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Ambivalence: The Ultimate Dream Killer.

Last week I offered an activity for you to try if you hate your job.

Did you do it?

If you did...


If you didn’t...


Either way, you now have some very important data.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here for last week’s post. Also, stay tuned next week for a follow up to last weeks activity if it resonated with you and you completed it.

Is this you? You hate your job or employment situation so you constantly seek career advice from friends, family, websites and career professionals. You are at the point where you are pretty sure you know what it is you need to do to make the changes you want and you are perfectly capable of doing so. The trouble is you aren’t acting on any of the advice you receive. Something is holding you back.

You begin to question whether you truly want to make a change. You feel miserable at your job but what if this is as good as it gets? What if you can’t get anything better? What if your interview suit doesn’t even fit any more? You know you aren’t where you want to be in your career. You used to have much bigger hopes and dreams but they’ve gotten a bit buried underneath health benefits and daycare bills but that doesn't change the fact that you are sick and tired of feeling stuck.

If this is you…please don’t immediately conclude that there is something wrong with you, that you are lazy or less than or just plain pathetic. It’s something else.

I use a counseling approach called Motivational Interviewing in my practice. It was developed by clinical psychologists and can be useful in eliciting changes in behavior. I use it by helping my clients to explore and resolve ambivalence. The approach is client-centred, goal-oriented, and empathetic in nature. I happen to be a highly sensitive, empathetic person and a very good listener so this approach comes pretty natural to me. I’ve seen how it can facilitate change in remarkable ways. see, you are not lazy…you might just be ambivalent.

What does this mean exactly? Well, change is damn hard and it usually comes with a downside. Things are lost and left behind when you change. Even a job you hate can bring with it a level of comfort and security that’s hard to give up even to make a leap to a career you might love and ultimately be much happier with. We aren’t stupid. We fear that suffering comes with change so we knowingly or unknowingly drag our feet a little and sometimes stay stuck—afraid, unwilling, or unable to act on what we desire. It’s a bit hard to feel completely one way or another about change sometimes – it’s tough to feel super excited because it can be hard but it’s also tough to deny that deep down we know change is necessary. We have mixed feelings.

You may have heard that there are actually very specific and real stages we tend to cycle through in order to change. Fittingly, they are called The Stages of Change.

Often when we feel stuck, we think something is wrong with us. We can think of all the things we “should” do to make change happen. If we want to change our weight we might need to eat more or less, move our body in one way or another etc. It all seems so simple but it’s so bloody hard. We might think that simply because we say we want to make a change, everything should naturally just fall into place. Then when it doesn’t, we feel frustrated. Why can’t we stick to the exercise plan, kick the bad habit or do what it takes to fulfill our career aspirations? Why can’t we just do what we know we need to and thus, make the change?

Well, behaviour change doesn’t happen in one step. Rather, most of us progress through different stages on our way to successful change. We need to be primed and ready in a pretty specific way that follows a pretty predictable order.

There are six different stages of change. I’ve applied the examples below to changing jobs; however, the stages can be applied to any type of change:

Stages of Change

1. Pre-contemplation stage - No interest in changing (eg:: no interest in looking for another job)

2. Contemplation stage - Thinking about making a change (finding a new job) but unsure.

3. Preparation stage - Preparing for change (doing some career exploration, updating resume).

4. Action Stage - Actively making changes (found a new job!)

5. Maintenance stage - Consistently maintaining the changes made (keeping the job).

6. Termination stage - No longer need to need to attend to the task of maintaining the change.

So, if you are not taking the steps you need towards making the changes you want, you could be hanging out in the pre-contemplative or contemplative stages and haven’t quite reached the preparation or action stages yet.

In my early days as a Career Counsellor I used to load the people I served up with long lists of action items. I was all about “fixing” people and “solving” problems and I thought the way to do that was to get them moving. I was the “expert” so I obviously knew what they needed. So, someone would meet with me for the first time and tell me they were having trouble getting a job. They would leave my office with a bunch of things I asked them to do and a follow up appointment to come back with everything completed. The problem with that was, sometimes, the person never came back and I’d never see or hear from them again. Thinking back, some of these people were likely overwhelmed by my immediate jump into action. Sure, on paper they were perfectly able to do what I had asked—they had the information and resources. However, they weren’t remotely ready for action and needed something else from me entirely. They might not have been compelled to take action because they had mixed feelings about doing so. The desire to change wasn't strong enough to motivate them to move forward.

Now I understand the importance of meeting people where they are at—in whatever “stage” they are in. I don’t pretend to know what they need more than they do and I don’t immediately provide a list of “to dos”. My clients are ultimately the experts when it comes to knowing what it is they need and want. My job is to help them see it, feel it, believe it and move towards it. I work with them to draw out what it is they want and what might be preventing them from getting it. Knowing what “stage” they are in helps direct our conversations and work together.

All of this being said, in my opinion, knowing that change can take time and feel scary and overwhelming is not a good enough reason not to pursue it. Feeling stuck or ambivalent about making a change in your career or situation is completely human but if you are unhappy with how things are, it is totally worth doing the work required to make things better. I hope it helps people to know that and to also know that it is also possible to make a shift and not stay stuck forever. Maybe a shift in focus is required, or some additional support through talking or writing things out or perhaps you need to just “be” and process whatever stage you are at for a time.

A good Career Counsellor or Coach will be able to work with you to give you what you need in the moment while helping you continue to grow and stretch if that is what you truly want.

Getting Unstuck

Here’s an activity to try:

Can you determine which stage of change you are currently in? This might give you some hints about why you are feeling “stuck”. One way to do this is to rate on a scale of 1-10 how important you believe it is for you to make a change in this moment.



Not at all Ready Very Ready

Here are some additional questions to think about:

What makes you think you need to change?

What will happen if you don’t change?

What will be different if you (insert desired change)?

What would be the good things about changing your [insert behavior]?

Why do you think others are concerned about your [insert behavior]?

How would you like things to be different?

Make a list of all the positive things that could occur by you making the change.

Write down how your future could be better and what you have to gain by changing.

Return to these questions now and again. Do they inspire you to start preparing to change or to take action? Has your score on the Readiness to Change Ruler gone up or down?

It’s completely normal for our motivation levels to go up and down and for us to cycle back and forth through the stages. Remember, we have all felt stuck. Try not to default to thinking or feeling that something is wrong with you. Try to meet yourself where you are at.

If and when you feel ready to move…act on it! What is one small action you can take each day to move you closer to what you want? Remember that taking 10 single “baby steps” is equal to taking one large leap.

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