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Constraints are the things that limit our ability to choose. They are about what’s important and necessary in life. What they are and the order that we look at them is a very personal decision.

In my experience, the most critical constraints that need to be considered are money, work-life balance, geographic limits on where we are willing to go, and ethical limits. In your case, you may feel other ideas are more important. What is absolutely clear is that constraints depend on where you are along life’s journey.

  • Show me the money!

Financial or economic issues are important and anyone looking for a job or a career change ought to carefully think through their financial needs. For me, the key point here is how much you need, not how much you want or what can you get.

I put the emphasis on needs because I do not think that money should be the prime motivation for choosing a job although it is important to have enough. 

Many people think about financial rewards as a kind of scorekeeping system which allows them to keep track of how well they are doing relative to their past and peers. I find this way of thinking superficial at best. I recommend that you do not dwell too much on how much you have been making in the past as this may limit your process of thinking about what to do. 

If instead, you look at what you really need, you can come up with very different career options which still keep food on the table but also allow you to develop new skills or pursue something you are truly passionate about.

In my own life, I took a very substantial pay cut when I left the business world for a job in Academia and have never regretted the move.

  • Work-Life Balance

In addition to looking at your professional options, I urge you to consider the people around you and your shared future.

When I was growing up my father would change jobs every three to five years and usually, our family would follow him at the end of the school year. I did essentially the same thing during an important part of my own life and in hindsight, it was an unfortunate choice.

Some jobs require a certain kind of lifestyle or commitment and it is important to know your limits before you even consider them. What is important is to include the kind of balance you seek between your professional and personal life in the process of thinking through what to do. The key is to make trade-offs clear to yourself and the people around you.

  • Mobility

There are 195 countries in the world and over 4,000 large and medium-sized cities. Could you live anywhere? A number of countries and regions have been torn apart by civil war or facing other problems having to do with poverty, communal violence, and environmental problems. Are these an option?

One of the training programs I have had the privilege of being involved with was for the United Nations Development Program. In that program, I met amazing men and women who do live and work in such locations and do so due to a deep commitment that their work is so important that it justifies the risks and hardships.

Location can also be a constraint if you already have a life partner or children, are in a serious relationship, or simply do not want to be too far away from your wider family or friends.

Your partner might have their own career goals and limitations. A former colleague on the faculty is married to a woman who was a member of the Italian Parliament. After commuting for a couple of years he finally moved to Italy so he could be with her and their children. 

The final issue has to do with family is that people in their forties and fifties are increasingly taking on responsibilities for aging parents. As we and our parents live longer, this constraint will become increasingly important.

  • What can you live with? 

The last constraint I want to call attention to are the ethical dimensions of certain positions in certain businesses in certain parts of the world.

In the first place, there are corrupt practices in business in many parts of the world. Besides that, the legal framework in some countries is very different than in others and what might be normal business to some people could be thought of as a crime to others.

The purpose of bringing this up is not to go into depth on business ethics but to stress the idea that certain behaviors are normal in certain positions and if you are uncomfortable with or unwilling to engage in them then my advice is to not take a job in that business, company, or country!

Another set of constraints might come up in connection with certain activities that you do not want to be associated with. Beyond the obvious category of illegal activities, you may feel strongly about fossil fuels, tobacco, or something else. 

My own view is to use the law to determine where to draw the line and I believe that people engaged in most businesses feel that they are doing something that is good for society. You might, however, have strong personal views on a particular subject and I do recommend you also include them in your thinking.

  • Write it down!

You may find it helpful to actually spend some time writing down your understanding of your own constraints. I also suggest sharing them with your partner (if you have one). Below is a chart that was developed to capture this information. It can also be downloaded for the charts section.


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