You are a lawyer. Or an accountant. Or a financial analyst. Or a teacher. Or a something that is now part of your identity. You have invested time, money, and energy in forging your career path. But, you are not happy. You haven’t been happy for a while. It may have started as a thought that you tried to put out of your head. You may have started day dreaming about other potential paths. But, those were just dreams you told yourself. Then your emotions and your gut started giving you signals that you could not ignore and your day dreams became more practically focused. You started wondering what you can do. And, the doubts started. “What will my friends and family think? Who would hire me? What can I do? I’m only trained in my current job.”
And, then you faced some despair about being “trapped.”.
We know. We have heard every story. We have helped hundreds of career changers happily and successfully transform their careers. You could continue being unhappy. Or you can contact us to find out how we can change your life. You owe it to yourself to find out how we can help.
How can you avoid living a work life of quiet desperation?
If you are in your 20s or 30s and are only somewhat unhappy in your work but no so unhappy that you feel compelled to leave, you might fall into a trap that, strangely enough, is created by not being miserable enough.
For example, if you are 25, are in a field that you don’t like, and then are laid off unexpectedly (misery), you are forced to evaluate your career options.
Or, if you are 30, don’t like your field, and have a boss that is causing you extreme anxiety (misery), you will feel forced to consider career alternatives.
Or if you are 35, don’t like your field, and work 60 hours plus per week while being away from a growing family, (misery), you will look at alternatives.
But, none of those things will necessarily happen.
Instead, while many people have jobs in fields that they don’t like, most are not miserable enough to expend the energy needed to change fields. Switching organizations within the same field tends to be the temporary solution. But, most discover that a new organization doesn’t solve the problem of a mismatched career.
Moreover, people who are not immersed in misery will cling to the notion that “it’s not the right time to switch fields.”
Sadly, many discover that the time to switch fields only becomes more difficult as time passes.
Here’s a story with this lesson:
Pete started in a career field 20 years ago when he was 25 years old. He didn’t like the job on the first day and was convinced that this career field wasn’t a fit within the first few months. But, the job was reasonably well paying and reasonably prestigious. His boss was fine, as were his co-workers, as was his quality of life. While he didn’t really like his actual work, it wasn’t horrible either. So, he stayed.
25 became 30. Pete’s work life was more or less the same. Doing the same work made him at once feel comfortable since he knew how to do his job well and bored because he still did not like his work and he was not learning anything new. Pete got engaged, married, and bought his first house. As such, it was not an ideal time to switch fields.
30 became 35. Pete’s work life had becoming mildly worse since the semi-fun socialization with his twenty-something colleagues had disappeared and his new boss, while not terrible, was a slight downgrade from his old boss. Nonetheless, his first child came along and his wife went to working part time. It was now a tough time to switch fields.
35 became 40. Pete’s work life had become worse – at least mentally –as he had been passed up for a couple of promotions. He was now “old for his title.” He noticed what I have noticed for years: if you don’t like what you do, eventually, you won’t be that good at it either. During this time, another child came along and his wife had given up her career altogether. From a practical perspective, switching fields was now extremely tough.
40 became 45. The Great Recession occurred during these five years. Given the economic squeeze on his company, management as well as his latest boss had grown more demanding; Pete’s co-workers had grown more competitive, paranoid, and stressed; his quality of life was now affected as he had to work later and often on weekends. As always, he didn’t really like his work activities.
Right before Pete came to see me, his company told him that they were going to lay him off. Pete pleaded for his job and ultimately agreed to a 30% cut in pay, along with the knowledge that his job would be perpetually on thin ice. He wondered how he wound up begging to keep a job that he never liked.
When I met Pete, we discussed several realizations:
(1) he would have been fortunate if he had been forced to consider switching fields at a far younger age. If he had the same miserable circumstances in his twenties as he does now, he would be doing something different now.
(2) despite the temptation to say that “now isn’t the time”, he realized that NOW is a better time than 5 years from now. Specifically, at 45 with two kids approaching college age, on top of all the other trappings of suburban living, now is not a good time for Pete to switch fields. But, “now” will be even worse at 50.
The lesson to all those under 40: NOW is the time.
The lesson to all those over 40: NOW is the time. And, learning this lesson years ago would have been nice.
For mid-career workers, there is a new reason to find work enjoyable.
You might need or desire to work well past 65.
Most everyone who started working at any time prior to the financial meltdown has been culturally programmed to lock in age 65 as the retirement end zone. There are certainly statutory requirements related to social security and tax deferred retirement accounts, that make 65 a number of real consequence. Otherwise, however, 65 is now an arbitrary age for retirement.
Why? Here’s some good news: 65 was created as a retirement age based on long outdated actuarial calculations. Governments thought that people would die before or not much after 65. You are going to live a lot longer. Fantastic!
The downside is that many people will not have enough money stashed away by 65 to live in reasonable economic conditions for 20 to 30 more years.
This means that most people will have to work until 70, at least, in order to maintain a reasonably comfortable retirement. If you hate your work, this is terrible, gut wrenching news.
More interestingly, if you like your work but still wanted to retire at 65, then you might unwittingly be compelled to do something that is ultimately good for you: keep working in a job that you like. It turns out based on mounds of scientific studies that most healthy people should keep working past 65. Good work is good for you. Perhaps you will choose to continue working in a less demanding way. But, having work that is productive and purposeful is great for the mind, body, and the soul.
One of my friends was recently interviewed for a demanding job in a corporation known to treat its employees poorly. The interviewer was bizarrely candid when asked about his company’s tough environment. He opened up an application on his computer that showed the current amount of his 401(K) and the anticipated amount that he would have by retirement age. “Yes, this is a tough place but that’s the reason I stay.” The interviewer was in his mid-forties.
Even if this guy survives 20 more years in an increasingly less secure corporate structure, his pot at the end of the rainbow still might not be enough for him to survive until 90. He might be forced to work another 5 years. Imagine hating your job for 20 years and then being told you have to work another 5 years!
I understand that you are probably facing a challenge. If you are in mid-career, you likely have the trappings of mid-life. You can’t just quit a job when you have a mortgage and children. However, you owe it to yourself and to your loved ones to find happiness.
You are not being selfish. If you find happy work, you’ll be a happier person. That means you’ll be a better parent, spouse, friend, and person. And, you will end up doing something practical as well: finding work that you are willing to do well past 65.
Identifying Irrational Fears When Contemplating Career Transitions
Are you are thinking of changing career paths?
Do you think you have an idea of what you would rather do for your career?
Is fear preventing you from moving forward towards a new career?
Some fears are rational. You may have sound financial reasons and financial responsibilities that preclude doing anything radical.
Some fears are irrational.
Our career counseling clients who are seeking help in their career transitions will brighten when we discuss what seems to be the better career path.
When we start planning action steps, resistance emerges.
I hear variations of the following:
“I can’t change careers because I might starve or become homeless.”
Even if my clients are being hyperbolic they do fear being become unable to afford basic necessities.
I tell them to stop being irrational.
I’m not being blindly optimistic. Rather, my view emanates from a place of deep gratitude. If you lived in most every other period of Earth’s history and in many places of the world today, both starvation and homelessness could become a reality if you were unable to earn money for an extended period of time.
But, if you are in the position to seek out career counseling help with my company, then you live in Connecticut (or somewhere in upper middle class America.); are college educated (at minimum) and likely came from an upper middle class, socio-economic background (as least compared to the world, if not America).
Those factors, perhaps individually, but certainly coupled together, mean that you have both family, friends, and acquaintances who will help you if you were in dire straights and multiple public and private safety nets that would further serve to buffer any fall.
Here’s the lesson: some fears are rational (you could face challenges in paying your mortgage) and some are not (you will not be sleeping in the streets.)
In another article, I will discuss tangible (material) versus intangible (psychological) fears. Some psychological fears are rational (you will face uncertainty in a career transition) and some are not (your loved ones will not stop loving you if you fail in your career transition).
Identify your fears as you navigate your career transition. Confront the rational ones with full problem solving acumen. Separate those that emanate from irrational thought and eliminate from further consideration.