Counsellor and therapist Matt is constantly surprised by how many clients come to him wanting to talk not about trauma, or relationships or family, but about their careers. Here, he dispels the three biggest myths at the heart of career-change pain.
People come to me with all sorts of issues. Sometimes they want to move past a traumatic experience; sometimes they want to rebuild damaged family relationships; sometimes they simply want to improve their general satisfaction with life. When I was getting my counselling degree, I was trained for each of these scenarios.
What I was not trained for was the unbelievably high number of young and middle-aged people who don't want to talk about traumatic experiences or family relationships, but instead want to talk about their careers.
They are almost always intelligent and courteous, and usually they're ambitious. Their question is always the same, and it's always obvious that the question is causing them considerable stress. The question is:
"What am I going to do with my life?!"
It's a big question, and that's why it's so stressful. Decisions related to career affect your schooling (which is often quite expensive), where you live, how much you'll make, the type of life you'll be able to afford... no wonder they're stressed!
When I dig a little deeper, I always find that the "What am I supposed to do" question is only part of the problem. The real stress is usually caused by three myths about career changing that I hear again and again.
So, to save you a trip to your therapist's office...
Myth #1: You should know what you want to do with your life
We look at others who have said: "I always knew I wanted to be a doctor," or: "I've wanted to become a fireman every since I was a little kid," and we think: "Why don't I know what I want to do?"
It is an absolute myth that we should know what we want to do with the rest of our lives. And once you forgive yourself the fault of not knowing, much of the stress of the decision is relieved.
The truth is, we are wildly dynamic individuals. We are constantly changing; our hopes, our desires, our abilities, our interests. The career that excites us at age 18 seems overwhelming at age 35, and the job we find interesting at age 35 seems boring at age 55. That's normal, and to be expected.
You don't need an answer to know what you should do with the rest of your life. But if you're still tripped up by the decision, it's probably because of...
Myth #2: Your career change is for the rest of your life
This MIGHT have been true a couple of decades ago. The "Company Man" was a real thing. If you worked at Ford, you were a Ford employee for life; if you worked at GE, you were a GE employee for life.
That was then, this is now. Now companies will lay you after a single bad quarter. You are, and always will be, a free agent.
As a matter of fact, recent studies suggest that career change is the new norm. So if you have not found yourself contemplating what your next career will be, you are among the minority! If there is a career that interests you, simply go for it. Settle your fears, and experiment.
While the idea of changing careers frequently may be daunting, think of the freedom it affords you. You can experiment. You can take a job in an industry that's new to you. You can try the public sector, and then private sector. Big companies, family-owned companies. You can go where your heart desires. And if you fail, you fail! On to the next thing. The job market is built for career change.
The curveball, of course, is education. If you're going to spend a few years in graduate school and go into debt on a new career, you won't be able to change careers again, right?
That's true but only to a point. No matter what career you choose, if you use your creativity, you will have infinite opportunities to expand your job. And the radio show 'Car Talk' is proof of that...
Myth #3: You'll be able to figure out your perfect job before you get it
'Car Talk' was a radio show hosted by Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Tom and Ray were brothers who had a great start at MIT but had a hard time settling into a career. Tom worked for a semi-conductor company, then quit to teach at a few local universities, and then quit again to do odd-jobs like painting houses. Ray also had a stop-and-go career, and taught science at a couple of different schools before eventually opening up a garage.
Fast forward a couple years, and the brothers get invited by one of their MIT contacts to speak on a radio program, a Boston NPR affiliate. The show went well, and Tom and Ray turned out to be pretty entertaining speakers.
Fast forward a couple more years, and Tom and Ray have full-time jobs as radio hosts, discussing cars and car repair on a nationally-syndicated radio program.
The point is, if you had asked the Magliozzi brothers what their ideal job would be when they graduated from MIT, they would not have said, "Hosting a show about fixing cars on National Public Radio."
How is this relevant to you? It shows that you may never be able to guess what your perfect job will be until you experiment and find it.
Career change should be celebrated
I love my practice. And I love working with people who are freaking out about their careers. I try to remind them that a career change is something we should celebrate, not stress about. It's about new adventures, new relationships, and new stories to tell. New opportunities for self-growth and joy.
So keep at it! And don't stress. Try new things and never pass up a good opportunity, and before you know it, you'll be working the job of your dreams.
Matthew Morris is a therapist at a medical centre in Brooklyn, NY, and runs a site for certified nurse assistants who are looking to enter the field of health care.