Are you a risk avoider or a risk taker? In the search for career happiness, it’s an important trait to understand. Many clients I work with become paralysed when thinking about changing careers. Take Kate, a successful Account Director who was the epitome of corporate success. She was well respected in her company, good at what she did, loved by her clients and on a great salary with perks and benefits. Kate, however, had a secret that she kept from her boss and her colleagues – she was really unhappy at work.
All her life she had climbed the career ladder, making compromises along the way to get to where she was, and now…. now she no longer wanted to do what she was doing. Having felt that she fell into her job after university and found that she was good at it, she hadn’t questioned the direction in which she was travelling. But now she felt trapped by her success because she was scared. Scared of change, scared of the financial implications such a change might mean and scared of what people would say if she gave up this successful career for something she didn’t yet know the name of. Most of all she was scared of what would happen if she did nothing.
Kate is not alone, academic research reveals people can take between one to two years before they make a career change. That is a long time to stay in a job you don’t enjoy.
What is holding back women like Kate from finding career happiness. It is likely to be one or all of the following:
Feeling too comfortable
If you’re good at your job and getting well paid, even though your heart might not be in what you do every day it’s easy to stay, to put up with things and just continue on the treadmill. However there is a long term cost to this approach and as your dreams of doing something that you are really engaged with get further away, you become more dissatisfied with your job which in turn leads to increased stress and decreased career confidence.
Loss of identity
Work gives us many things and one of these is a sense of identity. We define ourselves by our work – “I am a lawyer/doctor/teacher/senior manager….” This means when we think about changing what we do, particularly if we have invested a lot of working years or studying to obtain that identity it can be very daunting to think about giving it up.
Fear of making the wrong decision
Clients often say to me ‘what if the new career I choose is not right for me or is worse than what I do now?’ These thoughts can be paralysing because, without a crystal ball it is impossible to know the answer.
There are no certainties or guarantees when you change career but to find work that is meaningful and engages you, and that sparks passion and joy you have to be prepared to take a risk.
However, understanding how to manage and mitigate the risks is the key to moving forward:
- Don’t rush in and just resign because you can’t bear it anymore
- Do your research and work out what you love doing and what kind of careers might suit you. You can do this by yourself using online resources and books, or you might want to find a career coach to work with you to identify the best match for you.
- Do some planning and manage the transition. If you are going to need some financial security while you retrain or get some different experiences then you can start saving now, or start investigating ways to get some volunteer experiences in your new career whilst you do your current job.
- Find a supportive network. Friends and family can be a great resource to help keep you motivated whilst you are on this journey so enlist those that you trust and can help you feel positive about the change.
- Stay positive. Research shows that you are more open to new experiences, the possibility of change and more likely to take action if you are in a positive frame of mind. Doing a simple exercise every day to find 3 things you are grateful for can increase your well being exponentially.
Anais Nin said “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to your courage” so above all, know in your heart that the risk, however scary it may seem, will be worth it.
This article was originally published in The Guardian, read it here.
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