You started out loving your chosen career – at least in the beginning. But over time, you and your calling, well, you just grew apart.
And just like a relationship that’s gone bad, it can be hard to walk away from a career or a small business into which you’ve put so much time and effort to say nothing of the financial investment.
Take my friend Donna. After earning her master’s degree in social work some fifteen years ago, she went into private practice as a family therapist. For the first five or so years, Donna got a lot of satisfaction out of helping others. For the last ten though, her work has felt more like a burden.
So what keeps her there? It’s simple. Donna doesn’t want to “waste” the degree.
I know it’s not easy to turn your back on an established career, especially if it’s one that pays well, has some prestige associated with it, or required earning some kind of advanced degree. And yet, think about the logic here.
What you’re really telling yourself is, “I’ve wasted the last 10 years of my life so I might as well throw away the next 20 as well. To hell with my true gifts, I’ve got more suffering to do”
John Powell once said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” The fact of the matter is we all get lost from time to time. That’s life. The danger comes when we fail to heed the road signs and thus remain stuck in the breakdown lane.
I have an abiding belief that everything in life happens for a reason. The key is to find the lessons. Even my own job with the boss from hell offered invaluable lessons and experiences.
In addition to getting to travel the country, I learned in no uncertain terms to trust my instincts. That job was also just the catalyst I needed to make my final exit from the j-o-b world. And, as importantly, it introduced me people who’ve been integral to helping me succeed as a solo entrepreneur.
What should you do if you find yourself on the wrong career path? We’ll, if you’re living with the consequences of having long ignored your better instincts, get a pen and paper, find some quiet space, and put your listening ears on. Then write down everything that little voice has been trying to tell you but this time without censor or rationalization.
If you find for example, that you’ve been living someone else’s dream ask yourself:
- What does having other people’s approval or meeting someone else’s needs help me avoid or get?
- What price am I paying for this approval?
- Do the costs outweigh the benefits? If so, it’s time to start exploring your own dreams.
If you’re hanging onto a job or career solely because of all the time and money you’ve invested then the first thing to do is to let yourself get close to your fear. I’m not talking about the fear of letting the world know you made a mistake or the financial angst.
What I’m talking about is getting in touch with the one thing that should really scare the heck out of you – namely, never getting to experience what your life would be like if you pursued your true gifts and passions.
Once you let that little reality sink in, sit down and write a “Dear John” letter to your past love. Talk to your career or business. Explain that while it has been a good and faithful partner for some time that you have simply fallen out of love. It will understand.
Then pick up a paintbrush, look into culinary school, or otherwise start courting your new love interests.
It’s easy to find yourself on the wrong career track. When that happens, the key is to stay alert for warning lights, watch for the signposts along the way, learn from those inevitable detours, ask for directions, and then start slowly inching your way onto that big expansive highway called Your Life!
As George Bernard Shaw once observed, “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”