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The Myth of Career Bliss: Why Chucking Your Career Doesn’t Solve Your Problems

I’ve spent eight years working with individuals to achieve successful professional growth, change, and reinvention.  I know a good deal about the process personally too, as I’ve traversed a number of diverging career paths over the past 20 years, including corporate marketing, market research, marriage and family therapy, coaching, writing, speaking, and executive recruitment.

If you asked me my views on career reinvention five years ago, I would have said some very different things than I do today. 

So what’s different? 

In the past three years, I’ve learned what’s required (for myself and others) to navigate through highly challenging financial times while at the same time successfully achieving a more fulfilling professional life. 

I’m not talking about pie-in-the-sky, follow-your-bliss nonsense here.  I’m talking about real-life positive career and life change that lasts and continues to reap benefit and reward.

The Myth of Career Bliss

But today, as new clients come to me – both men and women — I see an alarming myth that thousands of midlife individuals have been suckered into believing.  It’s hitting baby boomer folks hard, and honestly, I don’t see this same myth prevalent in younger generations.  I call it the “myth of career bliss” – the damaging, misleading notion that all it takes to make your life happier is to chuck out your old, unsatisfying career, and come up with a new one, despite what else is falling apart in your life.

Here’s how the story goes:

A midlife professional woman comes to me after 15+ years of corporate work.  She’s awakened to the following realizations, and they hurt:

  • It feels as if her work has no contributive value in the world any more (for instance, she feels she’s “selling” something that doesn’t matter at all or isn’t of positive influence in the world)
  • She’s bored out of her mind doing the work she knows best
  • Her family needs her substantial income of $100M+
  • Her husband and children have grown accustomed to her overfunctioning and her perfectionism, and don’t want things to change too much. (Note: she handles over 75% of the domestic responsibility as well as her full-time job, and she’s worn out, stressed and depressed.  And her overfunctioning has held her husband back from contributing his fair share, financially, domestically, and otherwise.)
  • She feels an urgent need to change her personal and professional situation
  • She’s in a financial trap, not having saved enough money to take several years off to re-strategize, gain new education or training, and reinvent her career path
  • On top of these stresses, there are relationship, behavioral and other issues with her family members (elderly parents, children, spouse, etc.) that need urgent addressing
  • Despite the fact that numerous dimensions of this individual’s life are truly in “breakdown” mode, she believes that it’s a new career she should focus on, as (in her mind) that will bring her life the joy, peace, excitement, meaning, health, and purpose she longs for.

The problem is, it’s simply not true. 

In her case — and for hundreds of thousands of individuals in the world today — it’s not a wholesale career change that will bring you the satisfaction and peace you want.  Instead, it’s taking hard, urgently-needed action that addresses the root causes of your troubles that will make the difference in your career and life.

Busting the Career Bliss Myth: The Top Six Steps You Need to Take to Change Your Life for the Better

Here’s what has to happen for your life to change for the better… and it isn’t job change, for now. 

1)  Power up and speak up – Figure out who you really are, and what you’re intrinsically worth as an individual in this world.  Start honoring what you want to create in your life, and make your partner at home a real partner so you’re not doing everything at home and everything for everyone else around you (see Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s powerful TEDTalk on this and two other key behaviors that will propel women forward in the workforce).

2) Build a stronger, more empowered relationship with money – take control of your finances.  Know down to the penny what you need to earn, and learn how to save more, manage better, and grow your money. 

3) Determine your three TOP life priorities, then make sure you’re attending to those before you even consider career change.  For instance, if you’re dealing with a serious health issue, or a child’s behavioral problems, or the need to move, or you’re facing foreclosure, you must attend to these priorities first.

4) Stop procrastinating and get going – look at where you feel most disempowered and helpless in your life and your career today.  Take steps to address these power gaps.  Unless you do this in your life and job now, your problems will follow you no matter what new career path or job you take.

5) Re-purpose and re-focus your skills and talents – In these very challenging employment times, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater and chucking your whole career spend some critical time with a trained and skilled career coach, mentor, or advisor who can help you identify what you’re truly great at and enjoy doing, and determine the best, most appropriate way to bring forward these talents and skills in a job that fits your needs. 

6) Then develop a S.M.A.R.T. transition plan to get you from where you are today, to where you want to go.

 In short, don’t look to career reinvention to solve your problems.  It won’t.  Only you can solve your problems.  And the time to start dealing with them is now.

What are your top three life priorities today and are you addressing them?


What My Five Careers Have Taught Me: Top 10 Lessons of Career Reinvention

I’ve significantly revised my career numerous times over my 25 years of working, and each time, I’ve learned some powerful, surprising lessons — about myself, my capabilities, perceptions, misconceptions, and about what it takes for me to attain what I want.

Each career shift led me down a new path, and often, the destination wasn’t at all what I’d hoped or planned.  Huge mistakes were made, certainly, but what I’ve learned has been of great value and utility, allowing me to focus ever more closely on what matters to me.

As I examine my trajectory, my career paths have involved the following fields, industries, and skills (or a combination of these):

  • Copywriting and marketing – in scientific publishing
  • New product development and market research – in book clubs, publishing and membership services
  • Marketing – professional book clubs
  • Product Management –  in consumer membership services
  • Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Life/Career Coaching
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Women’s Career/Executive Coaching
  • Writing, Speaking
  • Marketing Consulting for Entrepreneurs
  • Executive Recruiting

In remembering who I was as a youngster and young adult, and all the endeavors I loved throughout my life and the roles I’ve assumed, I can now see core, recurring themes about who I am and what I love to do,  including:

  • Understanding human behavior
  • Helping address people’s needs
  • Serving as a empathic listener
  • Discovering and testing new models and creating new solutions
  • Transforming chaos into order
  • Identifying compelling messages/benefits and finding well-matched receivers of those products/benefits
  • Communicating through writing, speaking and performing
  • Using positive thinking and positivity models to be of help
  • Connecting people with endeavors they thrive at
  • Supporting people through dramatic change

I’ve marveled at how my deepest values, preferences, and interests have remained almost unchanged since I was a child, and I’ve seen this same phenomenon in hundreds of folks I’ve coached.

The key lesson I’ve learned through my career reinventions is this– what you loved as a child and young person you most likely still love.  And the key to having a fulfilling professional life is to find the right form in which to honor the essence of who you are and what you love.

As one of my favorite authors, Maria Nemeth, of The Energy of Money says, we’re all happiest when we’re giving form to our Life Intentions in ways that support our lives and help the world.

 So what have my numerous careers taught me?  Here are my top 10 lessons:

1)      Starting over as a beginner is a refreshing, and empowering step that keeps you engaged and enlivened

2)      Being a non-expert reconnects you to your humility

3)      You need a great deal of help from others to be who you want to be

4)       You have core skills and talents that long to be utilized in this lifetime (and you’ll be sick and sad if you deny them)

5)      If you’re doing something you love, but the form of it doesn’t fit your life needs and priorities, you’ll suffer

6)      You can’t hurry love – you won’t succeed if you’re in a desperate rush to be great at something you love

7)      Applying yourself to something new reaffirms your courage, gifts and weaknesses, and what you need to heal in yourself

8)      There is absolutely no security or stability except in what you feel inside of yourself

9)      There is no perfect career – there’s only the perfectly imperfect journey of applying yourself to something you love and value

10)   Embracing a new professional identity changes you because of the new realities you create (which is completely different from dreaming about it from the outside, for all eternity)

I remember being moved after reading this beautiful passage from Viktor Frankl’s powerful book, Man’s Search for Meaning, (a MUST-read book for everyone), and it has stuck with me all these years:

“…The person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest.  What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person?  For the possibilities the young person has, the future which is in store for him? “No thank you,” he will think. “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.  These sufferings are even the things of which I’m most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.”

In the end, it’s about living life to the fullest.  If finding new work is something you dream of, all I can say to you is, “Do it.”

What new work do you dream about doing?  Do you have the courage to make that dream a reality?

The Top 6 Reasons People Want Out of Their Work

I’ve recently become immersed in executive search work through my new role as Marketing VP for Synergy Partners USA – a specialized executive search firm based in Wilton, CT.  I’m loving the new work — it helps me be of service both to individuals who want to enhance their careers, and organizations who want top marketing talent to help them build and grow.  I’m also connecting with terrific HR and senior management folks committed to diversity and providing career development programs for their female talent as well, which I love to provide through my firm Ellia Communications.  It’s cool!

As a career coach and in exec search work, I’ve spoken with scores of professionals who’ve shared some version of, “I’m really ready for a change, but I’m not sure exactly where to go from here.”

If I’ve heard this message once, I’ve heard it 1000 times now.  So many people spend years crafting careers that appear successful on the outside, only to find that at some point, usually in midlife, the career comes up short.  It’s missing some vital component (or several) that turns the work into something less than fulfilling, lacking in purpose, unstable, inauthentic, unsustainable, or a combination of all of the above.

Why are so many folks dissatisfied with their work and long for change?

Here’s what I’ve found to be the top six reasons people are dissatisfied with their work and want out:

1. They find it impossible to balance work and outside life

2. The money they earn isn’t enough to sustain them or their families

3. The skills and talents required for their work aren’t are a good fit

4. They feel chronically undervalued or mistreated

5. They experience little positive meaning or purpose in their work

6. It’s simply too hard to keep going with it

In short, they’re saying: “I don’t know what I want, but I know it’s not this.”

If the above describes your experience, read on for some tips to help you create the change you want — away from feeling trapped, toward feeling more confident, courageous and committed to making positive career change today.

1) Claim More Balance

Balance is not going to just fall in your lap.  You have to claim it, and commit to getting it.  How?  First, determine the three most important priorities you are committed to achieving in your personal and professional life.  What are the three things that are vital to you to bring about — that matter more than anything else?  Formulate these in terms of “to be” statements such as “to be a great parent” or “to be a successful entrepreneur” or “to be a helper of others.”   Then commit yourself to these.  Stop over-functioning (doing more than is necessary, more than is healthy, and more than is appropriate) in your life, your family, and work, and let go of doing too much and being perfect in the areas that don’t matter as much to you. 

2) Power Up with Money

To get out of financial distress, you have to become intimately connected with your money.  Create a solid budget with strong financial goals, and stick to it.  Understand what you need to survive and thrive.  Examine your spending – are you buying things in order to soothe your soul?  If so, stop over-spending.  Look at your beliefs around money that you learned as a child from living with your family.  Are your beliefs about money positive or negative, expansive or constricting? Do you believe you deserve wealth and abundance, or are you ashamed of the money you have or don’t have?  Overall, the key to overcoming chronic financial problems is to heal your relationship with money through positive and healthy beliefs, actions, and choices.  Develop an empowered money relationship, and you’ll no longer act in ways that create financial distress or drain you of your financial power.

3) Change Your Skills Focus

Do you know exactly which talents and skills are easy and natural for you to use, that give your work a sense of purpose?  Do you know what work would represent a perfect fit? Find a way (either in your existing job or in a new field or job) to tap your true and natural talents more frequently and deeply.  Take my free Career Path Assessment and figure out what you want to do more of, less of, and never again. 

4) Respect Yourself

If you’re chronically undervalued or mistreated at work and want people to change their treatment of you, start with SELF-respect.  How? Through courageous action that builds your own self-esteem – action that you know you should be taking, but haven’t found the nerve to take.  Don’t wait to become more authentic and real in your work. Speak up about who you are and what’s important to you.  Make yourself right, not wrong.  If you know something needs to be communicated, figure out a way to do it as soon as possible.  Find an advocate, sponsor or mentor at work to help you speak up in the right way so that you will be heard and respected for your viewpoint.  Start enforcing your boundaries so that you know exactly what you will tolerate and accept from others, and what you won’t. 

5) Honor What Gives Your Life Meaning

It’s a highly-destructive and misguided myth in our culture that we can’t make good money doing what we love.  We can, but it takes grit, determination, and courage and flexibility to pursue a path that you love and to make it work for you financially. 

Determine what endeavors and activities bring you joy and meaning, and bring these forward.  The key is to 1) understand the essence of what you want, and then 2) find the right form of it.  To find out if the new path you’re fantasizing about is right for you, research, research, research– interview people in the field, read all about it, get training and education, find a mentor, and determine a way to “try it on’ before you leap.  You might discover that earning money following your passion isn’t — in the end — the right thing for you, but you love to do it on a part-time or hobby basis.  If that’s the case, step up and volunteer or join a community that lets you honor your heart-aligned passions.  

6) If It’s Too Much Struggle, Change

Whether you’re in your own business and it’s simply not working, or the job you’re in feels crushingly difficult, it’s time to make change.  Let’s face it, most of us wait until there’s a full-blown crisis (read about the 12 “hidden” crises working women face) before we do something different.  I’ve personally lived through all 12 of the crises  I write about, so I understand.  But I’m asking you NOT to make the same mistakes I did.  Get outside your own head, and get help to figure out what you really want, and how to get it.

So, what’s your top reason for wanting out of your line of work?  And are you ready to do something about it?

A New Kind of Year

Hello and Happy New Year!  I hope your holidays were lovely, and you feel refreshed and excited about the New Year.

What a challenging year 2010 was for so many, including me.  In thinking about what I would like to bring about in 2011 in my life and work, I’ve decided to take a very different approach to my planning and envisioning process. 

I’ve suffered a good deal of heartache and disappointment over the past years because I overly-attached to what I thought I wanted to achieve and create.  When these events or experiences didn’t come to pass, I was let down, only to learn later (days, months, and even years afterward), that what I hankered for so keenly wasn’t even what I truly wanted in my heart and soul. 

 Over-Attachment Causes Suffering 

I’ve observed that we humans attach ourselves with full force to a specific outer “form” of something we think we want (this new job, house, business, etc.), because we believe this “thing” or experience will bring us happiness. 

 What I’ve learned is that experiencing joy, fulfillment and “success” is much less about outer experiences and things, and much more about the process of living – namely, letting go of what we think we should be doing and being, and instead, embracing with gratitude and gusto the person we are and what we have already created, and moving forward from a perspective of acceptance rather than resistance.  After all, what we resist, persists.

 A New Process

So this year things will be different for me.  Sure, I’m excited to set out key goals for my life, work, and business.  But at the same time, I’m ready to let the year unfold as it will, embracing what comes, learning and growing from it, and knowing that much of what life brings is out of my control.  I know now that if I can be fully present for the ride rather than resisting it, life is more joyful, peaceful and fulfilling. Make sense?

I encourage you to set out for yourself the heartfelt goals you’d like to achieve, but also forge a new process of living whereby you are able to deeply and wholeheartedly feel, embrace, and cherish who you are and what you have in your life, each and every day.

Sound good? Let’s do it together.  Let’s plan, envision, and embrace.  Here’s to a new kind of life experience in 2011.

What can you accept and embrace today that you’ve been resisting?

My 52 Mistakes Project – Mistake #52 – The Biggest

Hi Friends – happy to share the second installment of my project “My 52 Mistakes” – a social media and research project aimed at providing an open, authentic forum for women to explore, understand and grow from their biggest mistakes in life and work, and to help other women by sharing the amazing lessons we’ve learned from our missteps.

Today, I’m talking about my Mistake #52 – the biggest, most impactful error I made (so far!).  This mistake involved my remaining deeply stuck in struggle, sickness, and sadness for years in my worklife, not grasping until I was in my forties that I am special, unique, and powerful, and can make the difference I truly want to, in my life and in the world.

Hope you enjoy it!  PLEASE share this link with every woman you know, and please comment – let me know what you think of this mistake, if it resonates, your biggest mistake, what you learned, and where you are today.

Thank you so much for your honest and courageous sharing.  It means the world.

Wishing you many happy breakthroughs.

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