Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Ask a Career Coach: I Want a New Career But I Have No Idea Where to Start

woman at laptop
JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Hi Alex,

I’ve had one job since graduating college and been here for over two years now. I’m absolutely miserable—it’s clear this job is poisoning my life—but am unsure what to do next. 

I make good money, but I feel paralyzed at this company. I think maybe the thing to do is quit and travel for a while. I’m not feeling intellectually stimulated anymore, and it’s frustrating that I don’t seem to want to do anything to change that.  

I want to think about my career and stay on the right track, but I just feel stuck. I have no idea how to proceed and be happy.

I’m thinking maybe I want to make a change from tech to education (two very different industries). How do I get started with changing career paths? How can I smartly take a risk in my career? I’m only 24 so I know this is the first of many jobs (is two and half years even a long time?), but how do I know when to leave a job? 

Beyond Career Confused,

Dear Beyond Career Confused,

I feel the frustration oozing from your words. Using phrases like “…poisoning my life…,” and “I’m absolutely miserable…,” you can be sure it’s time to move on.

Sometimes it’s just hard to know where to begin, what to do, and how to do it and, like you said, that feeling can be paralyzing.

When your energy’s low and the path forward’s unclear, it’s helpful to start unpacking the large unknowns into smaller, more digestible bites.

Right now, you’re playing around with some major questions:

How do I make an industry pivot? Do I even want to make such a change?
Should I take a sabbatical and travel for a while?
How do I keep my career on track?
At what point is “good money” just not enough?

Heavy stuff.

It feels like you’re using a lot of stamina to just stay afloat. To uncover some of the insights you’re seeking, you need to spend less time ruminating on what’s not working, and give yourself a chance to daydream about a day in the near future you could get excited about.

For example, if you had all the money you needed to live comfortably tomorrow, what would you want your day-to-day to look like?

  • What time do you wake up?
  • What’s your ideal morning routine?
  • What would “going to work” look like?
  • Who would you want to be surrounded by?
  • What other activities would you want to make sure you are making time for other than work?

We aren’t looking for the “right” answers. We’re trying to craft a visual you can build energy around so you have something to work toward.

Next, be honest with yourself about what actually matters to you today. Not what you think you’ll care about it 10 years. Not what your parents think you should care about. What makes your life worth living today? For example, how would you rank: time with friends/family, time for exercise, impactful work, sleep, eating well, creativity, autonomy, geography (where you live). What else should be on this list for you?

(Bonus: How would you define the role of money in your next professional chapter?)

Once you have a vision and are clear on the most important criteria (remember, it’s OK for this list to change over time), you’re ready to think strategy.

After going through these first couple of exercises, gut check yourself. What are you looking to find in education that you didn’t find in tech? How much of your dissatisfaction stems from your organization’s culture versus the kind of work you do?

As far as quitting to travel: Again, be honest with yourself. What is the travel for? Is it an escape to delay taking control of your life? Is it an opportunity to break from a pattern of behavior? Travel is almost always a good investment. We become richer by leaving our own bubbles. But too often I see people who think the travel itself will offer a magical solution only to return to find the life they left behind waiting for them.

To quote George Eliot’s Middlemarch:

But indefinite visions of ambition are weak against the ease of doing what is habitual or beguilingly agreeable; and we all know the difficulty of carrying out a resolve when we secretly long that it may turn out to be unnecessary.

We don’t talk enough about how difficult our early 20s are. Cut yourself some slack regarding being on the “right track.” Honor where you are now and take care of yourself. Remember: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Credible Career Coach in the subject line.

Your letter may be published in an article on The Muse. All letters to Ask an Expert become the property of Daily Muse, Inc and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.