A practical tool for career decisions: The oh-shit curve

I heard a speaker today speak about something called “the O-S Curve” and I thought it was a highly practical way to think about career decisions. More specifically, when you’re in that “I want to quit, what have I done accepting this blasted job” phase. It happens to the best of us, a lot. So, this is the very academic “Oh Shit” curve…. (it does rival “the dip” by Seth Godin, but I like this title better!).

When you start a job, you spike on the euphoria scale (the y-axis). The company can do no wrong, you’re just so bloody thankful to have a job. You may have thoughts like:

  • “yes, I got the job! I’m queen of the world
  • I won!
  • They like me, they really like me…
  • They’re paying me what? I will give this company my soul for that salary
  • Look at all my new best friends!

Sometime later you hit the peak, and begin on the slow decent into a dark reality. You start to realise that everything at work might not be as rosy as you initially thought. Wait a sec, this place reminds me of my last job! What? You’ve hit the wall… this is your “oh-shit” moment. That moment when you think you’ve made a big mistake and want to run, far far away. At this point you might be thinking things like:

  • My boss and I are far, far from friends. My colleagues too, for that matter
  • This place is all political, all political. Bad political.
  • Actually I’m not doing what I was hired to do
  • I have sold my sold my soul to the devil.
  • They’re not paying me enough for this
  • I need out, fast

Alas, ladies and gentlemen, you have reached the bottom of the O-S curve, where in your mind, things just can not get worse. You’re in the shit, up to your neck. For each of us the shit arrives at a different time – some a few months in, some a year in.

I clearly remember my first OS experience. In my first job out of university, I was elated to have been hired by a prestigeous real estate developer – working on building ski resorts around the world. Everyone had wanted this job, and “I” got it. I felt I really, really owed them for taking me on – a very ‘green’ business graduate. I was elated and felt enormous gratitude to the company. However, the OS doldrums hit about 6 months in, when I slaved over a report for weeks (day and night, literally), and my boss scratched a big red “X” through it, and proceeded to throw it in the bin, while I watched and shivered. Yup. Choking back tears I wrote my resignation letter that day. I imagined throwing it at him and running out of the building like a wounded deer. I had hit the OS doldrums, the magic had just dissipated.

It’s a bit like a relationship. The first few months are a-mazing, right? You just cant get enough of each other. You eat, sleep and live your new relationship. And that’s where the 3-month-itch rears it’s head. At this point you either bail, or you stick it out. It will indeed be like that in your next job, and the one after that.

The trick is knowing that we all hit the point where things just dont seem as rosy as we once thought. The point where things just, to be honest, suck. The ugly truth about the company you started with will eventually rear its head. And normally, if you can stick it out past that part, that gruelling part, you’ll arrive at a happy equilibrium where you can see the bright-side of the office again. There will be a point where you learn how to handle your boss, you win over your colleagues, when that competitive “threatened-by-your-existance” colleague stops caring about you, and you just get on with it. Things can turn around, you just have to get through it, day by day, and you’ll move back up the OS curve to a place where you can breathe again.

Now, when you get out of the shit, it is at that point when you can ‘logically’ decide to tuck a resignation letter under your boss’ windshield wiper and bolt toward freedom…and another new job.


About aly

my blog: www.liveworkthink.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Tools and Resources, Worklife and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A practical tool for career decisions: The oh-shit curve

  1. Beat Vanza says:

    Sounds pretty familiar. In Paris it took 3 months to hit the bottom after a very shallow increase of the curve. And the valley was rather long …

  2. alymeister says:

    Very true Beat – Expats go through this on an even more drastic scale, and there are often many peaks and valleys along the way (I’m about to go through that again in Chile!). Hope you made it out of the first valley…..

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