Why does career change take so long? From that very first moment we sense a gnawing feeling inside – that feeling we might be in the wrong career or job – to the day when we actually take action can take years … and seem like forever!
It sure would be nice if we could wave a magic wand and instantly find a new career we love. But finding those right steps for a successful career change really does take time. Especially steps that guide us to something better, something we can truly feel good about on the inside, where it counts.
The five stages of “right” career change
In her well-known book “On Death and Dying” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross talked about something she called the five stages of grief. While I’m not trying to say it’s anything like losing a loved one, letting go of a career we once loved (or maybe never liked at all but hung on to far too long) resembles the steps Kübler-Ross talks about.
Before we can go ahead and find that fabulous new career, there are stages we go through – and I think must honor. I will use Kübler-Ross’s stages to describe how so many of us finally come to that life-changing decision to forever give up the career we have and move on.
Now some of you may be thinking “Well, I could give this up in a second.” But have you?
Even if the Kübler-Ross stages aren’t exactly right for this, there are definitely stages we go through to get to that point where we are free enough to throw ourselves fully into finding that new career, without trying to make it somehow feel and look like the old one, only better.
Do these stages of change sound familiar?
Maybe this will help you come to your own decision. See if any of it sounds familiar to you:
Denial and isolation
- “I know I chose a good career because everyone tells me it’s a good career. It’s been three years, but I’m sure it will get better.”
- “Many years ago I enjoyed this work, but this last year or so I’ve felt the urge for something more. Still, I’m sure I’ll get over that. This is secure.”
- “No one understands what I’m really going through.”
- “I’ve never enjoyed what I do, but maybe if I just find the right company or right boss …”
- “I hate my job, but I can’t tell anyone. And I certainly can’t let them see how miserable I am.”
- “Everyone hates their job.”
Now there are times when the best thing you can do is look for ways to make the job you have better. Sometimes that means finding a better company or boss. Or taking a look to see how you yourself can improve the way you handle things. These approaches can turn things around for you.
But sometimes, it’s just the wrong career. Or at least the wrong one for now. And you need time to come to that realization.
You may start feeling yourself angry all the time. And really annoyed by everyone around you – your boss, your co-workers, even family and friends. And you begin to realize how much you hate your job.
Maybe you finally start telling people – maybe even your boss. It just starts to come out of you, almost like a small volcano erupting. And if you ignore it long enough, the volcano grows.
You tell yourself you can make what you have now work for you. Even with all evidence to the contrary. It must simply be something you haven’t been doing right. You’ll work longer hours. You’ll go to the gym every morning and change your attitude.
You’ll be the most determined and most cooperative and most productive person in your company. You’ll look for things to help improve. You’ll make new connections. And you’ll go out of your way to help others – and do your best to make sure your boss sees all that you’re doing, so you can reap the rewards.
Now, if it’s not your career choice that’s the problem, these actions can actually help turn things around for you. Starting with yourself and what you can do differently is a great way to rev up a job or career.
BUT … if you have outgrown your career or simply need to find a different career for any reason, these things will simply serve as a temporary bargain with yourself – and help you avoid what really needs to happen. Once again, this adds to the time it takes to get to your real career change.
And now it hits. Your career stinks. You’ve wasted all that time. Maybe you’ve waited too long and you’re too old to do what you really want to do. Or so you think. Or maybe you have no idea what you want, so it feels unbearably daunting to even think about it.
Career depression is a major cause of life dissatisfaction in our country. And many people get stuck in this stage for years. But you don’t have to stay stuck. There is hope.
The final stage is acceptance. You realize that it’s ok to admit that what you once had – or thought you had – is gone. And you’ll never get it back. And it’s ok to move on. Not only ok, but this is a chance to open doors to things you never imagined. And perhaps meet people who will think more like you and share many of your career goals and values.
This is where the good stuff starts. Once you fully accept that there is something out there much more fitted to who you are now – and that you deserve to find it – this releases the weight of all those other stages. The bad news is … the acceptance stage has a few phases of its own, and all that takes more time. Sorry.
But the good news is, if you’ve really let the past go and accepted that it’s time to let new things in, the hardest part may be behind you. You can now proceed with the next phase of this stage – the one where you start to look to find a career you can love. Or at least like a whole lot.
Some articles to help you find that new job and career…
Do-it-yourself assessment & some fun career quizzes…