You’re going about your day-to-day life when something triggers a feeling of dissatisfaction with your career. Maybe you pick up your alumni magazine and feel a pang of jealousy as you read about the brilliantly successful non-profit a classmate started that is making a big difference in the world. Or, despite your careful budgeting, you dog’s vet bill hits your finances harder than you’d like. Perhaps, yet again, your kid has a baseball game that you have to miss for a last minute work meeting.
Whatever the reason, it’s natural to start to wonder, “Is there something better out there for me? Is it time for a career change?”
Here are three questions to help you clarify whether your urge for a change is a passing impulse or a signal to be taken seriously.
1. What are my current priorities, and do they align with my current career path?
Career choices have a big impact on three critical areas of our lives: our fulfilment, our financial health, and our personal time/ well-being. While we all want to be happy, wealthy, and healthy, real world career choices often involve compromises. If you had to order these three elements in terms of their importance to you right now, what would your ranking be? Note that there isn’t a right or a wrong here, just your personal preference. (Also realize that it’s a good idea to keep tabs on where you rank these three elements over time, because as we experience new things or enter different phases of our lives, our priorities can similarly shift.)
For example, you might not love your current, high salaried career, but what you care most about right now is financial security, because you want to be able to provide for your family and save for your children’s eventual college education. Clearly financial health would be your top priority.
Or, maybe you’ve put your nose to the grindstone in a stressful, lucrative job that’s left you miserable, and what you most want from your career is to actually feel engaged and happy with your job. Fulfilment would therefore be at the top of your list.
If things aren’t perfect, but what your job is giving you matches up with the areas that you most care about, then staying put in your current career is a reasonable choice. If the opposite is true, that your job and your priorities are at odds, then a career change could be your next step.
2. Are my issues specific to this work environment or pervasive in this career path?
Issues that are specific to a work environment are things like a poor manager, a culture of back-stabbing, or a killer commute.
I once had a client who was extremely creative, but working in a “follow the rules to the letter” environment. She felt dissatisfied that her ideas were unappreciated, and her boss was frustrated that the rules were not being followed. However, this client spoke about the general work that she was doing in glowing terms. This was an instance where the career issue was purely environmental. She wound up staying in the same field, but moving to a work culture that was a better fit and is now thriving in that new position.
Contrast these environmental issues with bigger picture misalignment, like working a heavily customer facing job when you need lots of quiet to think, or being bored senseless by the subject matter you work with every day.
One time a young man come up to me after a talk with a question about what he should do with his career. He went on and on about his love for athletics and outdoors and health. Then, literally in the same breath, he mentioned that he was considering working for a company that manufactured junk food. That lack of alignment between who he was and the job he had on his radar screen did not bode well for career satisfaction.
Whether the issue you’re having is environmental or industry-wide should factor into the size of the change you decide to take on. Environmental issues are more easily fixed with switching jobs within the same industry. Pervasive issues with the type of work you are doing would be remedied by embarking on an entirely new career path.
3. What am I willing to go through to get what I want?
If you identified a mismatch between your current priorities and your current job, and your issue with your career path relates to a core element of the job you’re doing, then a career change could be in order. Your current career is out of alignment with who you are and what you’re most wanting in life, so switching to something that is a better fit would be a positive change for you.
However, before you go charging off in a new direction, pause for a beat to consider your commitment level to improving your career. Making a change from one career path to another is doable, but it does take effort. Specifically, you’ll need to be willing to tap into your network for support, to devote time to exploring potential career ideas, and to being persistent as you put yourself into new environments. You will probably have to overcome fears, rejection, and discomfort as you put yourself in front of new people and opportunities.
Before you get too overwhelmed by the prospect of the road ahead, remember to connect fully to why you want to make a change. Keep in your mind’s eye the goal and the benefits that making a career change will have on your life. Realize that oftentimes we have to go through some unpleasantness to get to the things we’re wanting, and career changes are no different.
The first step in any journey is to make a decision about whether or not you want to take that journey. What’s yours? Are you ready to step up to the plate and work to improve your career? Or are you mostly satisfied with where you are career-wise? Listening to your answers will help you to determine whether or not it is time to invest your time and energy into a career change.
It’s often fun to dream about whether the grass is really greener in another career. Hopefully the above questions have helped you to pin down whether you’re simply enjoying some idle daydreams or whether you’re ready to dig into an overhaul of your career.