I frequently receive calls from people who are stressed about their current job situation. They believe if they don’t change their trajectories right now, they’ll be stuck in the industry forever. They’re unhappy, unfulfilled, worried that they chose the wrong career path. As a result of this dissatisfaction, they become consumed with making a move—a major move.
But in spite of the itch to foster a change, many professionals don’t really need a total overhaul in what they’re doing. They simply need perspective.
It’s never too late to transition careers, but it’s not the only option you have if you’re feeling restless at work. Sometimes, a well-placed question or two about where you are now can enable you to determine what your answer should be.
It may not be a change you need, but a different way of looking at your situation. Here are six questions to help you assess your situation before you abandon your industry for that one over there.
1. Am I Taking Responsibility for My Career Happiness?
Let’s face it, happiness is an inside job. If you are waiting for the perfect boss, job, company, culture, or customer to bring you joy in the workplace, you’re going to end up waiting a long time—maybe forever.
Finding fulfillment and satisfaction in your career is your job, not your manager’s (though certainly working with a supervisor you admire and respect can help you on this path).
So before you get to question of changing industries, you’ve got to first be honest with yourself about what your expectations are. Are you willing to do the work to be engaged, inspired, and driven at work—even if it’s not your absolute dream job? Have you examined the ways in which you can improve your performance to impact how you feel about your role with your organization?
Even if you have a boss intent on helping guide you on your path, you’re not going to get step-by-step instructions on how to proceed on your professional trajectory. So rather than put the burden of your contentment on your manager, remind yourself who’s really accountable.
2. How Is My Career Providing Meaning?
You’ve undoubtedly heard about the power of asking why. Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, says that understanding the reason behind why we do things gives us a sense of meaning and satisfaction.
How is your current career creating meaning for you? Whether it’s paying off school loans, allowing you to mentor others, or developing your leadership skills, you should be able to articulate a clear purpose for your role. Understanding the ways in which your job is meaningful can help you as you decide what direction you want to go in, whether within the organization that signs your paychecks or with another company.
3. Do I Have Career Envy?
It’s really easy to get sucked into thinking that your college bud who started his career in the banking industry has it made. After all, his trajectory seems clearly laid out, and there’s a ladder he’ll climb along the way. You, on the other hand, labor at an entry-level job in advertising, your future seeming more like a secret code that needs to be cracked than a well-laid plan.
It’s natural to have feelings of envy about others’ lucrative starting salary, stock options, or seemingly predictable future. But don’t let the “compare and despair” mentality make you feel badly about you or where you are in your own life.
Remember that even if you’re not raking in a huge salary, you’re learning amazing fundamentals that will provide the stepping stones for your future work. Plus, you know the cliché saying: The grass is always greener.
4. How Can I Be More Stimulated More Often?
Every job—no matter how much you generally love it—has the capacity to bore you. It’s unrealistic to think that every single task on your to-do list is going to excite you, engage you, and give you immense satisfaction.
But, by knowing what you love doing and are good at, and asking for more of it, you can grow the amount of time you spend doing what you like best. Talk with your boss about what it would take for you to do more of that work. Perhaps you love developing employee communications. Maybe, when talking with your manager, you learn she knows of another team that’s struggling with that and there’s an opportunity for you to help (provided your team still comes first). They get your help and you get more of what you like to do—it’s an obvious win-win.
If your supervisor isn’t able to accommodate you, you can still find another way to stay interested. Maybe you learn a new skill, such as mastering that client database you’ve been avoiding, or maybe you figure out a way to go above and beyond what you’re assigned.
5. What Are the Main Issues That Make Me Want to Change Careers?
Many clients want to change careers because of pain points in the jobs they have. They focus so much on what’s not working in a particular field, that they often forget how much they actually like the work itself.
Before you jump ship and embark on unfamiliar territory, take a deep look at what’s making you unhappy and why you’re feeling restless. Is it a difficult manager, drama-prone colleagues, the inflexible culture, confusion about the company mission?
While I all of the above are definitely workplace challenges, finding a way to navigate them is an important professional skill. Read a book on effective communication, volunteer to help plan a company-wide social activity, and align yourself with co-workers you can tolerate. Every job is going to come with its own unique idiosyncrasies; you’re better off finding ways to deal with them instead of just letting them rattle you.
6. What Are My Financial Goals?
No matter how you slice it, changes can be costly. If you’re in your twenties, taking a pay reduction now can affect your earnings for years. If your financial goals are to pay off school loans, and bank for the future, you may not be in the best position to transition into a lower-paying field.
If you need the job you have for financial reasons, think about a starting a side gig that’s inspired by where you’d like to go next. Maybe your inner baker can master the art of cake decorating on weekends. Or your inner writer can freelance for a blog. These part-time opportunities can be a great way to get street cred, experience, and a little extra money as you figure out if a brand new career is your answer.
If you dive into all the aspects of your current work, and you still think it’s time to get a job in a different industry, make sure you have the process, patience, and structure to do so. Career changes take research, a strong network, and a focused effort. The process is often more challenging and time-consuming than landing a job in your field at a different organization, so it’s not a decision to make on a whim after you’ve had a crappy week or month at work. With that said, it is a choice you can always make later on, even if it doesn’t make sense for you right now.