What do you do the day after?
D. recently came back from vacation and tried to figure out his career options. An American giant had just acquired the startup where he worked, and he was debating whether it was better to stick with the new owners or look for a position elsewhere. What kind of role was best for him at this point in his career?
We discussed the pros and cons of each alternative at great length, but nothing excited him. When we tried to understand why, he described it like this: "I just don't feel any desire to take on a new role. I'm busy planning where we're going on our next vacation, and spending time with my wife and kids. In other words, living my life. In the meantime, maybe I should take on some sort of part-time consulting position just to stay sane."
We told D. that, from our professional perspective, becoming a consultant at this stage was sub-optimal because it may come across as the choice of someone who can't find something better to do.
Then, we described the key symptoms of the "exit shock" he was experiencing:
Emotional Overload – The big day's finally here and the big money's finally in your bank account. What once seemed like a far-off dream is now a tangible reality, evoking an unfamiliar wave of thoughts and feelings.
Confusion – This new situation raises endless questions: What do I do with all this money? What does this mean for me? What can I do now? What do I want/need to do now? Does it change my personal, professional, and familial priorities?
Lack of Focus – When you have total economic security, you are no longer driven by a need to survive, and everything seems possible. There is the sense that you can choose any option without incurring a significant risk.
Mid-Career Peak experience – This is an experience similar to a sense of self fulfillment, and can lead to the state of mind of a pensioner at the age of 40.
Exit shock can cause significant decision-making problems. We tend to think that only founders and CEOs experience this, but it can easily also affect VPs, who have the same characteristics and feelings. They originally joined the startup to make their mark, and now – with money taken out of the equation – they have to look for a new goal. Handling this sensitive topic incorrectly has the potential to derail careers, or even worse.
Our Recommendations for the Day After an Exit
Unlike many other crises that may crop up in people's lives, an exit can be considered a "positive crisis." Still, it must be regarded as an unusual, exceptional event that can affect every aspect of life. We believe that it is not advisable to make decisions during this period. Rather than rushing to make changes, give yourself enough time to reset. We recommended that D. and all his friends going through a similar process do what will be most effective in the long run – hold back, breathe, buy time, and avoid making mistakes they might regret. At the end of this adaptation period, a new goal or longing is likely to emerge, leading to genuine, rational choices.