Among my favorite non-academic activities is playing poker. I'm not great by any stretch, but I'm better than most people who play in person or on-line. I've also done a bit of reading on the subject (there's an entire literature, complete with the Fundamental Theorem of Poker, and ever-increasinly complex mathematical models). It is no coincidence that many of the top players in the world come out of finance, engineering, or other math-heavy disciplines.
One of the issues that all authors agree upon is that you should never make a decision based on emotion. Your gut might tell you something, but before you act, you need to crunch the numbers. When you bet, there are a limited number of outcomes possible, and a limited number of hands your opponent could have. One guy I play with, Lighter Mike, only raises with the very best hands - he bluffs 0% ofthe time. So when he bets, I know how often I am winning or losing.
So what if we apply this approach to the job search? You can modify this process based on your own situation.
If I stay in my current position forever there is a 0% chance I will be content.
If I stay in my current position for another year or two, there is a R% chance I will land a tenure-track position that I want. (R>0, but not by much.)
Okay, so what if I take the job I discussed in my most recent post? Here's where the math can help. The way if figure it, here's how the numbers break down:
X% chance that I like the school and the career, and stay forever.
Y% chance that I like the career but not the school, and I swap it out for a job I like
Z% chance that I hate the job and the career and forever regret leaving academia
Of these, the only clear loser in the long-term is Z.
There are two remaining challenges. First, of course is assigning numbers to these variables. If my own mind and the job marked were as easy to figure out as Lighter Mike is, we wouldn't have a problem. But we can try.
The second problem is that you have to factor in the long-term effects of these variables. We don't play Russian Rouletter very often because while the odds of losing are only 1 in 6, losing has a very steep downside.
And that, I think is the problem I'm having. The downside of Z is (or at least seems) so high, it makes me crazy with fear. I'm in my forties, and am thinking about leaving a career/job for life to do something I have never done. This is a young person's game. I can't stop wondering, What if I'm wrong?
You can't know, of course, you just have to shove your chips into the middle and see what happens.
Good luck, us.