At some point in each of our jobs/careers, we will undoubtedly reach a point of boredom. Sometimes it is because our job functions are monotonous, but most of the time it is because we have simply outgrown our position. Regardless of how amazing the job was when we first started or how excited we were when we first entered the position, most jobs don’t grow or change quickly enough for us to stay truly challenged, motivated, and engaged over the long term. Whether that happens over the course of two years or twelve years, people change over time and outgrowing a position will inevitably happen.
When this unsettling boredom does take hold of us and our jobs turn into a daily grind, as opposed to an energizing experience where we make the world a better place, we have options. One option that many people take in this situation is to believe the myth that most people actually hate their job and that they should be happy that they’re just bored. I am adamantly opposed to this option because regardless of how most people may or may not feel about their career, we are not most people and their actions should not dictate our behavior.
Staying in a place where you are not growing or fulfilled will eventually result in a bevy of negative effects. From sapping your energy and leaving your family with your leftovers every day, to the quality of your work declining, this will all lead to an infinite cycle of self-loathing and even poorer performance. So, even if you’re reluctant to quit and make a change, chances are that you’re eventually going to get fired. Or worse yet, depending on the quality of your company, your manager may simply accept your poor performance as a fact of life and add it to their list of reasons why they see their job as a grind. Sadly, this is the textbook definition of an unhealthy work environment that needs to be abandoned as quickly as possible.
So, rather than assuming that all other situations will be worse than my current situation, I choose to believe that better situations absolutely exist and that I just have to find them. Whether these better positions exist within my current company and I can transfer into them, or they exist at a different company, or even in a completely different industry and I have to physically relocate and get a different degree to secure them, I am theoretically willing to do whatever it takes to improve my work environment. Having established this Posifocus perspective, the biggest challenge is deciding what I want my next career move to be. But, big decisions like this take time.
It took about fifteen months for me to convince myself to quit my corporate job. It started one day while I was driving, and I asked myself the question: “What do I want written on my tombstone?”
Though I didn’t have the exact answer, I immediately knew that “Greatest Semiconductor Salesman” was not it and at the time, my job defined nearly every aspect of my life. It was at that exact moment that I knew something had to change. However, this wasn’t just about switching jobs. I was talking about fundamentally changing my entire life.
Over the next year, I would get really burnt out with work and start to explore different careers. Then, work would lighten up and become fun again for a few months and I would forget about leaving. After a few more months, I would fall back into the same rut. Over and over again, I would go through this cycle of liking my job and then hating my job and then liking my job again. As time went on, these cycles got shorter and shorter. What had started as three-month cycles quickly became one- month cycles, that became two-week cycles. Eventually, I would have a couple of good days and then a few really rough days. Each time, I would try to convince myself of how horrible the job was to justify my desire to leave, only to find that the job wasn’t horrible. It was actually a really great job, despite my discontentment.
What made this process even more difficult was the fact that just a few years earlier, I considered this my dream job. So, why was it that I couldn’t go a whole day without dreaming of a new life and job that I actually cared about?
The reality was that the job I had initially fallen in love with hadn’t changed. It was the same job that it had always been. I, on the other hand, had changed dramatically since I first took this job. Not only was I older, I had graduated college, gotten married, gotten divorced, moved from California to Texas to Florida, and traveled around the world. Over this time, I was growing and evolving daily, but the job wasn’t keeping up with my pace, the job was staying the same.
So, I finally stopped trying to convince myself that the job was the problem and accepted that it had been an amazing experience. Additionally, I realized it would be an amazing opportunity for the next person as well, but I had learned all I needed to from this stage of my journey, and it was time to move on.
As opposed to diving into the deep end of a new career head first, I am a huge proponent of taking a sabbatical. For different folks in different financial situations, this sabbatical may span anywhere from two weeks to two years. Either way, the multi- dimensional purpose of a sabbatical remains the same.
First, a sabbatical should serve as a time of reflection where you are able to evaluate your current life status. Where did you come from, where are you presently, how did you get here, and what is or isn’t working for you?
Second, a sabbatical is a time for rejuvenation when you are able to experience and explore the activities that both energize and put you at ease.
Third, a sabbatical should be used to prepare for the next chapter of your journey, wherever that may lead you.
The key ingredient here is time. Each of these steps are so expansive and nuanced that they can’t accurately be addressed in an instant. Instead, both mental and physical space is required. While most of our calendars are full of never-ending activities and responsibilities that seamlessly flow from one job ending on Friday to a new job starting on Monday, a sabbatical is a time to breath. Switching employers is a big deal, but switching industries and careers is a life-changing move that should be done methodically, in a healthy state of mind.
While this opportunity for change can come of our own accord and on our own timeline, there are many situations where this opportunity comes from an unexpected layoff or, perhaps, even a firing. Whatever the cause, this situation should absolutely be viewed as an opportunity full of potential and not as a curse. For the uncertain future is the only future that exists.
When I first decided that I was going to leave my corporate job and transition into another industry, I had some general ideas of the direction I would like to take in my next career, but in no way was I sure of exactly what I wanted to do. What I did know was that I wanted to work in a position that made the world a better place, as opposed to working solely for my personal benefit. Beyond these concerns, I was open to suggestions.
Initially, my plan was to rely on my savings and take a six- month sabbatical to regroup and figure some things out. Miraculously, it turned into a twenty-six month sabbatical during which Bonnie and I sailed on Princess Cruise Lines for a couple of months from the Caribbean to Alaska as volunteer Pottery Instructors, spent a summer doing humanitarian mission work in Costa Rica and Guatemala, and ran a Young Professionals group at our local church. Independently, I did mission work in India, Malaysia, and Mexico, I traveled the entire U.S. visiting family and friends, and I started my own web development and digital marketing firm. Throughout the entirely of this sabbatical, I was proud to only have two keys in my possession: One to a storage unit that contained all of my worldly possessions, including my car and my motorcycle, and another to a post-office box where I could have my mail sent. No house, no apartment, no office, and no worries.
With only a suitcase and passport, I couch-surfed my way around the world for twenty-six straight months in an effort to win back the soul that I had sold to American consumerism and the corporate world a decade earlier. Fortunately for me, it worked. No longer did I value granite countertops and hardwood floors above authentic relationships and being kind. Instead, I was able to intentionally reconstruct a rock-solid foundation that I would be happy to build the next few decades of my life upon.
Having had such a fruitful sabbatical experience myself, I am quick to encourage everyone to take a sabbatical for themselves whenever possible. Switching companies? Set your next start date at least two weeks out, if not a whole month out, and go on vacation. This is especially advantageous since most jobs don’t give you vacation time upfront, plus it’s considered bad form to start a new job by requesting time off anyway. Got laid off? Dip into your rainy-day fund and take a vacation! There is no better way to turn a negative situation into a positive experience than with some time on the beach, away from the hustle and bustle.
I understand that not everyone can financially afford to take time off from work, but for those that can, the mental, emotional, and physical benefits you will enjoy from this break are extraordinary. You’ll be more motivated, focused, and at peace, which will all result in an enormous increase in your productivity.
For those that might feel guilty for not being employed during this time, you probably need a sabbatical more than most, as you have likely tied your self-worth directly to your job title. Fortunately, we don’t have to be defined by our job titles. Who we are isn’t just what we do and a sabbatical is a perfect time to fully grasp that though a job is important, it is not all encompassing. Our identity can absolutely exist separate from our job title.
Switching careers can feel a lot like starting over, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While taking a pay cut and losing seniority isn’t ideal, facing new challenges in a new environment can be so exciting that the days seem to fly by as opposed to when you’re bored in your role and the minutes seem like hours. Plus, you get to use the “sorry, I’m new here” excuse as a “get out of jail free card” for at least the first few months.
Just like any other time you enter a new environment, starting a new career affords you the opportunity to reinvent yourself. Not that you necessarily need to change everything about your personality, but if there are some tweaks you’ve been meaning to make, moving into a new role is the perfect time to implement these changes. Whether that means going by your given name as opposed to your nickname or starting a habit like taking a walk at lunch, your new job can serve as a catalyst for the next chapter of your entire life, not just your work life.
Though it can be tempting to feel like you’re starting from scratch, it is important not to dismiss all of the wonderful experience that your previous roles have provided you. On a regular basis, I work with adult students who are switching from non-computer-based industries into the web development field who feel like they don’t have any relevant skills. When it comes time for them to create their resume, they often ask me what they are supposed to list, as they don’t have any relevant experience. However, the truth is, each of their previous positions has equipped them with skills that differentiate them from their competition.
For example, someone with a background in construction is going to be uniquely qualified to create websites that visually appeal to, and work better for, the construction industry than I ever could. Likewise, someone who spent a decade working at the makeup counter of a department store will likely be able to relate to female clients and create interactive digital experiences for that demographic better than anyone else. Though specific technical skills are required to develop a website, it is a person’s individual perspective that makes a website stand out from the crowd.
As such, switching careers isn’t really starting over at all since our past experience can easily be converted, upgraded, and leveraged to meet the demands of our new job. So, rather than view a switch as a step backward, it is far more beneficial to see it as a pivot step that directs you more accurately toward your ever-evolving goals. Just as we change and our goals change, it only makes sense that our journey towards those goals should change too.
Posifocus Mantra #13
Healthy People Grow & Change.
How long have you been in your current role? Is your job still as challenging and fulfilling as when you first started? Does time seem to fly by when you’re at work? If time and money were no object, would you stay in your current position?
Make a list of all the things you love about your current job. If you can list more than twenty items, you have a pretty great job! If you have less than twenty, how can you increase the count?
Join the Posifocus Community and share your thoughts and experiences with the Posifocus Community! Use the hashtag #careerchange.