Part of Kathy’s Caprino’s series “Finding Brave to Build Your Best and Happiest Career”
Throughout my 20’s and 30’s as I was building my corporate career and growing as manager, I focused intently on achieving “success.” Like many others, I measured that success in certain common, external ways, including assessing my promotion trajectory, financial reward and compensation, potential impact, the level of responsibility for projects and teams, and more. I wanted to experience more external success but unfortunately, I neglected to focus on my internal level of success—including the ability to feel happy, respected, rewarded, safe, healthy, and purposeful in my roles and work cultures.
That focus on external success kept up through my late 30’s including through the birth of my two children, when things immediately began to shift. While I always wanted to be a professional woman and eventually a leader, having children made me ask some powerful questions that I hadn’t addressed before, which were:
“Is this career (that I’ve struggled so hard to build) actually heading in a positive direction?
Has what I’ve received from my career been a sufficient tradeoff for everything I’ve had to sacrifice?
Finally, has my professional life turned out to be anything close to what I had such high hopes for, when I was just starting out?
The answer was an unequivocal “No.”
Turns out, this is a common developmental shift that millions of people experience, particularly as midlife approaches. Suddenly, it can seem that our values, goals and priorities begin to change, and often dramatically. What I didn’t predict in my earlier years was that, as time went on, everything I’d worked so hard for professionally would start to feel deeply unsatisfying and even “wrong.”
Now, 20 years later (and after two career transformations), and working with many leaders and managers around the globe, it’s clear that there is an epidemic of dissatisfaction among professionals and leaders, and that disillusionment has grown over the past years.
As an example of this, according to recent research studies cited by Haiilo:
- 85% of employees are not engaged in the workplace
- 73% are considering leaving their jobs
- Only 29% consider themselves happy with their current advancement opportunities
In October 2021, CNBC and global gender equality firm Catalyst released a report titled “The Great Work/Life Divide: How employee desire for flexibility and employer concern is driving the future of work.” Conducted by Harris Poll, the survey of 903 workers found that half of working Americans want to make a career change, with the primary reason being around the need and desire for greater flexibility. Almost one-third of employees who intend to make a career change because of the pandemic (32%) say they’re going to look for another job in the same industry, while about 1 in 5 (22%) are planning to quit their current job and start their own business.
In my own recent survey focused on what I’ve found to be the 7 most damaging power gaps that negatively impact 98% of professional women and 90% of professional men today, keeping them from reaching their most important career goals, 76% have shared that they are facing what I refer to as Power Gap #6 – Losing Sight of Your Thrilling Dream for Your Life and Career. Respondents report feeling that the career they have now is not working but many can’t figure out what else to do at this juncture (often because they are in midlife and are reluctant to take the risk of leaving their careers).
Why are so many people now feeling extremely dissatisfied with their professional lives and the direction they’ve been pursuing? Above and beyond wanting more flexibility and control over their time and endeavors, I’ve found that there are three essential reasons why people long for career change and will be motivated enough to make those changes:
Those top three reasons are:
- The overall work, outcomes and benefits no longer outweigh what they have to sacrifice and compromise on, in order to engage in this work
- The way in which they are being treated by the employer or workplace makes them feel that it is no longer an acceptable situation
- Control and self-authority over their professional lives and work have become paramount, especially in the face of an international health crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic that has led millions of people to face the inevitability of their own mortality.
Crises such as a pandemic make us think about our own death, and our brains are not designed for that. In addition, when lockdowns and other restrictions are imposed that alter the way in which we’ve led our lives and connected with others, we struggle to cope with these losses. And a new sense of urgency emerges: We wish to experience far more control over what we’re doing, and also want more meaning and purpose to all of it.
To help you assess the best next steps and avoid what I call “The Pendulum Effect”—which is running away from your current situation to embark on a completely different one because you’re “broken down” in this one—take these three steps:
#1: Figure out exactly what has to change and what you want more of, now
As I learned in my work as a therapist and coach, “Greater awareness equals greater choice.” It’s vitally important to gain greater awareness of what needs to change in order for your career and professional life to be more satisfying and successful.
One easy way to explore this is to think about what you want more of, and identify those elements clearly. Then think about the “why” behind wanting that element (what you’ll ultimately have when you experience more of that aspect of life).
Here’s a common list of things thousands of professionals have told me they want more of in order to be happier and more satisfied in life and work:
- Control over time/flexibility
- Exciting, meaningful work
- Money/financial reward
- Work-life integration and ability to manage both family and work priorities successfully
What do you want more of today?
#2: Take doable, manageable steps to vet your new direction, before you leap
Before you make any major decisions or moves, get very clear on what has been working and what has not, and identify clearly if those challenges are specific to your job, employer, career or industry.
Once you get clearer on what needs to change, research and explore potential new directions, but don’t leap yet.
Consider these four distinct options. Do you want to:
#1 – Stay in your current role but achieve specific changes, with increased success and reward
#2 – Find a similar role but at a different, better organization
#3 – Shift, change or pivot your career entirely
#4 – Start or launch a business
As an example, the problems that you’re facing may be related to your specific employer who simply doesn’t “get it”—doesn’t understand or respect the difficulties that their employees are having. If that’s the case, it’s worthwhile to begin interviewing right away at other companies to determine if you can land a similar role that you’ll enjoy but at another organization that offers what you’re looking for.
#3: Understand that changing careers or starting your own business may be the right move, but it very well may not be
Finally, understand that running to the direction of changing your career or starting a new business can sound very exciting and liberating, but so many people don’t understand the “living reality” of those directions.
If you want to start a business, for instance, do you know exactly how you’ll fund it during your transition? Have you prepared your business, marketing and financial plan and do you understand just what it will take to be successful and competitive in a very tough market today?
Do you have advisors on board who can help, and are you part of an entrepreneurial network that can offer guidance and support? Have you met with a financial advisor to walk you through your current and potential future financial situation?
If you want to change careers, have you fully researched the possible new directions and know if you have the education, training, skills and experience (and personality) that are a good fit with that new career? If not, what will be your plan to discover that information?
Addressing these issues before you make a big leap will help you achieve the changes you want and deserve. And it will ensure that you can build a more fruitful, productive career on your terms, leveraging your great talents and experiences in ways that are truly successful, both outwardly and inwardly.