The work that you do to make a living takes up a large portion of your time and energy. Day after day, the average human works for years, logging in hours upon hours of labor.
That’s not a bad thing, if you love your work.
Unfortunately, too many of us can barely even tolerate our jobs. We long to do something that manifests our true purpose in life.
So why do so many people continue working at jobs that make them miserable?
It All Boils Down to Fear.
You know the feeling–the dryness in your throat, the knots in your stomach, the sweaty palms.
I’ve actually been there twice–at the crossroads of staying put and struggling through every lousy day, or making a move to do the work that truly made me happy.
I’m here writing this post, of course, because I finally made the decision to take the path toward my dreams, but not before recognizing the sundry fears that had kept me on the wrong path for so long.
Once you identify the fears behind your excuses for staying put, you can then find the courage to make the career change that you already know you need to make.
The Obvious Fears
Most people will have no problem identifying the fear of change and the fear of living in poverty as two main reasons people decide to stay in a career that doesn’t make them happy.
But I encourage you to dig a little deeper and find what’s really keeping you trapped in your current job.
When I decided to change careers, I realized that it was the more visceral, less apparent fears that really kept me stuck.
I’ll describe them here. Maybe they’ll be familiar to you as well.
The Deeper Fears
1. Disappointing Others
I pursued architecture long after I knew it wasn’t the right path for me because I believed people were counting on me to be a successful architect. I’d gotten everyone’s hopes up, and I wanted to make them proud.
It could be your parent’s longtime dream for you, or it could be the pride you see in your partner’s eyes when they tell people what you do.
You don’t want to lose that. People you love seem happy about your career choice, but it doesn’t make you happy.
I decided to leave architecture because I realized that the people who really mattered to me would never want me to live a lifetime of misery. They would be more elated to know that I was happy
2. Losing the Status Symbol
Some careers are more prestigious than others. It sounds superficial, but if we’re honest, it really matters to a lot of people, and if we have a bit of prestige, it can be hard to let that go.
The label of “architect” elevated my status. I enjoyed to ego boost. The way people responded when I told them I was majoring in architecture made me feel good about myself.
The same can be said for lawyers, doctors, and engineers, etc.
I had to realize that as long as I relied on my job title to make me feel valuable, I’d never really be free.
We all know people with high powered jobs, and prestigious titles who feel wretched.
3. Being Judged by Others
“So, you couldn’t handle it, hunh?”
“Not everybody’s cut out for this work.”
“It’s a lot of hard work to be successful in this career.”
“Some people wish they had a job.”
“You should work to live, not live to work.”
The implication is that you’re merely quitting because you’re incompetent, weak, lazy, afraid of hard work, not so smart after all, ungrateful, unrealistic, and foolish to think that you deserve to make money doing what you love.
In the words of Steve Maraboli: “People who lack clarity, courage, or determination to follow their own dreams will often find ways to discourage yours.”
Others will have their opinions and criticisms, but unless they’re your children or life partner, they don’t have to live with the consequences of your decisions. You do!
People gave me lots of advice when I decided to quit teaching fulltime, but I was the one who had to wake up before dawn, spend hours planning lessons and grading papers, and corralling boisterous youth day in and day out, all while neglecting my real passion for writing. They couldn’t do it for me. So I respected their opinions, but relied more on my inner knowing.
4. Starting Over and Wasted Time
Even though I’d only spent a couple of years in the wrong career (as opposed to decades), I still felt downright sick at the thought of all that wasted time, effort, and money.
Not just my time and money, but that of all the people who helped me along the way.
I’ll admit that it left me bitter for a while, but I eventually saw that it wasn’t wasted time. I had gained valuable knowledge and expertise that actually helped me in the pursuit of my dream job. I just had to reframe my prior experiences.
Dr. Noelle Stern says in her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go after Your Dreams that “at every stage, each of our experiences is exactly what we’ve needed.”
The fears listed above were all internal barriers to change. They emanated from and could only be pushed aside by me. After much of that proverbial soul searching, I finally recognized what my real fears were and was finally able to cultivate the courage to make the career changes that essentially saved my life.
So, are you trapped in a career that you know is not the best fulfillment of your life’s purpose? What’s keeping you from changing your career path?