Aliza Knox, author of Don’t Quit Your Day Job

20-Minute Leaders
“You don't necessarily have to make the trade-offs that you think you do.”

While it is common to stress over big career decisions, Aliza Knox, author of Don’t Quit Your Day Job, believes that there aren’t very many wrong choices.

While it is common to stress over big career decisions, Aliza Knox, author of Don’t Quit Your Day Job, believes that there aren’t very many wrong choices. These decisions require thought, but she says at some point, people need to just take the plunge and trust that it will be OK. Knox explains that what she enjoyed most about her 40 years in the financial services and tech worlds was helping colleagues grow in their careers and mentoring, so she decided to write a book to reach more people. The book explores six mindshifts to help readers gain new perspectives about their work. Knox says many employees who are thinking about leaving don’t have the right mindset: they are running away rather than moving toward something. Another key insight from the book is that you may not have to make the trade-offs in life that you think are required.

You’ve really made a meaningful impact at some amazing companies and sat on some great executive boards. Also, lecturing in academia and teaching about business. Aliza, if you are looking at your own trajectory, what do you really enjoy about your work?
If I look back, where I get the most pleasure was having helped develop other people. I don't want to sound motherhoody or like I'm this saint. I like to hit goals as much as the next person. But when I talk about the more than 40 years that I was in the corporate world, what was most fulfilling was helping people get to the next stage of their career maybe faster or maybe thinking more broadly about their careers.
What was your guiding curiosity as you are working with these different organizations?
I would have said my guiding principle was curiosity. In retrospect, having worked in tech, I divide my career into three software releases, at least so far. So 1.0 was Boston Consulting Group and some financial services companies. 2.0 was Google, Twitter, Cloudflare. And 3.0 is what I'm doing now, which is sitting on boards and writing this book, Don't Quit Your Day Job, and having more time to do mentoring. The thing that's driven me is more curiosity. Or maybe it's FOMO. “How do I know if I want to do that if I don't do it? I better try it."
At one point, when I made the switch to Google—which involved quite a significant title reduction and some trade-offs on salary versus equity, which obviously paid itself back but I didn't know at the time—I had a very senior executive search person in the Valley tell me that I was "brave," in quotes, which I think meant "foolhardy, possibly stupid." I still wanted to make a living, but I wanted to do things that were interesting to me.

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Aliza Knox BCG 20
Aliza Knox BCG 20
Aliza Knox, author of Don’t Quit Your Day Job
(Photo: N/A)

Was that an easy decision to be guided by curiosity to the point where you are changing career trajectories?
It was a little scary. I get bored doing one thing all the time. Maybe I learned that in consulting where you work for one company for a while and then move to another one. I like this idea of learning different things. I don't think it's for everybody, but I'm really happy with how it's turned out. For example, almost all of the board seats that I've gotten are because I have some exposure to tech. I'm not sure if I would have gotten them from consulting. But on the other hand, I look at some of my friends who've stayed at BCG their whole careers and they've had fantastic careers.
One of the things I find is that some people really stress over these decisions. Of course, moving companies is a big decision. You should have some thought and some stress. But at a certain point, you need to just go with it. For most people, these steps are going to work out. You take a plunge, you go with it, and it's probably going to be okay. I don't know that there are that many really wrong decisions.
I've made two decisions where I really didn't like the job and left in less than a year. But it propelled me to do something which I had thought about for a long time, which was to move internationally. I motivated myself to find a job in Australia. If I hadn't taken the job that I didn't like, who knows where I would be now? Because that job in Australia was BCG, and then it led on from one great thing to another.
Tell me about this book, Don't Quit Your Day Job: 6 Mindshifts to Rise and Thrive at Work.
The book is not “never, ever resign; never quit.” It's really meant more to say that oftentimes, as people think about leaving jobs or changing their careers, they are probably not thinking about it with the right mindset. If I can help people think about different perspectives, sometimes that will cause them to leave their job, but sometimes it will cause them to do other things, like find outside passions. I read that LinkedIn said that 4.5% of all new hires last year have already boomeranged back to their old company. It's not always the right solution to resign, particularly if you are leaving something as opposed to going to something.
The book is about these six mind shifts. The mind shifts in the book are timeless. I’ve been sought out a lot for coffee mentoring, and if there's one thing you learn in tech, it's that you have to be scalable, so I thought I'd write it down.
The first mindshift is your work and your life are on the same team. People talk about work-life balance, which I hate because it suggests that there's this seesaw so that if I get more work, I have less life. Or if I get more life, I have less work or I do worse at work. I don't think that's true. Each mindshift has four power perspectives, a bunch of examples, and then four or five actionable takeaways. There are lots of anecdotes of three dozen people: probably 60% women, 40% men, different ethnicities, different parts of the world, age range from 21 to early 60s. So hopefully, there's somebody you can identify with.
There's another example: a friend of one of my children who just graduated from college couldn't find a job during COVID, took one she wasn't so sure about. I thought she should try to stay for a year. But she just couldn't put up with the situation. She got a job at a mid-size consulting company. Even though she'd only worked about nine months, she'd moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and she'd had this experience. Those two things had put her in touch with and gave her the credibility to get hired there.
Another quick story from me is I got an MBA at night at NYU. I did it because I was working in New York, and there was nowhere to swim. The only way I could get into this brand-new pool was to take classes at NYU. I didn't make the trade-off between work and life. I'm like, "I'm going to have this thing that I want in my life even though it's not the easiest thing to do.” When I wanted to move to Australia, BCG was like, "Do you have an MBA?" I'm like, "Yes, I have an MBA." Because I just did this so that I could swim. I didn't make those trade-offs between work and life.
What is the underlying lesson to be learned here about thinking through trade-offs?
I think the underlying lesson is you don't necessarily have to make the trade-offs that you think you do. I wrote an article about a journalist who thought she had to make these trade-offs of living in small town America. She went to Columbia, which is like the pre-eminent journalism school in the US, thought she had to live in small towns to cover really important issues, but she really wanted to be in New York. She gave up the small town stuff in order to be in New York. Maybe it took a few years longer, but she is at the Wall Street Journal now, which was her goal to begin with. If there are things you really care about in your life, you probably need to do them. The fact that you are happier, those things are important to you and are giving you the personal sustenance you want, means that you will likely end up being able to go where you want with your career as well.

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Michael Matias
Michael Matias
Michael Matias
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Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. He studies Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University, is a Venture Partner at J-Ventures and was an engineer at Hippo Insurance. Matias previously served as an officer in the 8200 unit. 20MinuteLeaders is a tech entrepreneurship interview series featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.
Contributing editors: Michael Matias, Megan Ryan