves to ensure we are happy and fulfilled.

I’ve had many friends take major career pivots, go back to school for new fields, and completely start over. The result from each of these scenarios is that the person is happy.

It is much better to be honest with yourself about your career goals and how they are changing as you gain more experience, because it is easier to take two steps back now than 10 steps back later, if you realize you are on the wrong path.

Over the course of your career, your values are bound to change. It can be scary to welcome these changes with open arms because you do not want to feel like you’re betraying yourself. Remember that your values aren’t changing, they are just expanding, any fears you have are derived from imposter syndrome, and it is your life, so live it the way that will make you feel fulfilled!


Paige Kassalen

Paige Kassalen loves to put her creativity to use by solving problems in emerging technical fields, and has been an IEEE member since 2012. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech in 2015, Kassalen began her career with Covestro LLC. in 2015, and soon became the only American engineer working with Solar Impulse 2, the first solar-powered airplane to circumnavigate the globe. This role landed Kassalen a spot on the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list along with feature articles in Glamour, Fast Company and the Huffington Post. After Solar Impulse, Kassalen has helped Covestro and JPMorgan Chase develop and implement strategies to embrace a range of emerging technology trends from autonomous vehicles to machine learning. In 2020, Kassalen received a Master of Information Systems Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University and now uses her problem-solving skills at an artificial intelligence startup, CrowdAI, where she leads the implementation of computer vision solutions for existing commercial customers.

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