That, my friends, is the million dollar question.
Every day I meet an intelligent, capable, brave human who is bored or even resentful of her professional life…and not doing anything to change it. I, too, was one – and am still sometimes slow to make changes with the urgency required by having one life to live.
Why are we so hesitant to get on changing the one aspect of our lives that makes us unhappy every day?
I am not a career coach nor a psychologist, but I have been thinking about this a lot, and observing even more. Here is what I found out.
We have a hard time separating reasons from excuses
When thinking about career change, it is crucial to dig deep and find your own answers to what is stopping you. This is hard to do, and requires you to be 1) analytical and 2) harsh on yourself.
I have to add an umbrella caveat here: there are people out there with extremely difficult situations that truly don’t allow for career change, and this article is not aimed at them.
But, if you are healthy, and have reasonably regular circumstances…it is time to think about why you are still stuck doing something you hate.
Let’s get started with
EXCUSES FOR NOT MAKING A CAREER CHANGE
“I hate what I do, but I don’t know what else I would do”
Yes, you do. Really, you do. Perhaps it is something you think you won’t be good at, or think you cannot afford, but that is different than not knowing. And if you don’t what you want to do, well – start finding out.
Finding out – sounds simple, right? Here is the thing: it is actually quite difficult, and can take a lot of time and a lot of hard work. Painful, introspective work that nobody wants to do in lieu of exercise, watching TV or drinking wine. The good news is: as with everything, you can start small.
First, think about what it is you like to do the most when you are off work. I don’t care if it is unrealistic that you’ll make money with it, or that you think you are too old for it. The goal is to start digging, and this is possibly the best place for it.
Perhaps you really enjoy helping people, or dogs…or you love hiking and being in nature…or you like arguing…or you want to make a lot of money…Think too about what you liked as a child. If I had clued into my answer – reading books and thinking about words and communication – I probably would not have spent as much time in HR or Project Management.
Next, get help. Get a coach, or get a book – any book on career change or finding the color of your parachute, or whatever! Here is the one that illuminated my path:
but I tend to think almost any good book will do – if you apply yourself. That means not skimming, but doing all the exercises. That means saying no to the next party or TV show, and sitting home alone with that book.
Apply yourself, and results will follow!
“But, I don’t have time!”
You have kids, you have a busy job, you have extremely important activities and a quality of life that you can’t give up…Here is the thing. Everyone has 15 mins/day, and an hour every weekend, to devote to this. It is not the time, it is the discipline and vigor that we lack.
I challenge you to work half as hard as you did on your last work project or your kid’s homework – both of which are likely already forgotten – and not find out what you’d like to do for a living. And if you don’t find out, well, you’ll get closer to start doing something you like a lot more than what you do know, and that is, in my mind, fantastic.
Hint: you can change careers again! Before I had a revelation about my business writing, I was getting excited about personal training. Just moving along the path will help you get unstuck, get your creative juices flowing, and liberate you in ways you did not know were possible.
“I know what I want to do, but I can’t afford to start a new career”
This excuse comes in many forms, and the scenario I list is the one I am most familiar with – because I lived it, and because I have numerous friends who have been playing it out…for years.
If you live in an expensive urban area, and are working your butt off to pay the rent and food, the very thought of taking a break to facilitate a career change sounds completely insane.
Well, here is the thing: either are you going to have to give up on some of your luxuries: your one bedroom, your car, your travel – or you are going to have to move.
I created the complex diagram on the right to illustrate your options.
It is really that simple. If you can’t live in a smaller town (you snob, you), move to a suburb for a while, and commute. If you feel like you cannot afford to not work for a while, do two jobs.
Go to school at night. Don’t go out to dinners for six months – it is only six months that will afford you a lifetime of happiness!
Herein lies the devil you are trying to avoid: you are going to have to sacrifice.
We are not willing to make a sacrifice
I just gave up a half of my salary, and have to prove myself as a newbie after years of a professional career that was on the up and up.
I have no time to write this post because I am working around the clock. I have not seen friends or been to a single social event this weekend, and did not take my favorite dance class because I am so frazzled and tired that remembering the coreography exhausts me.
But, guess what? I’d still rather be doing this. It was nice to make good money again, but I saw it leading me right back to that 7th circle of hell: the golden cage, and so it was easy to say: no, thanks! Here is another thing: there are hard times and hurdles in ANY career, and battling for what I really want to do is about a million times easier than putting up with crap for less important reasons.
“OK, OK, but what if I make that bold career move, and end up miserable?”
Here, friends, we come to the real reason you are not on your career change already:
Fear is such a multifaceted beast: we fear failure, poverty, social disapproval…or all of it at the same time. It is hard to admit it. It is hard to deal with it. This, however, is where you must begin.
It helps hugely if you can articulate what it is that you are afraid of. Perhaps you don’t define it as fear, but as circumstances you can’t change. Let’s say you are thinking: “If I move away, I’ll be far from my friends and I can’t make new friends at my age”. If you go just a step further, you might realize that you are afraid of being lonely.
Then, you can start wondering if what you are fearing is really true, or if it is that scary, or if it is scary enough to prevent you from being a fulfilled person. It is painful to be honest with yourself, but if you can do that – if you can sit down and spend even 15 minutes a week working on specifying your fears, you’ll be far along very soon.
Fears Change as You Change
The thought of sitting in my old job and fantasizing about the two days I have for my hobbies FREAKS ME OUT, the same way the thought of leaving your well paid job, or moving to a smaller place, or giving up your car might be freaking you out.
In short, my friends:
Take a good amount of time to make a career change plan. Figure out your excuses, and figure out your fears. Then prepare for some hard core, scary sacrifices to make a bold move. All this might take a year, maybe even two. But, then, get ready for being happy in a profound, core way that you can never experience by doing something you were not meant to do.
Next time, I’ll give you the one sure, tested and tried way to effectuate career change, no matter what your reasons, excuses or circumstances are.
But, meanwhile, please tell me: what is, or was, stopping YOU from making a career change?