What’s Keeping You From Changing Careers?

So many people aren’t happy, fulfilled or even moderately satisfied with their work. The constant changes taking place in companies, including the temporary nature of jobs that were once relatively permanent, create a stressful work environment in which it’s difficult to feel satisfied, let alone happy.

Seemingly endless communication (e-mail, voice mail, meetings), multiple projects with multiple deadlines and extreme pressure to increase profits all contribute to an atmosphere in which many professionals feel overwhelmed.

Although many employees are unhappy in their work, some probably don’t know why — even though they acutely feel the symptoms of their discontent. These feelings can range from being depressed, bored, lethargic and apathetic to being overwhelmed, stressed or unchallenged. Those who do understand the reasons for their dissatisfaction usually are stuck; it’s easier for them to remain in an unhappy work situation than to learn how to “unstick” themselves.

Living is about making choices. Deciding what kind of work will make you happy is one of the greatest of these choices. In fact, there are so many options that it may seem easier to not make any changes. But one choice is clear — you can decide to begin the process of change or keep doing something that isn’t making you happy.

A Work-Situation Quiz

If you’re feeling discontented or unhappy with work but are unsure why, take the accompanying assessment quiz. It will help you to identify your primary work-life situation, as well as the others that you might fit, and provide insight on why you associate with a specific circumstance. Taking this assessment may confirm what you already suspect about why you’re dissatisfied with your work and help you to see other factors.

What’s Your Primary Challenge?

Your results on the assessment quiz can provide insight on the work-life challenges you’re currently facing. Reviewing the descriptions that follow will help you to label and isolate why you want a change and gain a clearer understanding about how to reduce your dissatisfaction. While you’ll probably relate most closely to one situation, expect to identify with two or three of them.

1. Where’s the meaning?

Individuals in this situation are seeking a new kind of reward and satisfaction. They may want personal fulfillment or be driven by a strong desire to help others. Bill, an engineer for 15 years, never really enjoyed his work. After being downsized by the telephone-equipment reconditioning business he worked for, Bill took some time off and became a volunteer for five different organizations. He currently earns money by working several part-time jobs. His wife volunteers for many of the same organizations, and they are both happier and having more fun than when they were earning substantially more money.

2. Been there, done that, but still need to earn.

These people are successful in their work, and while they want — and probably need — to keep earning at the same level, they can’t conceive of staying in the same job for another 10 or 20 years. Many of them won’t be able to change careers immediately, but with planning can do so eventually. Melinda, a computer-systems programmer for most of her career, was among them. She stayed where she was because she was making good money and financial responsibilities precluded her from changing. As her children grew older, she began working as a personal fitness trainer at night and on weekends. Once Melinda’s life situation changed (her children grew up and she divorced her husband), she was able to launch full time into her personal-training business with established clients. Today, she’s making nearly the same amount doing what she enjoys.

3. Bruised and gun-shy.

These individuals are victims of the changing workplace. They were laid off or experienced discrimination but still need to work. However, they’re hesitant to rejoin the corporate world or take another career risk. Juan was laid off and then needed a bypass operation. Ambivalent about re-entering the corporate world after his surgery, he opted to become a “job-stress coach” and now has his own practice helping others deal with work-related stress.

4. Bored and plateaued.

Many people who have worked hard for years want to make a change because they’re bored and seek new challenges. Deborah, 40, had spent her career in consumer-products marketing. A vice president at an elite marketing firm, she admitted being “bored to tears.” The early years of her career had seemed exciting and fun but for the past four years, she had felt stagnant. She finally became so miserable she sought a new direction.

5. Yearning to be on your own.

Do you dream of being on your own or starting a company? Helen Harkness, author of “Don’t Stop the Career Clock,” reports that in the early nineteenth century, 80% of Americans were self-employed. By 1970, this number had fallen to 9%. But self-employment has been growing furiously: In 2000, there were 12 million small businesses in the U.S. By 2020, 25% of U.S. businesses are expected to be small, privately owned companies.

Meanwhile, the “contingency work force” — those working temporarily on specific projects for many different companies — has grown by 57% since 1980. These workers don’t have many of the responsibilities of business ownership, yet they possess the flexibility of those who own businesses. After spending 30 years in teaching, sales and human resources, Blanche started a consulting firm. “I always knew I wanted my own business and to have my stamp on something,” she says. She’s having fun and hitting every goal she sets for herself and her business.

6. One toe in the retirement pool.

Baby boomers who want to semi-retire or retire from their current work fit this category. Many are asking what they should do with the years ahead. Do they change careers completely, volunteer, scale down the time they spend in their current job or retire completely? Di retired at 58 from a long career in sales because her exhausting travel schedule was affecting her health. During the first few years of her retirement, she took yoga, read books and learned how to paint in oils. Recently, she has begun conducting training seminars for a previous employer and enjoys combining retirement and part-time work.

A Three-Step Process of Change

If your assessment confirms that you wish to make a change, the following three-step process may be useful. It can give you the tools to help you to leave your current work situation behind and move toward something new or different, or to make changes to create what’s missing in your current situation.

Step 1: Complete self-assessments specific to your work situation.

The first logical step to putting a plan together for your career is to learn and understand your unique values, interests, personality preferences, attitudes and favorite skills. By using this information about yourself as a foundation, you’ll be better able to focus your job search or career direction. Much of this information can be gathered in career guides, conducting online research or working with a career counselor.

Step 2: Explore roadblocks and opportunities.

Many obstacles and barriers may be preventing you from pursuing a different kind of occupation or changing the way you work. They might include age, money, time, education or lack of experience. On the positive side, the opportunities are limitless. By identifying what’s holding you back, you can learn how to get around such roadblocks and exploit your opportunities.

Step 3: Create an action plan.

An action plan requires thoughtfulness and preparation. While creating your plan requires time and energy, it’s a valuable tool for mapping out a new career or revamping your career goals.

The journey of career change is fascinating and eminently worthwhile. Ultimately, it will bring you to your desired destination — satisfying and fulfilling work for as long as you’d like to do it.

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