3 Things To Remember When You Feel You're Not Where You Should Be

Image of three sunflowers

Newly Updated

Image: Marina Reich

You should be further along in your shift. You should have done more. You're not where you wanted to be by now. Sound familiar? Natasha shares three lessons to get you focused, freed up, and having fun with your career change.

Career change is widely discussed as though it's a technical challenge.

To find out what you'd love to do, you simply need to find the right tools, the right personality test, the right person who can tell you what's available to you given your experience. And to make the shift, you need to get the right qualifications, shine up your CV or résumé, talk to the right people.

But for most of us who embark on a journey to find work we love, it's so much more than that. It's not all that technical. It's ethereal, intangible, terrifying, and deeply human.

Career change isn't really about changing your job. It's not about spending five days per week in a different office.

It's about changing your life.

It's about asking yourself, on a deep-down, beyond-the-gut level: to what extent is my life my own creation?

Do I really get to say what direction I travel in?

And, if I do, where do I want to go?

This might be the first time you've asked yourself this question in years – or even at all.

So many elements of our lives are pre-determined: grooves and channels are set up for us; all we have to do is get the ball rolling down them. And then we're off, days and weeks and years of our lives flying past, while we barrel along unquestioningly.

For some of us, though, there's a feeling that creeps in, sliding through the cracks in our busy, hard-working lives. A sense of deep, nameless dissatisfaction with the way things are. A feeling that "there must be more to life than this".

It's uniquely painful to realise you've ticked so many boxes, done all the things you were supposed to do – worked hard to do them, too – and yet you're still not happy. Why not? Where did you go wrong? So you get your head down again, work a bit harder, aim for that next promotion or a new client or an approving nod from the boss. Keep on pushing, in case the sense of fulfilment you were promised is around the next corner.

And yet, that feeling you've been grappling with – that shapeless, nameless malaise – doesn't go away.

Some people live with that feeling for their entire lives. And others – others like you – look it in the face and make the choice to do something different.

Sometimes, doing something different takes time. And sometimes, you're just about ready to chew your own arm off to make it happen faster.

There are three ideas that I urge every career changer to remember when they feel like they're not where they're 'supposed' to be.

They're simple ideas and they live right at the core of a successful career change. Most of the time, they quietly wait for you to pause for a breath in amongst your frustrations and angsts and nitpicking, and notice them. And when you do, they change everything.

You're doing something amazing. Celebrate yourself.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." – Theodore Roosevelt

You don't know what you want to do yet.

Or, you do know, but there are challenges to getting there that you haven't yet figured out.

It's easy to spend much of your career change in a state of discomfort and uncertainty. Feeling disappointed that you haven't yet got to where you want to be. Doubting your skills and talents, your commitment, even your ability to know what you want out of life. Beating yourself up because you don't yet have all the answers, slamming up against the edges of your comfort zone and sliding down again, bruised and fed up.

And yet, when you take a step back and take a proper look, you're doing something incredible.

One of the reasons I do what I do is because I want to spend my days surrounded by people who inspire me.

People who aren't willing to settle for 'the norm'. People who are brave enough to ask themselves the big questions; to rock the boat a little; to create lives they love.

That's you.

Maybe you're not 'there' yet, wherever 'there' might be.

Maybe you've still got work to do, questions to answer, people to meet, opportunities to create.

But you're in the arena.

Take a second to consider that. Notice the courage it took to even begin this conversation with yourself and the world. Recognise the fact that it's been tough; it's been uncomfortable; it's been unfamiliar; and you're still here.

Bold enough to ask yourself the hard questions.

Committed enough to an extraordinary life to feel that discomfort and inch your way forward regardless.

That's pretty incredible.

What could you do to honour the work you've put in? To celebrate being one of the brave few who are forging a new path for themselves? To recognise what kind of person you must be to take on your life in such a powerful way?

Take the time to acknowledge yourself. You deserve it.

If you don't enjoy the journey, you'll never reach your destination

"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware." – Martin Buber

You haven't yet made it from A to B. The boxes aren't all ticked yet. Your project is still 'incomplete'.

And when you focus on that 'not-yet-done' status, it sucks, especially when you've been trying hard to move forward. It feels like failure.

We're taught that things are either done or not-done. Complete or incomplete. One or the other. Zero or One.

And yet… what if there was beauty in the 0.5?

Mid-shift, I was frantic. Crabby at work, crabby at home. I'd wake up most mornings and burst into tears at the thought of going to the office for even one more day.

I'd spend my evenings scouring the internet for a weird blend of inspirational quotations, job advertisements and get-rich-quick schemes, and fall into bed square-eyed and despairing that I wasn't a Zen Buddhist graphic designer with a 4-Hour Work Week.

I'd make progress on figuring out what I wanted to do, but the progress I made was never enough. I could tick off three amazing items on my career change To-Do list, and you could bet your bottom dollar I'd immediately beat myself up about the two I hadn't yet achieved.

Apart from work, the job site hamster wheel and copious amounts of self-flagellation, I didn't do much. I didn't take time out to do the things I enjoyed. I withdrew from my social life. The thought of doing something I really enjoyed felt like a waste of time. "Write? Go horse riding? Do some yoga? Don't you know I have a career change to be getting on with?!"

My whole approach and emotional relationship to my career change transformed when I gave myself permission to enjoy the journey. To view it as an ongoing adventure, with beauty and important life-lessons in every question, every challenge, every experiment. If it was going to take longer than I expected, I might as well have a little fun along the way, right?

This was a chance for me to try out a ton of stuff that I thought might be fun. To talk to people I thought were awesome. To try things I'd never tried before and find out more about myself and what made me happy.

Whether I got to an 'end point' or not, the journey itself was a chance for me to shake things up and enjoy my life more. And (punchline moment coming up) what happened as soon as I started to do the things I loved, and talk to people that inspired me, without all the emotional drama?

I found a way to make money from those things. And hang out with those people. All day long.

But – and this is a big one – even if I hadn't found a career I loved a few months after making that shift, I'd have had an amazing time continuing with my journey. I honestly don't think I'd have minded all that much. I enjoyed the journey so much, in fact, that I designed my career around it.

What have you learned about yourself since you began your journey?

What have you done that's new, or interesting, or exciting? How has your perspective on what's possible changed?

Who are you that you weren't before? What's now possible for your future that was never a possibility before?

Even in the 'stuck' moments, even when you don't know what to do next, there are opportunities to enjoy yourself; to expand your comfort zone; to become a more powerful, interesting, storied person.

Take them. Enjoy the journey. You're allowed to have fun.

Screwing up is vital. Do as much of it as possible

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." – Winston Churchill

On our courses, we share an inspiring video with our community each week, and one of our favourites is this guy: Jia Jiang.

Jia took on a project where he tried to be rejected or refused by someone for 100 days.

He tried to fail. Imagine that.

What would that shift in approach do for your career change?

What would you do differently if you knew the only way to succeed was to fail, repeatedly?

If there was absolutely no way you were going to find work you loved without making some monumental mistakes?

What if the whole joke was that your entire life was a long evolution, where the things you loved and wanted to do would change with each passing year, so this first shift you're making might already be doomed to failure?

Would you sweat the small stuff – agonising over whether the woman you met at that networking event would e-mail you and blaming yourself when she didn't?

Would you hammer yourself for weeks over a missed opportunity, or an embarrassing mistake, or the fact that you quit studying Biology when you were 16?

My guess is: probably not.

You'd seek out ways to mess up.

You'd give something a bash and then drop it if it didn't feel right. No internal beatings involved.

You'd try a new business idea (in a small way, Lean Career Change style) and when it flopped, you'd get really, really curious about why.

(Of course, when I decided to 'experiment' with floristry, and basically spent six months sitting in a cupboard, losing my sense of smell, it didn't take much curiosity to figure it out.)

You'd be lighter with yourself. More gentle.

You'd try doing lots of things you'd never done before (like my stint as a pole-dance teacher), and laugh at yourself when things went wrong (like the day I taught a class for a hen party and wound up with a naked 64-year-old Mother of the Groom being sick behind the DJ booth at two in the afternoon).

You'd celebrate the small wins and the 'oops' moments.

Maybe, you'd even zoom out a little. Realise that every passing moment is a moment of your life. Your life is not 'on hold' until you get to where you're aiming for. Being happy is not something you put on the back burner until you sign a contract for work you love. This is it.

You're right here.

Take it.

Which of these three things resonates most with you? Let me know in the comments below.

Natasha Stanley's picture

Natasha Stanley is head coach, writer, and experience designer for Careershifters. When she's not working, you'll find her listening to neuroscience podcasts, learning pottery, and dreaming up her next adventure.