You are an in-house creative leader. You've been at it for some time now--5, 10 or, maybe, 15 years. And there has been a lot of blood, sweat and sharpies used up to get you and the team where it is today. You've learned how to navigate corporate politics, you've raised the level of creative quality, your team has become a strategic partner to the business and you provide consistent proven value to the organization. Now what?

I guess you could ride that out for a while; it does feel nice and comfy--like an old pair of slippers. But be careful, because complacency can set in. That's basically the equivalent to a creative leader's invitation to the downsizing party.

So what do you do? What's the career path? Many times there isn't one within the in-house creative team, especially if you are at the top. And even if you are a step or two down in the hierarchy, the folks above you may not be going anywhere for a long time (or ever). You could commit creative suicide and look for openings in departments like facilities or procurement (oh, God forbid) and get that senior whatever job title you may be looking for, but the 1.8% raise and job title happiness will only last for about 10 seconds.

Sometimes the best career path is marked by an exit sign.

I recently made a job change. I'm at a new company and working in a different industry. Why? Well, I got really clear about what I valued, what I wanted and what I have to offer at this point in my career. Those things were not in alignment with the company I was working for any longer, and that wasn't good enough for me. It was a great gig, but I wanted more and knew I could give more. I wanted to work for a company that valued design and understood how design and creating a great user experience could move business forward. I wanted to be in a place that had creativity embedded within its core, a place that appreciated and understood the value of what I could bring to the table and why that mattered. So it became very clear that I needed to move on. My job search took many turns down many paths, and I quickly realized that I needed to create my own path. How did I make that happen? Well, it wasn't easy, and it didn't happen overnight. In fact, it took about a year to make it happen--interview after interview and company after company to find the right fit. Through this experience I got super clear on a few things: the type of company I wanted to work for and the industry I wanted to work in. My focus at this point was landing in the industry I was passionate about and making sure the opportunities I interviewed for matched what I had to offer and aligned with my values. It wasn't about a job title or the money.

In hindsight, as I reflect back on the experience, there were a few things that made a big difference for me through the transition.

Seven differentiators

Do everything you can to make your current job the best it can be.

This will be different for everyone, and most of the time little things can make all the difference in the world. Getting up in the morning and going to a job you don't love can be a complete drag. So change things up. For example, stop eating lunch at your desk. Be graceful--do something nice for someone every day even if they don't seem to deserve it. Only work on what you want to work on--delegate everything else.

Get really clear on what you value and where your passion lies.

What's important to you? What is going to make you happy to get out of bed on Monday morning? What needs to be present at a company for you to accept an offer? Make a list and look for companies that value the same things.

Network your ass off.

Seriously, you should have no ass left when you land your new gig. Most jobs are landed based on who you know and how you worked your network. Let everyone know that you are looking for opportunities. Find people you know inside of companies to put a good word in for you or hand-deliver your resume. Find people you know who know the people you want to know and have them set up introductions (even if they are virtual/electronic introductions). Get to the leadership of an organization; this is who you want to speak to. Find a back door--there's always a way in.

Be willing to take risks.

Whatever the heck they are, take them. Be bold. What do you have to lose?
Be determined not to settle.

This is really important. Take your time to find the right fit. Many times when we are not happy at our job almost anything different looks better. Don't settle for a great job title in an industry or at a company that is not perfect for you. Persistence pays off.

Know your strengths and be able to articulate them.

The job market is insanely competitive, and at a certain point many of us have very similar skill sets. However, not everyone can articulate them very well. This could be the differentiator between you and a similar candidate. Be prepared to tell people what you can be relied on for time and time again--no matter what job you are in. More importantly, tell them why that matters.

Don't do it for the money.

I did that once--it was a total disaster.