Every week I speak with clients who are not truly satisfied with their current job. Often these people ask me, ‘how do you know when it is time to make a change’. For many, they feel that perhaps their expectations are too high. This is especially the case when they talk to parents and those from older generations who stayed in the one job forever. Our parents and grandparents mostly fell into a job or career and stuck at it for life, whether it made them happy or not. However, in the current day, we do have the opportunity to change careers when we find ourselves in an area of work that isn’t the right fit. It takes time and effort but there are thousands of examples of people who have done so successfully.
So, how do you know when it is time to consider a career change? There is definitely no secret formula and it is also a very personal decision based on many factors, however from my own experience and working with my clients, these are my top 5 signs that it may be time to at least consider some alternatives.
1) You have become a clock watcher
When you are doing work that doesn’t energise you, time moves very slowly. The days drag on and you find yourself looking at the clock counting down the minutes to when you can make your escape.
In my first career working as a corporate tax consultant with a Big 4 accounting firm, I remember watching the clock and literally hanging out for the next coffee break, lunch hour or the ‘acceptable time’ when I could leave the office to go home at the end of the day. Meetings and training sessions seemed unbearably long and I found myself daydreaming and losing focus.
Compare that to my current career where I look forward to going to work and the workday never seems long enough. I often run over time with clients because I am so engrossed in our discussions and now look at the clock hoping I have more time rather than less.
Losing track of time, also known as ‘being in flow’ is a great indicator of when you are doing work that you actually love, or that you are doing work that plays to your natural strengths.
2) You are not using your natural strengths
If you are doing work that uses your natural strengths, then work should come easier to you and you should feel energised by the work you do. However, too many people are working in jobs that don’t play to their strengths. If this is the case then they are actually spending their time overcoming weaknesses, which can be mentally draining. Take the creative who is stuck in a job that is routine, detailed and repetitive versus using their creative, big-picture thinking. They may be good at their jobs but often this is based on learned behaviours rather than actually utilising strengths. The key difference is that whilst you may still be very good at utilising a learned behaviour, you won’t derive any energy out of using it.
My personal strengths profile suggests that my individual strengths are related to building relationships and connecting people. However, in my earlier tax-consulting career, the strengths I needed most were problem solving/analytical skills, planning and time management skills and high attention to detail. If I concentrated, worked really hard and sought input from managers, I could research tax legislation and tax rulings and apply them to a client situation and produce a half decent letter of tax advice. However, this work certainly didn’t come naturally to me and I seemed to have to work much harder than my colleagues to get my head around complicated tax concepts. Quite possibly due to the fact that I also had relatively no interest in the subject matter.
Reflecting on my three and a half years of employment at this accounting firm, the ‘work’ I enjoyed most was related to people. I remember getting great satisfaction from getting involved in the graduate recruitment process, representing the firm at careers fairs alongside the HR team and being part of a group selected to go on a camp with the new graduates. These small windows of opportunity were more enjoyable than my regular work as they all related to building rapport and relationships. Unfortunately it took me a while to see the writing on the wall.
3) Your work isn’t personally meaningful anymore
I work with many very successful senior clients who have lost the love for their work. They have climbed the corporate ladder only to find that they really don’t care that much anymore about what they are doing. These clients are often working for large corporates and don’t have any interest in the services or the products that the company is offering. Perhaps the company values are not aligned to their personal values or their own values have changed over the years.
The wide-eyed marketing professional recently graduated from university would be absolutely stoked to score a graduate position with a large corporate, major bank or advertising agency. At this point in their lives, their key values might be high earnings, status, career progression and working as part of a team. However, over a decade down the track they may not feel it is worth slogging away to promote a brand or product that they are not personally connected to. A recent client in market research told me she just couldn’t face working 70-hr weeks to provide clients with detailed reports on the packaging for fish fingers. The core of what the business did just didn’t do it for her anymore despite being extremely successful.
4) You have no interest in taking the next step
Another telling sign that you are in the wrong job might be that you have absolutely no interest in taking the job of the person above you. You look at what they do and it makes you shudder. In many cases the more senior you go, the more you move away from the core work that used to light your fire.
I recently worked with a friend who is a strong creative. After completing an advertising degree he has worked in several media agencies but the more senior he has become, the less engaged he has been in the work. In the early days he had the opportunity to use his creativity where now as a manager he is stuck in the office managing staff issues and looking at budgets. There is only now a very small portion of his role that requires any creative output and hence he has become completely demotivated with the industry.
5) Your health and wellbeing is being adversely affected
If you are terribly unhappy at work and feeling completely demotivated then this can start to affect your wellbeing outside of work. I have worked with clients in the past who were so anxious about their current state of work that it was having a negative affect on their sleeping patterns, personal relationships and their general mood even when not at work. If this is you, then it is seriously time to at least consider your alternative options.
If you are feeling some or all of these symptoms, then you need to think how long you can live like this? Are things likely to change for the better or do you need to take some action to make that happen?
A career check-up is about becoming self-aware. Understanding why you are feeling the way you are and what is missing. You can then use this information to explore alternatives that might suit you better and then weigh up the pros and the cons.
If you feel you need to make time for a career check-up this year, then contact us at Relaunch Me to organise a 15-minute clarity call on email@example.com