“What If My Career Change Problem Is Me?”

Charlotte’s career looks great from the outside, but she’s just not feeling fulfilled. She’s full of ideas for her next career, but is this just another case of the grass looking greener on the other side? How can you be sure the job’s the problem, not you?

What's your career history and current job?

I work for an NGO in fundraising.

I've gradually worked my way up the ladder in the charity sector since graduating from university 15 years ago.

How do you feel about your work?

Sometimes I feel as though I enjoy the idea of what I do more than the actual reality.

People are generally impressed when I tell them where I work, namely because it's well known and well respected. I guess I like what working there says about me to the outside world.

We're constantly discussing world events, which can feel exciting, current and important. It makes me feel at the centre of things.

After four years of working there, it feels very comfortable and easy. It gives me financial security. It's a 20-minute cycle ride away. I have a lot of close friends who work there, so it can be a lot of fun. And I'm surrounded by incredibly talented people whom I admire.

My role can be incredibly stressful, with an awful lot of pressure and responsibility from every angle, with little reward or recognition. Sometimes I question the point of it. It's not as though I'm an A&E doctor saving lives. It's just made-up deadlines, presentations, working to meet ambitious targets and objectives, etc. It seems arbitrary.

Also, even though it's a charity, essentially it's no different to any large business.

In order to be respected, you need to be fairly hard-nosed, sharp, happy to talk the talk (jargon), able to exchange 'banter' with the directors, and have a ruthless streak.

It doesn't sit right. I don't feel I can compete or that I'm particularly good at it.

It's not that I 'hate' what I do, or that the organisation is unbearable. My team is lovely; the organisation is, on the whole, wonderful. I go to work with friends, and I have security. It's not awful.

But when I sit at my desk, my heart sinks. I just think I could be doing something that makes me feel more alive…

What would you like to be doing instead?

I want a job that feels authentic.

A job in which I can be myself, and not feel as though I need to wear a mask in order to succeed.

I don't have any burning passions or secret skills. I quite like a lot of things, but nothing so much that I can say with certainty, "EUREKA, THAT'S IT!"

However, something I keep coming back to is counselling / psychotherapy. I enjoy being able to help and to connect to people in a genuine way.

I also have a vague fantasy of creating some sort of sustainable ecolodge, where people can come for a restful break, although I worry this feels quite frivolous and without a 'social purpose'.

What's the biggest obstacle in your way?

Sometimes I feel as though I'm just clutching at straws.

I've had so many fleeting apparent 'moments of clarity', ranging from photojournalist, to occupational therapist, to teacher... it's hard to take myself seriously. And this can lead to inaction.

I'm also scared of falling victim to 'the grass is always greener' syndrome. I question whether I'm just being escapist. Anything 'other' is better than what I'm doing right now... (until, of course, I do it!).

I'm also so aware that I'm lucky to be where I am, and feel frustrated that I can't just be satisfied. I worry that the problem is actually my way of thinking, which will accompany me wherever I go.

I also tend to overthink. A lot.

Thinking my way out of the problem is probably the main thing I've done to try to overcome my obstacles; needless to say, I'm just going round and round in circles.

One practical thing I have done is asked work if I can take some unpaid leave. Although this presents its own difficulties. I've wondered whether I should just bite the bullet and cut myself loose.

How can I be sure that my problem is down to the job / industry I'm in, and not me?

Can you help Charlotte?

  • Have you been in a similar situation, or are you in the same boat right now?
  • How do you think Charlotte could move her shift forwards?
  • Do you know anyone she could talk to?

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