My client Alania is standing at a crossroads, with no clue which way to turn. Six weeks ago, she took on a big new role: VP of Marketing and Growth at an early-age start-up run by an ambitious founder who oversold both the role and the resources that would be allocated to her.
Within days of arriving, Alania had a sneaking suspicion she was in over her head, and after her fourth straight seventy-hour week, she called me with a decision: “I can’t keep doing this,” she said, breathless, but with the quiet certainty I’ve learned can reveal a client’s truth. “I don’t know what’s next, but I know this isn’t it.”
Trying to Outrun Dissatisfaction
Like Alania, I had been running hard from job to job for most of my professional life before my sense of being in the wrong career fully caught up to me. I had taken a job offer that moved me across the country and looked perfect on paper, only to realize within days of arriving that the lingering sense of dissatisfaction I thought I had outrun was still with me—and stronger than ever before.
I spent the better part of a year trying to avoid the feeling that I was in the wrong job, letting myself be seduced by rational thoughts about money, saving, pension, reputation, and loyalty…then another year taking up the serious question “If not this, then what?”
At the end of this exploration, I was finally poised to make the leap, armed with clarity about where I was heading, though no less afraid as I struck out to tackle the path less traveled before me.
Gradually or Suddenly, We Realize It’s Not for Us
For many leaders, waking up to being in the wrong job can be a gradual process, like outgrowing an old too-small suit or gradually watching your energy tank slip towards empty. Sometimes it happens as we wake up to our own deeper longing for more meaning, purpose, and impact in our work, realizing slowly that we’re not as fulfilled professionally as we’d like to be, or we are still executing the dreams that were set out for us, rather than chosen by us.
Sometimes this realization happens suddenly: many of my clients come to me after they’ve changed jobs or had another major life event—the arrival of a child, the death of a parent—that snaps them to attention and leaves them looking for a new direction in the midst of swirling clouds of confusion and change.
When You’re Ready for a Change
Whatever the reason for investigating your new path, here are some tricks and tips I wish I had learned when I first began to investigate my way out of a job I’d outgrown into the career that was waiting for me:
- No, your body isn’t lying to you. The body compass is one of the clearest tools for navigating your way through confusion. Does your body dread going to work in the morning? Does it feel sluggish, sick, nauseous, or anxious thinking of certain tasks or people? As a counterpoint, which tasks feel light, energizing, calm, and resourcing? Coach Martha Beck trains her clients in a process of listening to the body compass to design a series of small shifts (Bag it, Barter it, Better it) that will ultimately reorient you to your new career.
- Chart your options. A deceptively simple tactic, I use this trick with clients who are swirling between many potential career paths and keeping all their options in their heads. On a sheet of paper, start by mapping a grid of your current career options: possibilities down the left columns, and your level of excitement, feasibility, and next steps along the top rows. Start by plotting your current job, rate how excited you are about it on a scale of 1-10, and then work your way down for other options, including dream jobs and abstract possibilities. For each, assign a next step of action to move forward with your investigation.
- Collect data. The exercise above helps us cut through the avoidance and resistance (fear) that manifested as confusion and keeps us swirling in doubt. When you take small steps of action to collect more data, you can begin to track which areas actually excite you and which ones leave you cold. For example, have you always been interested in nursing? Action step: Talk to one person in your network who is a nurse and then check back in: Where is your excitement level now? What’s the next step you need to take from here? In this way, tracking down your ideal job becomes like a game of “warmer/colder,” each step taking you closer or farther from your right path.
- Listen to the little voice. At some point, when you have collected data and started to narrow down your options, even if you choose to stay where you are, you will hear a quiet, calm inner voice telling you something you may have resisted hearing. This is your truth. Even if it is hard to hear, this voice always feels calm and gentle and will have information for you about your next step. Your job is to acknowledge it and respectfully create action steps from it. For Alania, the voice told her clearly, “You need to leave.” Instead of panicking when she heard it, she wrote it down, sat with it, and shared it with her coach for unpacking.
- Build an exit plan. If your experiments up to this point are starting to reveal a path forward, it’s time to start crafting your exit strategy. For example, if you had to quit tomorrow, how many months could you live off your savings? If you get your new dream job, how much money would it need to pay you? Get serious about building yourself a budget based on the next calendar year and when you might make a jump. What does your safety net look like and how risky can you afford to be while you plot your next steps?
- Surround yourself with positive influences. Does your partner or coworker or mother-in-law regularly cut down your best, brightest, or most creative ideas? Do not go to this person for support on your new path. Hire a coach or therapist, or lean into an informal network of mentors, mastermind groups, entrepreneurs, or helpful literature that adds kindling to the tender fire of your new dream.
As you begin to plot your next steps toward your new career, you will feel a healthy sense of lightness, progress, and possibility giving you space and air. A grounded, tender confidence will emerge, and with it, clarity. Eventually, when the time comes to cross the final threshold—putting in notice, interviewing for the new job, enrolling in school, telling your most important person—you will feel at last the full wind in your sails and a sense of self-satisfaction that comes from bravely embarking on a new path that you have chosen.
Editor’s Note: Want to know more about Gia and her work? Don’t miss our interview with her here at Life Coach Magazine.
Gia Storms specializes in developing leaders, transforming teams, and bringing meaning and purpose to the workplace. As an executive coach, she brings energy, courage, and a take-no-prisoners ferocity to clients. Today, she facilitates trainings across the U.S., is on faculty at the Co-Active Training Institute, and works within major corporations like Microsoft and Google.