How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. Annie Dillard
Children frequently get asked the question: “so, what do you want to be when you grow up?”. They don’t get asked how they’re going to make a living, nor how they’re going to work their way up through the rungs of a company. The question allows a sense of aspiration, a sense of what they want ‘to be’, as if their career will define who they become.
And in a sense, that’s true. Our career encompasses so much of our lives, and can have a knock-on effect on everything else, from how we think about our personal place in the world, to what we dream for our family. We all want to have a ‘good career’, but what that actually is can be a little fuzzy. Often, we end up in jobs that aren’t necessarily a true realisation of any childhood dream. They’re just where we ended up, what we fell into.
The mistake is to think that there is only one kind of career that you can have. Never give into the sunk cost fallacy – the idea that you have to continue doing what you’re doing because you’ve invested so much into it.
If you don’t like the way your career is going, it’s perfectly acceptable to hit the brakes and changing direction. The presenter of NPR’s Invisibilia Hanna Rosin, wrote a beautiful essay for Lenny Letter this week called, “Screw Mastery”. In it, she talks about starting out in a new field in your 40s, and why we put too much emphasis on experience, instead of relishing discovery. If you’re thinking that the career you’re in isn’t for you, here are some things to think about.
Don’t Coast; Embrace Change
A steady, secure job is a beautiful thing in many ways, which can provide a solid foundation on which to build the rest of your life. However, being in a job that doesn’t exactly light your fire, or under-challenges you could negatively impact your self-esteem, or your sense of who you are. Coasting in your job for a while is perfectly fine, but if it’s an ongoing scenario you could end up dissatisfied in the long term. Challenge that dissatisfaction, and try to change things in your job to make sure if it’s indeed your career or industry you’re not happy with, or if it’s just how you’re approaching your work.
Take It Slow
Not all change has to be sudden and seismic. You don’t have to run into your boss and loudly declare you’re quitting in a whirlwind of sound and fury. Instead, test the waters of your new potential career. Take an evening class, freelance a little every now and then, spend time mentally exploring what exactly it is that you want to change, go out and meet people who are doing what you want to do. Over a year or two, if you still want to change your path, you’ll have enough contacts, clients and confidence to make it work for you.
Realise You’ll Have Many Chances
You have as many chances as you wish to take. Don’t feel that by changing your career now you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. If you make a decision, and it turns out not to be the right one, you will have several other opportunities to change again – you aren’t chained to any one decision. Always remember you’ll have other opportunities, so have some faith and follow your instincts.
Don’t Think What; Think How
If you want to embark on a new career, but you’re not sure what you should do, take some time to consider what it is that you really want. Don’t think about specific job titles. Instead, think about how you’d like to work. Do you want to collaborate with a team, or do you prefer to work alone? How social should your work be? Do you want to travel? Do you want to have strict office hours, or a would you prefer a lot of flexibility? Do you want to have a desk to call your own, or do you want to be out and about every day? What kind of causes are important to you? Thinking about how, might lead you to the what.
Stick To Your Ideals
When who we personally believe ourselves to be diverges significantly from the ethos of the company we work for, it can cause serious issues. Spend some time thinking about your own ethics, motivations and ideals and define what is unshakeable for you. Narrow down what is essential to your identity – and then don’t compromise on those beliefs.
Whatever you decide to do next, you have to believe in it wholeheartedly. In order for someone else to believe in you and to be swept away by your enthusiasm, you have to first find that belief and enthusiasm in yourself. If it’s something you really want to do, that’s what you’ll feel. That’s when you’ll know you’re on the right path.
Prepare for the fact that it may not be a smooth transition, but great chaos precedes great change, as they say. Attempt to enjoy that phases – if you know in your gut that you’re doing the right thing for you, and for your long-term goals and personal fulfilment, go for it full throttle! When what you do aligns with who you are, and who you want to become, everything else will begin to fall into place.