Dealing with a career crisis is a topic that has a very personal application to me. It is very real because I experienced one, and it had a profound impact on me. So much so that I literally wrote a book about it.
I had to deal with a major crisis early on in my career as a corporate lawyer. The crisis was simple: I found myself very discouraged and depressed at the prospect of doing law for the rest of my life. I truly disliked it, and I wanted to make a career change to something that brought me fulfillment.
The problem was that I initially didn’t know what to do. I had spent almost a decade obtaining the necessary education to become a lawyer, not to mention well over several hundred thousand dollars in real and opportunity costs to get my education. I had to really soul search and redefine what I believed about myself and what I wanted to accomplish in my career. The result was a tremendously empowering process, and in this article I will share 10 of the insights I learned in leaving law to find empowerment as an entrepreneur, consultant and writer.
1. First, determine if it is a real crisis or simply a trying experience.
Not everything is a career crisis, and all careers have challenging times, even careers that are “right.” Just because your career is engaging, generally enjoyable, and personally meaningful doesn’t mean that it won’t have its challenging times. That’s life. Life is about change and challenge. So before we look at major changes, we should determine if this is a “crisis” or if it is simply a challenge. The answer will determine the steps we take next. A crisis could very likely lead to a career change. A challenge is an opportunity to dig in and develop grit, courage and persistence. It is a character moment.
2. If it’s just a challenge then remember your why.
It’s just a challenge if you still love the career and you want to get better at it and progress to the point of mastery. If you find yourself in a career “challenge” but you don’t want to leave the career, then simply remember your “why.” Why did you get in this career in the first place? Expanding on that, what have you yet to accomplish in this career? What have you yet to learn? How can you improve and grow? What does success in this field mean to you? Go back to the fundamentals of your why. When you do this you’ll gain resolve and courage to move forward beyond the present challenge.
3. If it’s a crisis don’t get discouraged, but know you’ll need to make a change eventually.
It may not be simply a challenge. It may be a full-blown crisis. That’s what happened to me in law. I knew without a doubt that law was not right for me, and I needed to do something else with my life. If you find yourself in the same position, don’t get discouraged. No one said you had to get it right on the first go (although it can feel discouraging to have to change, especially after you have educated yourself for a certain path). Stay positive: you can make a change, but know that the change is inevitable.
4. It’s a crisis if your values are not aligned with what you are doing.
What do you truly value? What is unique about you? Do you like to create? Do you value teaching? Are you a contributor? Do you uniquely value freedom? Does your current career align with your unique values? If no, then you’re on a dangerous path. I realized that the things I valued most were freedom, communication, contribution, and adventure. Law didn’t provide that for me. Entrepreneurship was a better path. Do a values analysis and compare it to your current career.
5. Take full responsibility, only you can create a solution.
I can’t stress this point enough. Resist the urge to blame. Don’t blame your boss, your current employer, your parents. You are where you are because you made choices. You can get to a new place if you simply make new choices. You are the solution. If you blame someone for where you are, you are actually giving away your power. You are giving away the solution. If someone is to blame, then you have no power to change. But you do have power to change, and to accept the responsibility.
6. Change is never easy, take courage.
If you are in a full-blown career crisis you’ll have to do things that require courage. However, each action that you take that requires courage builds your courage a little. The first step might just be to admit to yourself that you are not happy and that you need to make a change.
7. Keep composed and remain calm, good things will come.
Action holds anxiety at bay. I know from personal experience that a career crisis can be terribly stressful. Try your best to stay calm, and when you feel the anxiety, just take more action. Keep yourself healthy, move and breathe, take care of yourself. Stay composed because your actions will be most effective when you are calm in your mindset.
8. Be realistic in your expectations.
Being real is very empowering. It is realistic to suppose that all careers, even ones that are aligned with your values, will have their challenging moments. It is realistic to suppose that if you make a change you may not initially make as much money as you were making in the career that you hated. If you’re leaving a secure pay check to build a business, it is realistic that the business may take a little longer than you think to get going. But that doesn’t mean that you should quit. It just means that businesses often take a little while to get going. Be realistic in your expectations.
9. Take the long view.
This is a powerful strategy. If you take the long view, then little challenges won’t get you down. This is another test for whether you are in a career that is right for you. Do you want to master this field? Are you willing to work for years and years to become great at this? If you choose a career where the answer to these questions is yes, then you are on a good path. If you’re only concerned about the short term and the pay raises, you should seriously consider whether or not you need to make a dramatic change.
10. Your work matters, so find work that is personally meaningful, independent of money or status.
Your work matters. Work gives us self-confidence and a sense of purpose. Don’t discount the intrinsic value of doing work that is personally meaningful. So much of our world is focused on getting more money and being recognized for our success, but these conquests are often hollow victories and they don’t have the depth of meaning that doing personally satisfying work does. When you find that career in which your actions are intrinsically meaningful, you are on the path to a lifetime of empowerment and fulfillment.