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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?

 

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?

What To Do When Speaking About Your Work is Hard

This week, I had a fascinating marketing coaching session with a woman who shared with me her difficulty in speaking about her work.  She revealed that, every time she discusses what she does for a living, one of two things happen:

1) People turn off immediately

or

2) They poke some fun at the company she works for (it’s a well-known national organization with an external reputation that isn’t 100% positive)

While our session was ostensibly about “crafting a powerful elevator pitch,” it morphed quickly into something quite different.  We explored not just the “content” of her elevator pitch, but the “process” of how she feels about and connects to her work, and what is missing.

There are vitally important factors that contribute to being able to speak and write about your work and your job in an authentic, exciting and compelling way.  It’s not all about the words you choose – it’s about what’s underneath those words.

The following are key ingredients to communicating about what you do for a living with passion, power, and purpose:

1) Alignment – You have to be aligned with your work and supportive of it in order to speak engagingly about it.  If you have internal conflicts about the company or the work you do, it’ll show.

2) Clarity – You must be clear about what you do and what aspects of your responsibilities you wish to share with others.  If you wear several different hats in your work, get crystal clear about which professional dimension you want to focus on, and to whom (tailor your messages for each type of audience you encounter, so they can care about what you do).

3) Authenticity – If you have to lie or fib to create a compelling story of what you do, it’s time for a change.  Lying weakens you, and your energy palpably reveals that you’re not telling the truth.

4) Passion – You can’t fake enthusiasm.  If you’re bored to tears with your work, you’ll be boring to others about it.  There’s a difference between a “job and a calling.”  If you have a calling, you’ve got passion for it.  But if you have a job that doesn’t light you up, find some aspect of it that elicits excitment in you (or think about changing directions a bit so it will). 

5) Growth – Finally, if your work is NOT helping you grow and learn, your communications will reflect your stagnation.  Make a shift in your work so you’re learning and growing all the time.  Your writing and speaking will reflect this expansion, and positive growth is a magnet to others.

In the final years before I reinvented my career to something I love, I was corporate VP selling products that, to me, had zero contributive value or meaning in the world.  I hated the work, and I simply couldn’t find a way to speak about it positively.  When folks would ask me, “What do you do?” I’d give some vague, boring or confusing response. 

Why?  Because the work I did wasn’t me at all.  I didn’t like, respect, or even care about it!  If that resonates with you, it’s not your elevator pitch that needs tweaking – it’s your line of work or how you’re engaged in it. 

How about you? Do you like talking about your work?  If not, what’s the hardest thing about it, and what do you think that challenge suggests?

 Thanks for sharing!

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.

Are You Having an Allergic Reaction – of the Spiritual Kind?

Yesterday I was speaking with a good friend about an experience I have that I call a spiritual “allergic” reaction.  This intense reaction makes me feel off-center, exhausted, and downright lousy, when I get it.  It’s physical, but also occurs in another dimension of my experience. At first, years ago, I wasn’t sure what it was.  “Am I getting a cold, or did I eat something bad?” I used to wonder.

 

Now I know exactly what it is…it’s my body and my spirit telling me that what I’m doing-– how I’m seeing things, or the way I’m reacting and behaving – is damaging or limiting me in some way, and I need to stop and reverse course, now.

 

I’ve had this reaction on more than a number of occasions recently, when I’ve been feeling out of control and eliciting too much outside advice (and not listening to myself), or when I’ve needed to embrace a “beginner’s mind” and stop being a know-it-all (a habit of mine that’s quite annoying, to me and others).   I’ve had an allergic reaction also to my lack of forgiveness or acceptance of someone or something—or of myself—and when I’ve needed to shout my mouth and stop giving advice to those who simply didn’t ask for it.  These “allergic” reactions help me point myself in a new direction, and allow me to realize again that I can’t fix things or control what’s outside of my purview.

 

I’m deeply grateful for my specific brand of allergic reaction, because it tells me I need to revise my thinking and actions to feel better, and live better.  Once I make the necessary shift, I do feel better, and life and work goes much more smoothly and joyfully, for that week, at least.

 

What’s your spiritual allergic reaction look and feel like?  And what is it telling you about what needs to be shifted or addressed?  

 

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