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What a Coin Toss Taught Me About Trusting Your Instincts

Mar 15, 2017

The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “Who do you go to when you need career advice?” is written by Laura Chambers, VP of consumer selling at eBay.

Ten years ago, I was sitting in a tiny apartment in central London on a freezing December morning, flipping a coin over and over. I had been working at Skype in London for almost a year and had just decided to move back to San Jose, Calif. for a job at PayPal (pypl)—both businesses were then part of eBay Inc. (ebay) I had even convinced my then-boyfriend-now-husband to make the move with me back to the Bay Area. But just as I settled on the decision, Skype came back with a counter offer. It was for a huge role in London—a significant promotion.

I was completely torn. The confidence I had in my decision to move was beginning to waver. That’s when I turned to my trusty, well-honed process for evaluating career choices.

I’ve had my fair share of career moves—in the past 12 years at eBay Inc. alone, I’ve worked in 11 diverse roles: from strategy to product, from marketing to operations, from chief of staff to CEO. While my career path is certainly non-traditional, it has actually been very strategic: I’m putting together the pieces of the puzzle for my longer-term career aspirations. And I have a process behind it.

When I’m ready for a change, I create the space to step back and assess where I am in my professional and personal life. I ask myself, “What part of the business do I want to learn about?” “What new skills do I want to develop?” “What does my family need most from me right now?” Once I’ve thought through those answers, I turn to my network for advice.

Networks are tricky things: They are inherently unstable. People come and go, so it’s important to find, invest in, and consistently renew a key set of mentors who will engage with you throughout your career journey. The key is simply having the courage to ask for advice—I’ve never had anyone say no.

Once I have gathered that perspective and guidance, I streamline options for my next move. I aim to identify at least two options so that I can compare them. Then, I set up a spreadsheet, with criteria and sub-criteria weighed for importance. These criteria often change, but typically cover learning opportunities, work-life balance, likelihood of success in the role, and opportunities for career growth. Finally, I score each option and get a numerical answer of what role I should take.

It’s a rational and structured approach to career decisions, but sometimes it’s not enough.

Back in London, my then-boyfriend and I looked each other in the eye, took a deep breath, and tossed the coin. Tails we stay and I take the promotion at Skype, heads we move and I accept the PayPal role. I’d had dozens of conversations with my family, peers, and managers. They’d asked me tough questions, and helped me clarify my thinking. But they were split in their advice. Even my trusty spreadsheet hadn’t given me a clear answer. The reality was that I was struggling to hear my own intuition through all of the noise. So it came down to a coin toss.

It came up tails—stay in London. We hesitated briefly, then said, “Best of three?” Flip. Tails again. “Best of five?” Flip. Tails. Believe it or not, tails came up seven times in a row—and only then did I know what I really wanted to do.

You can—and absolutely should be—structured: Turn to great mentors for advice and analytically assess the criteria that matter to you. But at the end of the day, nobody else can make the final decision for you. You need to take ownership of your own career, and find a way to get past the noise to hear your own instincts.

Ten years ago, I chose to move to San Jose. I didn’t choose the shiniest or perhaps the most obvious option, but I’m thrilled with how it worked out. My decision process was ultimately one that I owned— with the help and guidance of countless mentors, friends, and colleagues along the way.

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