Speaking with people every day who are in careers or jobs they hate, I’ve asked myself, “How did we get here? How has it happened that so many thousands of people have become despondent, angry and lost about what they do for a living?”
Clearly, there are many factors at play here, including the rise of technology – that makes setting boundaries around our professional lives virtually impossible. Further, in the past 30 years, we’ve become slaves to the almighty dollar, addicted to acquiring things we can’t afford, which keeps us working longer and harder just to break even. And, the cost of living is so high for so many, that just making ends meet is tough. Additionally, many people have jumped into jobs or fields early in their careers, only to discover 10 or 20 years later that they can’t break free.
But I believe there are even deeper reasons for this epidemic of people hating what they do each day for their living. These reasons touch on underlying emotional, spiritual and behavioral conditions, and reveal a deep disconnection to what it means to live joyfully, authentically, and meaningfully.
By the way, I’m fully prepared to receive comments on this post that debunk it, such as: “Yeah sure, Kathy, you can talk about having a meaningful career, but I’m a single parent with two kids and can’t afford the luxury of liking my work.”
“This is nonsense – work is work, and you should change your expectations if you think you’re going to love it.”
I’ve heard these types of comments by the hundreds.
I learned as a therapist that when people feel completely stuck, they get angry and defensive – like a caged animal. They experience themselves as victimized and backed into a tight, dark corner. They just can’t see a way out. But from my vantage point (and after reinventing my career from miserable corporate VP to supremely fulfilled coach, consultant and business owner), there is always a way out; there are always new options and solutions but often we just can’t see them. Anyone and everyone can make their lives better, more satisfying, more enjoyable, but only if you believe that having more fulfillment or joy in your life or career is a goal worth trying for and within your reach (eventually).
Based on feedback I’ve received from thousands of professionals here and abroad, I’ve observed the following eight core reasons why people remain stuck in careers they hate. As I share these, please know I’m not sitting in judgment of any of these; in fact, I’ve lived through each and every one of these conditions.
1. You don’t know yourself deeply enough
The vast majority of people I see in the workplace just don’t know themselves at all. When asked, “What’s your top priority in life and in your career? What would you give up anything for?” or “When you’re 90 looking back, what do you want to have done, been, and left behind? ” I get blank stares and mouths hanging open. People don’t know themselves well or deeply today. Why? Perhaps we don’t make time in our lives to get to know ourselves – we’re just too over-the-top busy. Or perhaps the process of knowing oneself deeply is intimidating and scary. Whatever the reason – if you don’t know who you are, at your core, and what you stand for and care about, how can you lead a life that aligns with your needs, values, and interests? (My free Career Path Self-Assessment will help you get to know yourself better.)
2. You know yourself, but you make yourself wrong
I’ve seen that women in particular might know themselves and identify what they want, but they make themselves wrong about it. They tell themselves, “Yeah, I want to change, but I’m wrong or foolish (or selfish) to feel that way.” Or “I’m lucky to have a job, so I shouldn’t rock the boat” or “I have so much – I should just feel blessed and not complain.” So many people (women in particular) doubt the validity of their feelings or repress their deepest longings because they think they’re wrong to have them. Until you can make yourself “right” about what you feel, you won’t find peace or joy.
3. You’ve lost the courage to act
For many who know what they want, they’ve lost the courage to take BOLD action. We’ve been seduced by some misguided concept that life should always be easy. Where did we get that idea? Making change is never easy (it’s scary and threatens the status quo), but it’s so worth it, especially if you hate where you are today. It takes courage, grit, and commitment to bring about lasting change, and you can do it, but only if you decide to connect to your own internal power, courage and fortitude. (Check out my book Breakdown Breakthrough for real-life stories of courageous women who’ve transformed their lives and careers.)
4. You’ve prioritized outer “rewards” (or other people’s needs) over your own happiness
This reason is yours if you can answer “Yes” to this question: “Are you staying in a career that makes you miserable solely because you think it’s the only one that will keep paying you what you want?” If money is keeping you stuck, it’s time you think about prioritizing your happiness over your checkbook. How much money do you truly need? Is your current lifestyle so important to you that you’d trade it over your health, happiness, relationship, and your well-being? Of course you have to pay your bills and meet your financial obligations – I’m not suggesting for a minute that you don’t. I am however recommending that you revisit how you live and what you truly need. Meeting your financial obligations doesn’t have to mean that you have to be angry, thwarted, unhappy and sick for the rest of your life.
5. You’ve been brainwashed by the myth that you’ll go broke if you pursue work you love
There’s a prevalent myth in the U.S. today that if you pursue your passions and do rewarding work, you’ll go broke. Another version of this damaging myth is that work is supposed to be grueling, challenging and unsatisfying. We look at people who love their work and we hate them. We say, “Yeah, she’s doing what she wants to, but that’s because she was (lucky, born into it, inherited money, beautiful, privileged, etc.) And I can’t do that because ___.” We give ourselves thousands of reasons why loving what we do professionally just isn’t in the cards for us. We do that because it’s too painful for us to watch other people thrive and adore their work. We want it to be impossible because it seems so unattainable and so far away from us.
6. Your emotional overwhelm sabotages you
Every day I see individuals who are highly competent, smart, achievement oriented and outwardly successful, but are in terrible emotional overwhelm – they’re gripped by anxiety, fear, feeling victimized, and they lack the ability to speak up authoritatively or with command. They’re in a constant state of paralyzing emotional overwhelm. The emotionality of their lives keeps them from reasoning through effective solutions and strategies, or finding the physical energy to make a change.
7. Your shame and vulnerability keep you from getting help
One of my favorite author/speakers – Brene Brown – is a shame and vulnerability researcher (don’t miss her great TED Talk here.) She shares her findings that vulnerability is at the heart of living life full out. If we’re afraid of appearing and feeling vulnerable, then we blunt all of the other experiences/emotions we desperately long for, including happiness, connection, empathy, love and more. Further, if you need to appear the “expert” and won’t admit your flaws, foibles, or “gaps,” you’ll never get the help you need to make life change. As Einstein has said, “You can’t solve a problem on the level of consciousness that created it.”
8. You’ve forgotten what career bliss, and true happiness, feel like
Finally, the most depressing reason of all is that you’ve simply forgotten what it feels like to be happy and joyful in your work. You can’t remember the last time you said about your work, “That was a great day well spent!” or “What a joy to do this work!” We all strive so hard to achieve, win, or survive – and we’re so beaten down by it — that many have lost touch with what true joy feels and looks like, and we’ve forgotten to want it.
If any of these reasons resonate for you, there’s only one choice to make – stay put in your misery or make a bold change. It’s truly that simple – not easy, certainly, but simple.
What choice will you make – a career you hate or something better?
(To build a successful, rewarding career you love, join me today in my Amazing Career Project career transformation program.)