We are in the midst of the holiday season—the most wonderful time of the year. It is a precious few-week period that is deemed socially acceptable to take some time off from work, reacquaint with friends and enjoy quality time with family. Managers graciously look the other way when employees begin mentally checking out and start coasting a little. Enjoy it while it lasts, as they’ll be back to their usual tyranny once the new year starts.
This is simultaneously a season when people tend to get depressed. Unrealistic internal expectations, financial pressures, excessive commitments and seasonal affective disorder can cause anxiety and stress. It doesn’t help matters when we are barraged with endless images of beautiful loving couples, happy families in amazing well-furnished McMansions opening lavish, expensive gifts. It’s easy for the most emotionally and mentally fit to feel somewhat inadequate or that they are missing out on something.
Stressful year-end deadlines, reminders of past family animosities and dysfunctions, engaging in over indulging and long, cold, dark winter days can further harm one’s mental well-being. If you suffered the loss of a loved one, divorce, mental health issue or find yourself without family, it’s understandable why people become despondent. Instead of being a happy occasion, the holidays can be a painful reminder of what’s lacking in your own life.
We also use this time to evaluate our lives and career choices. It is common to engage in introspection about where we are in our jobs and careers. Thoughts race through our minds harshly criticizing ourselves.
“Am I where I thought I would be 10 or 20 years after graduating college?”
“How did I get trapped in this horrible rut that I can’t seem to break out of?”
“Why am I incapable of ending this pattern of inertia and failure”?
It is frustrating when you can’t see a clear path out of your current circumstances and are at a loss for what action to take. These relentless thoughts lead to an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction.
I’d like to provide some advice to help you change course. You may not hate your job, but recognize there’s no upward mobility. Your friends and family may say, “You’re doing just fine; it’s a first-world problem. You have a nice well-paying job and you’re unhappy? Shut up, take the money and be happy!” This is easier said than done. You can coast along in a job for only so long.
If you want to progress in your career, you have to continually challenge yourself and push forward; otherwise, your skills will atrophy. A dead-end, go-nowhere job is a form of slow unrelenting torture, especially if have an inner-drive to grow and seek out new challenges and adventures.
It is common to feel trapped in your job or career, but people avoid talking about it. Don’t feel that you are alone. You’d be surprised at how many others feel this way. You may not change your trajectory overnight, but let’s take the initial step and start the process of moving forward in the right direction of changing your work life.
Here is how you can start turning your work life around. First, stop feeling sorry for yourself, as it is not going to help you. Then, ask a few tough questions:
“What’s happening in my career and where am I going?”
“What do I really want to do achieve with my life before it’s too late?”
“What will make me happy?”
“Am I in a career that I don’t enjoy?”
“Would changing my career or job make me feel more fulfilled and offer greater meaning to my life?”
“Is my manager or the environment at my current job the root cause of my issues?”
“Did I choose the wrong career path or job due to parental or societal pressures and realize that it’s not what I really wanted to do?”
After honestly answering these questions, if you feel that a change is in order, start preparing a plan of action for the new year. Please don’t procrastinate and lie to yourself that you’ll wait until the new year to take action. Start today!
Think back to when you were younger. What did you want to do with your life? It might be too late to become the next Lebron James or Tom Brady, but there’s still time to finish college, go to law school, get an M.B.A. or move into a nonprofit organization helping people—utilize your skill sets and experience to pursue worthwhile social justice causes.
Think of your core values as a person and evaluate if they are in alignment with your current job and career. If not, it will certainly cause cognitive dissonance. You might be much better off finding something new that fits with your values. Seriously reevaluate what you do for a living. Perhaps, you need to move into a completely different type of career. Maybe being a tax attorney does not fulfill your creative passions.
Money is important, but consider what you would do if money wasn’t the deciding factor. You may have wanted to be a social worker, but then calculated that a $30k salary can’t possibly pay back $200k in student loans and afford an apartment in a hip neighborhood in Brooklyn. Start seeking out a job that combines your socially conscious desires with the ability to earn a reasonable living. It might be less than you are making now, but you will be happier. You may be pulling in a small fortune but still feel unfulfilled. The large paycheck may be nice, but consider the long hours, travel and pressure that accompanies it. If the ramifications from the job is adversely impacting your family, a move may be necessary to remedy the situation.
Don’t allow the fear of change and failure or concerns about what others will think or say hold you back. If you want to make a difference, then do it. If you are unhappy, then you need to change.