As a writer on career issues, I receive scores of emails each month from working people with questions about every aspect of their professional lives and aspirations. Some want to quit, others want to start their own businesses, and some want to be promoted, get a raise, move to another country, tell their boss to jump off a bridge, etc. Some questions represent a dilemma that hundreds of thousands of people are facing, like this one I received recently:
I'm 36 and work in a mid-level corporate role. I know I don't like my work (and haven't liked it for more than five years or so), and things are not going great at the company, but it pays very well, has good benefits and there are some things that are OK about it (mostly that it pays a regular paycheck that feels "secure"). I was promoted recently too, but still, I agonize daily whether I should change careers or just leave it alone and stick with it. How can you tell if you should change careers or not?
I want to tackle this question here because if I can help even one reader make the right decision about this, it's a very good day.
I've found that there are five critical ways to determine reliably and effectively if you should change careers, and once you get hip to these signs, you'll be able to answer for yourself in a heartbeat, "Should I stay or should I go?"
The 5 ways to tell if you should change careers are:
1. You are chronically worn out, exhausted and depleted.
If you experience chronic illness, debilitation and exhaustion, the first place I'd look is your work. Most of us spend more waking hours working than doing anything else, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that if you don't like your work, it won't like you back, and overly-stressful, misaligned work can very easily make your body break down. Your body tells you what you lips can't. It may be your specific job or toxic work environment that are breaking you down, but often it's your entire career that needs a shift.
2. Your skills, responsibilities and tasks are not you at all.
It can be a shocker for some folks to realize that they have become very good at work they hate. For example, I used to be really good at presenting facts, data and new marketing strategies about the membership products I managed to a board room of senior leaders, but inside, it was a horrible struggle. I just couldn't seem to hold onto the key statistics or data about these products because I couldn't care less about them.
3. You've come to the point where your salary no longer makes up for the boredom and emptiness you feel.
Most people who dislike like their work but are reluctant to change would say it's their fear about walking away from the money that keeps them stuck. I work with women who are used to making $150,000 a year and more, and they don't want to part with it. But at some point, many are saying, "Hang on here -- I have this money, but I hate how I spend my life making it." They begin to rethink their priorities and their abilities, and then they open their eyes to new ways they can make the money they need without risking the farm or giving up their lives for it. (Millions are doing this. Research shows that by the end of this decade, more than 50% of the private workforce will be independent.)
4. Despite all the "right" choices you made in your career, the outcome feels very wrong.
So many professionals have made all the "right" choices and done everything that was expected of them, so when they wake up bored to death with their work, they're shocked and confused. The thing to realize here is that the "right" choices usually had to do with pleasing others, stroking your ego or taking work or a promotion that fell in your lap, rather than asking yourself the tough questions like "Is this where I belong?"
5. You have the irrepressible feeling that your talents and abilities could/should be used in a totally different (more creative and impactful) way.
I used to say to myself every day in my corporate life, "I know I'm made for better things than this." But I didn't listen to myself -- I thought I was crazy. If you think, There's got to be more in life, then there IS more to life than what you're currently doing -- no question.
There's another way to live and work, even though you can't see it yet. Here's an example. I have a client who worked in media and public relations for a large, well-known firm for many years, and was laid off last year. She had a big dream -- of starting her own consulting business, where she could call the shots, partner with colleagues she respected and also work on projects that had personal meaning to her. She fantasized about working on retainer (not hourly) in her consultancy, offering her digital marketing talents to startup companies that were just figuring out what they wanted to be when they grew up. But she was too scared to go for it.
After being rejected from five straight interviews at big firms within two months, she realized it was a sign, and decided to muster the courage to plow ahead to pursue her own business.
That was three months ago. Now, she has three new clients, is loving making a difference to budding startups she cares about and is proud of what she's doing. People are asking her advice and paying handsomely for it. With just two more clients, she'll be earning very close to what she was when she was laid off. She's full of hope, excitement and possibility.
If you're reading this, I'm confident that you want career change. The question is, will you do it?
(For more on this topic, join me for my free teleclass on Breakthrough To Your BOLD Plan for More Happiness, Success, and Reward on July 10th).