Quick…name three positive experiences you’ve had in your work in the last month…
That tells you something. You’re not enjoying your work as much as you could be. Perhaps you’re enjoying a few aspects of your career, but they’re buried under burdens.
How much would you like to bounce out of bed feeling joyful to go to work and contribute on a meaningful project? How great would it be to walk into an important meeting with a client, feeling giddy to show off your stellar work on a project that makes you feel oh-so proud? How jazzed would you feel to attend a conference in your industry, to soak up the latest ideas from gurus?
As you imagine any of these scenarios, you get a taste of how gratifying it feels to enjoy your work. In our adult lives, we spend one-third or more of our time on our careers. You want to enjoy that time as much as possible, right?
But if you’re not happy enough in your career, what’s next? Sometimes, the problem isn’t that you’re at the wrong company, and just need to work for a competitor. Deep down, your heart and gut may be telling you it’s time for a fresh new career.
Based on over 15 years of coaching clients through major career transitions, I’ve compiled a list of the most frequent signs my clients have shared that indicate “It’s time for a big change.”
1. You’re bored stiff
Three years ago, Bruce came to me for career reinvention coaching after a 10-year career in software development. He was good at it. But the first thing he told me is, “I’m continually bored and uninterested at work. I can do this work. But I swear, I could just fall asleep even talking about it.”
If you’re fatigued by your work, pay attention. We all have a human need to be pushed and challenged, at least a little bit.
If, like Bruce, you feel like you know your job and your industry so well that the exhilaration of your daily activities is all dried up, you’re ripe for work that's fresh and new. Your challenge is to avoid getting too comfortable in a job you know too well, because you’re likely to become stagnant.
The longer you stay in a role that’s not delighting you, without making some kind of career shift, the harder it becomes to dig out of a deep hole of the doldrums.
What will you do to ditch your boredom at work?
2. You’ve learned as much as you can
When I worked with Mary, an accountant, a few years ago, she said, “Sure, new tax code comes out all the time. But the basic skills of being an accountant? I’ve mastered those. In the skill department, there’s nothing new and exciting in my work.”
If you can’t point to some element of the work where there’s at least a mildly steep learning curve, you’re in danger. The pace of technological and social changes means that there’s the potential to be exposed to novelty and innovation in virtually any role.
But if that’s not happening for you, you’re going to miss out on building new talents. And if your job somehow evaporates, and you haven’t added new abilities or knowledge to your repertoire in a while, employers will be unlikely to look at you.
How can you ask for opportunities to learn new skills on your current job? What skills would you like to learn in a new role?
3. You’re just not that into the people in your industry or function
I’ll never forget working with Jack, a client who had been an HR manager for Fortune 50 companies most of his career. When he came to see me, he said, “I can’t stand HR people. Most of them didn’t make it somewhere else in the company, so they wound up in ‘the people role.’ They don’t have the intellect or drive that I have. They never challenge me.”
To confirm this huge stereotype, I suggested that Jack attend a huge HR conference and see how he felt about being around a slew of his colleagues. After the first day of a three-day conference, he called me and said, “I can’t stand them. They’re too tactical — and I’m strategic.”
He didn’t fit in this function — at least not this way — anymore. In his own major career transition, Jack started his own HR consulting firm, advising small-to-medium companies on their HR policies and procedures. He was so much happier interacting with a bunch of different business owners who needed him, as opposed to fellow HR colleagues.
So if you’re not enjoying the people in your industry or function, and the idea of switching to a similar company makes you kind of sick to your stomach, it may be time for a big career shift.
If you’re really not feeling aligned with people in your industry or function, what other types of people might you enjoy more?
4. You’re hungry to express your creativity or make a meaningful impact.
“I’m a really great marketing manager. But I have a dream of dong marketing for a non-profit or social venture that’s making a difference,” Julie told me when we kicked off her career coaching.
As we grow and mature, our need for expression and meaning tend to grow. I like to think that we begin to see how our talents fit together to make a contribution. We see that we have limited time on the planet, and some of us yearn to do “what we came here to do.”
If your current role doesn’t give you freedom of creativity or the opportunity to make an impact that feels meaningful to you, ask yourself the questions (below) that I asked Julie to consider, that lead her to join an organic produce collective.
How would I ideally like to express my creativity in a career, and how can I pursue that?
What kind of an impact would I like to make through my work, and how can I find a way to at least start feeling more satisfied with how my work contributes to a product, service, or cause I believe in?
5. You’re intensely curious about another profession.
Sometimes, the pull to a whole new career comes out of pure curiosity or even fascination. I’ve coached a PR executive who became a voiceover artist, because she’s had a life-long fascination with ways to use her voice. While she didn’t become the Broadway musical sensation she wanted to be when she graduated college, Sharon found a way to create a livelihood with her unique sound.
Or how about the architect I worked with who was constantly hosting dinner parties and holiday celebrations for over 40 people in her home? All the time she was designing industrial buildings, she kept in a secret passion for becoming a corporate event planner. She’s now apprenticing under a master event planner, and plans to open her own event planning business.
Is there a secret or dormant interest, curiosity, or dream about a new career that you want to explore?
6. Something inside says “It’s time for a big shift” — even if you’re not sure what it is.
For some of us, there’s just an “itch” or a “nudge” or a “knowing” that you’re in a period of transition, and you’ve got to answer that call.
For Nadine, it was a feeling. She told me, “I can’t quite describe it. But I know that getting divorced and moving back to my hometown is a starting over. I could stay in my profession, nursing. I’m good at it, and there are plenty of jobs here. But I sense a deeper career is calling me.”
Through our coaching together, Nadine took her healing skills, and created a home health care business serving the elderly. It meant that she had to learn a lot about marketing, sales, and administration. She worked a 30-hour work week while taking all sorts of classes, doing market research, and planning a venture. A year later, she just launched her business, and forecasts to be profitable in six to nine months. She’s both excited and nervous.
What “itches” or “nudges” are telling you it may be time for a bit shift in your work?
So, how many of these signs are you experiencing now? And what are they telling you about your career future?
Could it be time for you to make a big shift in your work? If you’re intrigued by the idea of making a big career move, but have fears, doubts, or questions, you can get the guidance you need to take your next step. The Alumni Career Lab hosted a webinar with Dr. Susan Bernstein on how to make a major career transition. Members of the Alumni Association can log in here to access the recording.
UA alumna Dr. Susan Bernstein has been an executive and career coach for over 15 years, guiding mid- to senior-level professionals to career fulfillment.