By Heather Wilkerson
Are you contemplating career change? Does a feeling of drudgery start creeping into your system every Sunday evening? Perhaps you’re dreading meetings and projects for the upcoming week. Or maybe you asking yourself, “Why am I staying here? Is there possibly something better out there?” During the pandemic, many people had a chance to step away from their positions and ask these questions. Many found themselves answering, “Yes! There is something better for me.” For other people, the answer is more nuanced, related to burnout or recalibrating their career path.
How to decide what is really the best way to proceed in your career? If you think of your career as a journey, there is the possibility of many options and interesting paths that could all be worth exploring. Similar to the planning for any journey, I encourage you to define where you currently are, ask, “What is the real purpose of my journey?” and decide if you are on the right path. This article will focus on honing your career decision-making process and the important factors in planning the journey that’s right for you.
Many factors can lead you to contemplate a career change. It could be burnout, lack of engagement, or a change in your life situation. Often people have found they desire more meaningful work or flexibility to create a more balanced lifestyle. Don’t ignore the uncomfortable feeling of discontent in your gut when thinking about your career – you are not alone.
Research shows that we master a position after a couple of years and will experience boredom and a need for change about every 3 years. Our minds want to grow and learn. Harvard Business School also found that having some sense of meaning in your work is vital to job satisfaction. Another area of huge importance is relationships at work. We are social creatures that crave healthy relationships!
When you are taking a journey and begin to feel lost it is tempting to take the first exit. However, this could get you extremely off course or look like the right path, but in reality, become a dead-end road. Worrying about taking the wrong road often leads to clutching the steering wheel and just continuing in the same direction because it feels familiar.
Before heading out or at least continuing in the same unsatisfying direction, first evaluate the problems with your current position. Then try identifying the best path for you, one that leads towards a destination you are looking forward to experiencing. And how do you do that? Start with an accurate picture of your current situation and explore the assets, values, and motivators that help you define where you would like to go.
Contemplating career change: What is the reality of my current situation?
If you look at your current role, what are you experiencing? Are you bored and no longer seeing ways to grow and develop in your current career? Think back over your career, and you’ll probably see a pattern of new opportunities and responsibilities that offered you growth in the past. You may have outgrown your position. Or you may have outgrown your organization.
Often disgruntled employees discover they no longer believe in the company's purpose. This can occur if an organization becomes toxic and either engages in unethical behaviors, disrespects employees, or has unrealistic goals that employees frantically try to achieve, resulting in sacrificing self-care and burn-out.
If your current situation lacks growth, you no longer align with the mission and vision, or you do not feel safe or respected, then that is a clear sign that you should consider a job change. If not all apply, then perhaps you can find a way to better align yourself within the organization. If you are unsure, it may be time for self-exploration.
Are You On Someone Else's Path?
Some people progress down the wrong path and stay too long because they can't figure out how to get off and the pain is not great enough to force a move. Often the reason is that the path has gone askew and the necessary course correction is not clear. One reason may be that we have not stayed in the driver's seat of our career. You may find yourself heading down the completely wrong path doing work that others wanted you to do but is no longer tied to your values and motivators.
As a career coach, I have time and again had clients who fell into positions that used a skill they were good at but did not give them much joy. They agreed to projects where they were praised by others even though it drained their energy. Does this sound familiar to you? In these situations, it is actually quite easy to follow others since the road is mapped out and looks familiar. People often stay in the same career but jump from one organization to the next, misreading the road signs. It’s time to get back in the driver's seat and take control of your own career satisfaction. Start by asking, “Where did I get off track? Where did I stop paying attention to what I found interesting and motivating to me?”
Before exiting, take a moment to evaluate if any part of this unhappiness is able to be turned around at your current organization. What if you take control of your choices and lay down your own road with specific directions laid out for others so they can support you on this path? There are often many ways to create more fulfilling options within your own company once you know what to look for and how to describe the path to others.
Create Your Own Path
To more accurately evaluate if your current organization still holds options for you, it is important to be clear on your desired journey. Burnett and Evans, in Designing Your Life, recommend that the first thing to do is build a compass. Ask yourself who you are, what you believe, and what you are doing, and then look for any incongruences. They suggest taking time to evaluate what work means to you, the importance of money, and the value of growth and fulfillment.
Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, uncovered in his research that people who found a connection between their work and something socially meaningful for them found much more life satisfaction. Often we ask the wrong question, “What is the ideal job?” when really we should ask, “What do we enjoy doing currently?”
What is the best part of your day? Start by asking what brings you joy when you play and when do you feel in flow where time just slips away? What gives you energy and what drains you? What motivates you and feels meaningful? There are several tools to help you with this process.
One exercise is to think of times in your past when you had a perfect day and everything clicked. Take some time to notice when and where you have felt most energized. This could have been during work, a hobby, or vacation. Consider what you were doing and the surrounding environment. Get curious about what you were enjoying, what was important to you, and how you were motivated. It’s often helpful to write down the best parts. Can you identify how you added value and what skills and strengths you were using? Then compare to assessments of your motivators and what you describe as purposeful uses of your time.
Combining all this information gives you the foundation for uncovering your desired path. If you find that identifying what is important to you, your key strengths, and where you get energy is challenging, I would recommend delving into some structured career assessment tools. If you have gained some clarity about motivators, values, and strengths then you have uncovered the fundamental parts of your career compass. The ultimate goal of this compass-building is to find congruency between the life you want to live and your career path.
Let’s put this compass to use!
Armed with a new lens of self-information, take the satellite view in evaluating your current work situation. In comparing what you are doing now with your new career vision, can you find a tie to some of your motivators and energy builders within your current position, department, or organization? Through the new lens, can you uncover any congruence, opportunities for growth, and learning that is inspiring for you?
At the top of this article, we mentioned other causes of job dissatisfaction such as burnout, boredom, and lack of fulfillment. If these sentiments still resonate, then explore what is missing that is important to you and notice how your energy is being zapped. Remember fulfillment includes not only what you do well but what you would like to keep doing. If it's clear at this point that you are in the wrong place, then it's time to create a new path.
Find a New Road
Here’s the catch, though. None of this exploration will point to the exact perfect position within the perfect organization. It merely lays the groundwork to help you clarify, evaluate, and choose which paths to explore or cross off the list. You have already started this process by building your compass and determining what you hope to experience on this journey.
You may choose to explore some side roads, tangential paths that are closely associated with a strength, a passion, or special talent. If you have jumped onto someone else's path, take some time to reconnect with your strengths and skills. As you enter the exploration phase, look for people you admire, interesting ideas, fun professional projects, or even hobbies to dive into and test out possible career options. There are myriad ways to define and act upon the next career path.
When charting your career path, build and use your personal compass to help you understand the career satisfaction aspects for which you’re actually looking, uncover the draining tasks or skills traps and connect to motivators. Armed with a good compass and clear goals for your trip, your career journey will be filled with growth opportunities, successful options, and places to let your strengths shine.
Check out our other career content at PathWise.io
Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Designing Your Life.
Annie McKee. The Happiness Trap. Harvard Business Review.
Shelcy V. Joseph. Should You Stay At Your Current Job? Forbes.