Image by Chris Sardegna
You were once so happy together… What do you do when the career you once loved loses its shine? Career coach Sonia Lakshman offers her guidance on how to get the magic back.
If you've felt this, you know it’s like an earthquake.
You used to be in love with your work. It felt great, you were successful at it, and you built hard-earned credibility in your field.
But now, you find yourself staring at a career that you’re fundamentally done with.
It’s a horrible realisation, and one that’s likely been a long time in the brewing.
It’s a bit like realizing that the person you’ve loved and lived with for many years is no longer the person you want to be with.
You don’t want to feel this way. You want to go back to the early years, when you and your career were the perfect couple. You remember how alive it made you feel, how excited you were to go to the office and hang out with it.
But you can’t find a way back. It’s gone too far.
It feels like you’re going to have to divorce your career.
Or are you?
Why this can happen
You could find yourself in this position for many reasons.
The industry you work in may have changed beyond recognition. You may have achieved all you wanted – and the jobs higher up the ladder hold no appeal. You may have spent too many years giving to other people and finally run out of energy. You could be tired of not having enough time or work-life balance. Or, you could just be ready for a change.
In a world of increasing change and where the job-for-life is virtually extinct, this is going to happen to most us – however much we love what we do.
Whatever the reason it’s more or less guaranteed that you are regarding your future with a mixture of dismay, despair and confusion: not a pleasant cocktail.
You know little beyond your own profession and have neither the financial freedom nor the inclination to position yourself at the bottom of a new ladder.
So what on earth next?
There are no neat answers to this difficult predicament, so I’m not going to trot out a list of trite solutions. However, there are a few things you can do to change your relationship with your job and give yourself a chance of getting some of the magic back.
Take your foot off the gas
Can you take some time off?
Take a career break or sabbatical? Or take on less high profile or demanding projects? Achieve rather than overachieve? Cruise for a while? Earn a little less? Rest a little more?
Easy to say and harder to put into practice, I know.
But in the face of a career crisis we can become so exhausted and blocked that the day-to-day is hard enough, let alone being able to see an alternative future. It’s an impossible place to navigate from, so you need to create some calm headspace.
Let go of thinking about where you can go or what you can do about the problem. Cool off for a while, and then allow the dust to settle. It helps clear the air, and allows you to come out of crisis mode. From there, you can start to look at the situation clearly and objectively.
Ask some deep questions
When you do find yourself thinking about what on earth you’re going to do, first ask yourself what’s actually wrong.
Get specific, and dig down to the key reason for your feelings.
Is your whole career really wrong for you, or do you just need to address a couple of key issues?
When you’re frustrated, it can seem as though everything is over and the only way to relieve your tension is to jump ship altogether. When my clients pin down specific reasons for their overwhelm and explore their options from there, they say their crisis feels far more manageable.
Get clear on whether you want to learn or adapt
Allow yourself to imagine the life you really want for yourself.
When you’re feeling so entrenched in your current profession that you can’t envision anything else, considering a new future is a huge leap, but the more you try the easier it will become. You may not be able to put definition around it yet, but that’s OK. You may even feel a sense of panic or shame, and that’s ok too. The important thing is to permit the possibility of another future, however vague, into your consciousness.
Ask yourself if you want to formally learn something new or if you want to do something different with the skills you’ve got. It’s a simple question that changes your focus and approach significantly. It also changes where on the ladder you may potentially stand.
Look first at reconfiguring rather rebooting
Going freelance or starting a consultancy, teaching within your profession, going part-time or flexi-time, changing your daily working routine: these are all new spins on a familiar yarn.
These may just be band-aids over a larger problem, but temporary fixes do some very important things.
They change your day-to-day experience of your career without dumping it altogether.
They allow you to decide if it’s really your career you want to break up with, or just the way you’ve been managing your relationship.
They also make you feel better, and it’s much easier to conceive of a different future when you do.
Consider doing more than one thing
Portfolio careers are a great way to both bring new excitement into your career and try different options, while also keeping some stability – and potentially the best bits from your current career.
They're also an incredibly useful way of funding yourself while you learn something new or while transitioning towards a new life. What often happens over time is that one strand of your portfolio takes on a life of its own, gradually becoming a new area of expertise.
Take things lightly. Explore the options above. Experiment.
It'll take a little time, but know that you'll find the magic again – either in what you originally loved but in a different configuration, or in something new – and the journey will be worth it to get there.
What is the underlying cause of your dissatisfaction at work? How could you apply Sonia's guidance above to your situation? Leave a comment below.
Ready to get unstuck? Join Sonia at our 'How To Find The Work You Love' intensive London workshops, which take place approximately twice a month.