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The question:

I'm an early to mid-career professional with a degree in International Studies. It has always been my dream to get paid to travel, but a six-month contract overseas, followed by a position "based" in my home city but during which I travelled 85 per cent of the time, made me realize that I desperately want to put down roots and find a more suitable work-life balance.

Since graduating in 2010, I have only had contract work for usually about six months at a time at different companies and in the public sector. The contracts have all been interesting and valuable experiences, but the gaps in employment and constant fear of being on the chopping block have been getting me down.

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I recently accepted a longer 18-month contract in the public sector with a great work-life balance, but with very little opportunity to travel. I also am in the final recruitment stages for a consulting position with global company that could have me travel very frequently. The interviewer was unable to give me a straight answer about what the travel expectations would be.

The consulting position is permanent, which also makes it attractive. My friends and family say I should take it if it's offered even if it compromises a work-life balance because I don't want to be jobless again in 18 months. While I am inclined to agree, I fear that I will be burning a bridge with an important regional employer and that I may regret my decision if the consulting work requires too many personal sacrifices. Should I stay or should I go?

The answer:

It sounds like you have had a very enriching career so far, having travelled the world and being exposed to different business cultures. Regardless of time away, it is still very valuable work experience that you can market in many different ways.

You seem to be struggling with determining whether or not you should accept a full-time role that will have you travel more, which goes against your current need to stay close to home. You have work right now that is keeping you at home, but has a limited employment term.

My advice in this situation would be to do what you want to do, because your goal of permanent employment is not realistic. There is no such thing in today's work world. As someone who works primarily with people who have been let go from their company for a variety of reasons, and as someone who has been let go herself three times, the words "permanent employment" are not part of my vocabulary.

Lets take the 18-month employment contract you have. Contract or no contract, your employer can release you from the contract and, depending on the terms, may or may not pay out a severance. For the "permanent" job you are considering, at any time the employer can let you go without reason or warning. They just need to pay a severance amount. This is one of the many reasons why people should always keep their network going and be aware of what is happening on the job front at all times.

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So taking out permanent employment from the criteria for staying or going, what is really important to you in a job as it relates to work-life balance? That question may need some further thinking but while you do this, remember – jobs are like dating, never a marriage, and more and more of them are short term. That being said, go into a job with a time frame in mind. I always suggest three years. If the job goes beyond three years, then great, continue to move forward if you are happy. Never consider a job as a lifetime commitment because people and circumstances change, and the changes are usually beyond our control.

So, if work-life balance is important to you, define what that means and weigh the job against realistic criteria that is within your control. And remember, that criteria may change, and so the may the job a few years down the road.

Eileen Dooley is a certified coach and lead consultant for Cam McRae Consulting in Calgary.

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