Feeling trapped in a career that isn't for you? Forget the traditional career rules.
It was a really tough time for me.
On the outside, everything looked pretty good, I had a well-paying, stable job I had worked hard for. I was a consummate people pleaser so always went above and beyond at work and had been rewarded for that. I got married, started a family in the suburbs with a nice home, in a nice neighbourhood complete with a mini-van, a dog and a cute front porch.
As the story often goes, it turns out I was deeply unfulfilled. I didn’t like my work, I didn’t feel I was using my full potential, and I had a deep desire to wake up knowing my work was having a positive impact on the world.
The trouble was, I wasn’t sure what to do.
For years, I tried my best to find a work environment that felt like a fit. I started feeling like a flake for working hard to get “the job” and then jumping ship to another employer after a couple of years when I realized I was still unhappy. I always seemed to land on my feet and find something each time that paid a little better or offered a little more but that only made things harder because I still wasn’t happy. "Doing better" at work made it harder to leave.
Obviously, eventually I figured out a better way, but it wasn’t a quick fix.
Here is some of what I learned along the way.
What I figured out
If you have been trying to get unstuck in your career, you may have noticed you keep bumping up against a few things.
1. You continuously get in your own way and are often your own worst enemy
I was terrified by the thought of having to stay in a job that wasn't a good match until the day I retired. This petrified me beyond words. I didn’t see any clear path within my current company that felt right. The idea of doing my boss’s job made me feel physically sick and nothing else in my current company appealed to me. I couldn’t get behind the mission of my company—to the point where I didn’t even like to tell people I worked there.
I dreaded every work day and my despair started seeping into my weekends also. I was stressed out, burned out and miserable. Life felt like a hamster wheel I desperately wanted off of.
Again, because I couldn’t clearly see a way out, I just remained paralyzed.
In hindsight, I had made all kinds of assumptions. I assumed that leaving my job for something I liked would mean a cut in pay, the loss of good benefits and a pension. I automatically feared the worst of the unknown. I was also fearful of what my family and friends would think if I left what they'd all considered to be the job "gold standard". There was also a part of me that was uneasy at the thought of losing the status and “security” I'd worked so hard to achieve.
I realize now that although these fears were all true, they weren’t real. They weren't obstacles that couldn't be over come in the real world; they were obstacles within my mind. It was all me – my fear – that was holding me back the most.
Just because I had a "stable" job, didn't mean it was bullet-proof. Realistically, any number of things could have happened to my position. Not to mention, staying at a job I hated was making me sick, depressed and anxious. Leaving didn't automatically mean I would end up destitute but it didn't guarantee me any huge rewards either. No matter how I looked at it, it seemed I was stuck in a catch-22.
Does this sound familiar?
2. Over-analyzing, ruminating and thinking doesn’t solve this one
I was a reputable, smart, trained career counsellor for Pete’s sake.
Why then, couldn't I figure my way out of this predicament?
I analyzed my situation to death. My wheels spun, my fans hummed and I drove myself crazing trying to solve my career dilemma.
I reviewed all of my career change books and redid all of the career tests.
But still no lightning bolt.
The possible (painful?) conclusion I came to was that if the answer to my career change was to perform more analysis, read more books, take more career tests, or simply figure it all out in my head – I'd have found it by now.
3. You won't find your dream job by looking for it
I got in touch with my recruiter friends and they jumped at the chance to take me on and offered to place me with competitors or with other employers.
I realized this would just be more of the same and was another version of what I had been doing already.
They couldn’t help me figure out what would fit by plunking me into the same role in a different building.
I spent countless hours scrolling the job boards, becoming more and more depressed at seeing how terrible these positions sounded or how I didn’t have the qualifications or experience they required. When I did come across the occasional posting that sounded promising, I’d halfheartedly apply, not even sure it would be a good fit. Then I’d hear crickets. No call. No interview. No offer. Nothing. Nada. Big, fat goose egg. I felt a weird combination of relief and rejection.
Is this what you’re doing? Probably, as it is the conventional way to find a job. I hate to break it to you though…it doesn’t work. It’s a crappy method of looking for a job and it’s even crappier if you are a career changer. It probably won't work for you.
It’s not personal. There is nothing wrong with you—you are awesome. BUT, on paper, you can’t compete with all the others who have been in the field for many years and have the experience and skills that match the requirements of the postings you are competing for. If you are sending out resumes hoping someone will "take a chance on you" simply because "you will give it your all", "really want the position" or you feel it's a "good fit" for you, you are sadly barking up the wrong tree.
You need to do something different
The good news is there are things you CAN do that will work.
1. STOP searching in isolation. You need to gather up the troops.
The biggest challenge I faced in my career change was lack of action. I wanted to change, but I didn't want to leave the security I had and step into the scary unknown.
I guess I was somewhat comfortable in my uncomfortableness.
I would have periods of time where I would have short bursts of action and felt determined to change my situation, followed by long stretches where I'd get caught up in life and drop everything, only snapping back to my depressing reality a few weeks or months later bummed out that I was still in the same place.
I only started seeing change and progress when I enlisted the help of others and changed things up.
I slowly began surrounding myself with like-minded people and I got curious about what it was they had done to change things around in their career. I also hired someone to work with me to figure all of this out. I started to realize that staying in my own insulated bubble, thinking the way I always thought and doing things the way I had always done them hadn’t been getting me anywhere. By exposing myself to new situations and people, I benefited from different ideas and perspectives, different connections, and accountability – all of which, finally, led to forward movement.
Think of your career change the way you would moving house.
You might be able to move all your stuff on your own, but you’d probably enlist some help. Your friend with the pick-up truck, your reliable cousin who won’t get your couch jammed in the stairwell or break your stuff, and your co-worker who always seems to lighten the mood and is just fun to be around. You need support, extra hands, strong backs and people to keep you company while you wait for the cable guy.
2. Less thinking and more action
"Action always beats inaction." – T. Harv Eker
It took me over 5 years to get out of a job that wasn't right for me.
Over 3 years of that time was spent just thinking and trying to solve my career problem in my head.
What a waste of time.
Don't do that.
I was so afraid of making a mistake, I did nothing. What I didn’t realize is that usually doing something—anything!! is better than doing nothing—even if it turns out not to be exactly the perfect thing. You can always correct the course and make adjustments. You are already miserable, how much worse can it get?
“Take risks: if you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise.” – Author Unknown
When I started trying new things and testing the waters, things started to change.
Here’s what I did:
I started taking courses about how to start a private practice, attended small business workshops and learned everything I could about going out on my own. I started doing some freelancing and consulting work.
I soon realized I didn’t want to be a freelancer or consultant full time.
So, did I give up and feel like a miserable failure? No. I course corrected.
I started blogging, put up a website and began getting clients on my own. Then I quit my job and made a go of my own business for about a year.
I realized I didn’t love it. It just didn’t feel right. I closed up shop and went back to my day job.
Notice what I was doing, though.
I was learning about what was possible – generating options and, at the same time, crossing off possibilities, rather than leaving them as open questions in my mind.
I was also testing ideas in a way that didn’t involve me burning any bridges before I'd figured out what I really wanted to do. I don’t recommend quitting your secure job before doing some pretty solid experiments first.
So, I kept working at the job I hated until I sorted out a new niche for my business that felt like a better fit. I launched a new website, built up some clientele and generally got my life together with some professional help and some supportive people in my corner. I then made my finale leap into self-employment. I knew it was a good fit right away and I've never looked back.
A few other ideas you could try to move yourself into action:
-take a course
-pursue a new hobby or reignite an old passion
-shadow somebody at their workplace
-conduct information interviews
-start a side hussle
-start a Facebook group
-work somewhere new part-time
To sum this up simply, action precedes clarity, not the other way around.
3. Look for people, not for jobs
Job sites, recruiters, résumés and Google all have their uses in your career change. But they're not the place to start.
Focus instead on connecting with people. Please stop thinking of job opportunities as postings on a job board. Actual job opportunities are connected to real, living people. Where there is a position, there is a person. You don’t need to see the posting, you need to meet the person. So start meeting people.
The power of being in front of people is that you can present the whole you – something a résumé can never do.
I am far from a schmoozer. I’m a classic introvert who can fake being an extrovert for a very short period of time. So, you won't ever see me bouncing around a networking event getting to know all the movers and shakers. But I can put myself out there enough to reach out to people one-on-one, get creative and offer something up in return to them.
So that's what I did – I had to do this when I was starting out in order to drum up referrals for my business. If you are looking for a new career, you need to do it too. You need to start reaching out to and meeting with lots and lots of people who are in roles that you think might interest you or with people who might know someone who knows someone in a role that might interest you.
Always start with people you know. Reach out to them for help and have them introduce you to interesting people. Keep an open mind and an open heart.
It will take time. There will be time that feels wasted, times when you are tired and would rather be watching tv. BUT one day, there will be a time when all of this effort will make sense, everything will click into place and there will be a huge payoff.
Another thing so wonderful about this approach is that you are connecting with actual people as opposed to sending resume after resume into a dark, black hole. Getting filtered within an inch of your life by screening software whose mission is to put your resume into the no pile gets old fast. So stop relying only on your resume unless you are using it to target VERY specific positions for which you are supremely qualified.
My current clients who take on the "getting in front of people" approach, often get roles they weren’t 'qualified' for. This happens because they sit in front of real human people with feelings and instincts who know great people when they meet them and because they build relationships. An employer can feel the enthusiasm, the energy and the fit. This cannot come across on a resume or job application. My clients build the relationship which often leads to a big opportunity or at minimum a small opportunity with an open door to more.
Remember: The job is always second. People come first.
What your next steps should be
Making a big career change isn't easy – that’s why I make a living helping people do it.
But it is possible and I believe it’s easier than you think.
In the big picture, being happy at work is about so much more than just your job. It's about your life. It's about how you feel before going to bed and how you feel when you wake up. It’s about your health and your relationships. It’s about feeling alive and making an impact.
This is a high stakes game.
There's a lot to lose if you continue not to act.
Now, think of one action you will take this week based upon what you learned in this post. Let me know how it goes.
Need help getting unstuck? Check out how I can help.