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Monday
Jul212014

Is It Time to Change Careers?

This weekend I went to New York and on the train there read an article in the latest issue of Inc. magazine about signs that it's time to consider a career change. Then yesterday I caught a performance of the musical Pippin, essentially the story of a young man who wants to lead a fulfilling life and the numerous efforts he makes to find that fulfillment. So it became quite clear what I would write about this week.

What tells you first that you're in the wrong career and second that it's time to really do something about it and not just daydream about a change? The most obvious sign is a persistent unhappiness with, and sometimes even a dread of, undertaking the work required to do your job. A sure sign that something is fundamentally amiss is a long string of miserable Sundays, wishing that the start of a new work week would never come. Perhaps a bit less obviously you may feel a sense of stagnation that persists over a long period of time. 

Note that in a clear sign that it's time to contemplate change, the unhappiness or dread that you feel needs to relate to the nature of your work itself, and not to the unpleasantness of your boss or the disfunction of your organization. In the latter situations finding work in the same field but in a different venue may be sufficient to solve the problem.

The Inc. article suggested paying attention to yet another manifestation of fundamental career dissatisfaction:
"People get so wrapped up in the activities of the day that they often don't realize the negative tone and vibe they share with their colleagues. See if you can hear your own negativity in meetings, on the phone, even at the water cooler. Take a notepad and make a mark every time you communicate something negative. If you are running out of paper to mark up by lunch, you may need to adjust your situation. Perhaps you can see that it disappoints or upsets the colleagues you still like and respect, but you just feel so frustrated. If you know you sound angry, bitter, or resigned, and you wish you could be more positive, but just can't, it's time to make a change."

How do people wind up being unhappy with their careers after years of general contentment? They may come to the realization that although their work has brought them success (in compensation,  authority, or even renown) the success has become less important over time. This is a phenomenon that I quite commonly observe in people in their later 30s, 40s, and 50s. Age often brings a maturity that focuses less on the external indicators of success and more on the internal satisfaction of knowing that the work one is doing means something, that it is engaging intellectual and emotional aspects of oneself that are stimulating and challenging, and that one is experiencing growth.

Unfortunately many people don't allow themselves the freedom to truly contemplate and then engage in the process of alternative career exploration. They are highjacked by concerns about the possibility of a reduced life style, or of the financial demands of a growing family. If you find yourself in that category I urge you to consider not just the price you might be paying in switching career paths, but the price you might be paying in NOT doing so. How much is your happiness worth? What's the value of the improvement in your relationship with your spouse, your kids, your friends, your parents, when you are engaged in work you feel proud of, rather than beaten down by? What are the long-term health implications of the stress associated with feeling trapped in a situation with no foreseeable solution?

Yes, exploring alternative career options takes focus, time, and most probably money. But shouldn't what you do for 40 or 50 hours a week enhance, rather than detract, from the enjoyment you take in living?

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