Making the Most of an Unexpected Career Change18 December 2008 / By Truity Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on December 18, 2008
The boom economy of the past few years brought me many clients who were doing well financially--in some cases, very well--but felt a longing for more satisfaction in their work. They had good salaries and job security, but didn't feel fulfilled by what they were doing. They took career assessments to try to find what was missing, and often our work together helped them understand why a "good job" wasn't making them happy. They realized that some of their dreams had been pushed aside as they saw the opportunity for financial gain in a strong labor market.
In some ways, a strong economy allows us to dream. When companies are growing and jobs are being created, there are more opportunities for us to make a move. But how many of us actually do? A booming economy can limit our choices as much as it creates them, because when we are doing well financially, it takes a tremendous of fortitude to contemplate giving that up for a career with a lower salary or less stability, even if it promises to be more satisfying.
In many ways, today's current economy presents many of us with a great opportunity to pursue our career dreams. The instability we're experiencing is uncomfortable, but it can also serve as a catalyst to create a career that will ultimately be more inspiring. This is especially true for those who have been forced into a career change by layoffs or downsizing. These workers no longer have to take the plunge into uncertainty--it's been thrust upon them. Others are not out of a job, but are beginning to see that their careers are not as stable as they once thought. Without the promise of stability, an uninspiring job is just that.
If you're experiencing stress and worry about your career in this economy, it's time to start thinking about how you can use this period of change to work to your advantage. If you come to terms with the idea that you may not be able to achieve the same level of financial success that you once had, what dreams does that open up for you?
I had a client who was a mortgage broker throughout the housing boom. He'd always had a dream of teaching high school, but just couldn't imagine giving up the financial rewards of selling mortgages to take a job teaching. He was in for quite a shock when the mortgage market collapsed, but it turned out to be an incredible blessing. He no longer had an excuse to keep at a job that he didn't love, and finally took the plunge to follow his passion. It was a happy coincidence that his dream job was also one that is relatively recession-proof.
You may realize that it hasn't been finances keeping you from your dreams, but simply inertia. For many of us, the lure of stability is so great that we overlook our dreams for years. If we have a good, stable job, we reason, why risk that to pursue something we can't be sure will work out? Well, if your stable job is not looking so stable, it's time to revisit those dreams you put on the back burner. If your goals involve going back to school, so much the better; low interest rates mean affordable student loans, and with any luck, by the time you've graduated the labor market will be on the upswing again.
Of course, many of us who've been uprooted by economic turmoil were relatively satisfied with our careers. If you basically enjoyed your job but can't continue on the same path, you can still use this time to refine your goals. Whether you need to change careers or just make a move from one industry to another, you can make this a positive move by increasing your awareness of your work preferences. Take an objective look at the pros and cons of your previous career, and list these in generalities (for example "enjoyed helping others" or "disliked dealing with bureaucracy"). When you're evaluating possible next moves, refer to this list. Try to focus your search on new careers that will maximize your time spent with your preferred tasks and work environment while minimizing your exposure to your dislikes.
It can be difficult to contemplate making a positive move if you've been through a traumatic layoff or downsizing. Particularly if you didn't love your job, you might feel that you've sacrificed time and effort just to have the rug pulled from under you. But often, we need to be shaken up a bit in order to reevaluate what we really want. If you're feeling unsteady, now is the time to get back in touch with your true goals. In the end, discovering a job that you love will bring you more happiness than you'd find from any amount of financial gain.