“I’m Paralysed By What-ifs. How Do I Find A Way Forward?”

Dan's head is a busy place. With two potential career change paths ahead of him, he's weighing up his options, but the uncertainty of how things might pan out is keeping him stuck. Can you ever make a confident choice about the future?

What's your career history and current job?

I'm an engineer in the automotive industry.

Apart from a number of placements whilst at university, I've never worked for a company other than this one. I've never progressed in the sense of climbing the corporate ladder, just moved sideways a few times to try different roles within engineering.

How do you feel about your work?

I think I still enjoy being given a problem and having to find a solution.

However, I'm finding that most of the problems I'm being asked to look at aren't really what I'd call big problems, or even things that will really help people, or make their lives better. We're told "Solve this problem and we can sell the solution for money", but the thing we're solving isn't really a problem – we just convince people that it is so that they'll want to buy our solution.

As well as that, I find myself spending more and more of my time just project managing and outsourcing the work, rather than working on the solution myself. On top of this, there are regular departmental shuffles, which normally mean significant change to the team's overall direction and focus. This just adds to my overall frustration.

What would you like to be doing instead?

There are two options I've been looking into.

Firstly, I'm considering whether going part time in my current role is an option. I've looked at joining one of the many companies that we currently outsource to. So I'd go from giving them the work, to actually doing the work. However, there'd be a massive pay cut should I do that. In fact, I worked out that I'd be on approximately the same working full time for them as if I were to work only three days a week in my current role.

Looking at my finances, in a couple of years I could just about cope with that decrease in salary, so I'm left wondering whether going part time could actually free me up to do something else that I'd really enjoy, even if it didn't pay very well, or pay at all. Maybe I could get more into some of the hobbies I never seem to have enough time for, or just do more for some of the voluntary organisations I'm already involved with. That's a really big and interesting idea at the moment for me, and I know I'm seriously blessed to be able to consider that.

The second option is doing Something Completely Different. I don't have any specific ideas, but I do have a list of things I'd like my Something Completely Different to include:

  • I'd like to be more hands-on, rather than just sitting in front of a computer all day.
  • I want to be able to look back at the end of the day and actually see the difference I've made (that doesn't have to mean physically making something; it could just mean leaving another person in a better position, or feeling happier).
  • I need it to feel more honest than what I'm doing now, so that I'm not just creating things that customers don't really need, but will buy to 'keep up with the Jones's'.

What's the biggest obstacle in your way?

Fear of the unknown.

I know that for the next year or two, I need the income of my current role. However, after that it's a complete unknown.

If I were to go down the part-time route, would I just be resigning myself to sticking at the same company, doing the same things (though part time) for the rest of my life? What happens if they go bust, or I lose my job? Will I even be able to get another related job if I've been part time for X years?

If I go with the Something Completely Different option, the fear of the unknown is just that. My mind fills with the thoughts that if I go down this route, it'll all turn out very wrong, I'll lose everything and end up in a dead-end job that I dislike even more than I do my current one, working all the hours under the sun.

I have two options in front of me, but I can't seem to escape from under a pile of what-ifs. How do I find a way forward?

Can you help Dan?
  • Have you been in a similar situation, or are you in the same boat right now?
  • How do you think Dan could move his shift forwards?
  • Do you know anyone he could talk to?

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