It’s Not Too Late to Reconsider Your Career Path
About six months after graduating from college I had a conversation with my college friend, let’s call her Jamie, about employment. She had graduated with a degree in Sociology and took a position at a job that paid well but was unrelated to her major. After a few months on the job she concluded that didn’t particularly like it, but she definitely liked her salary. As we spoke, I urged her to keep her eye out for a position that would be rewarding to her, and I secretly hoped she wouldn’t allow herself to get stuck at this position permanently. Fast forward fifteen years later. Jamie was still at the same company (although she had been promoted several times) and not much had changed.
One factor that kept Jamie bound to this job was the lifestyle she chose once she started to make an impressive living. She didn’t want to find another position that she was passionate about (one that would certainly pay less), because she wanted to be able to make her $450 per month car payment. She also wanted to continue to travel over the weekends to visit with friends in different parts of the country. She had built up quite a list of things she would lose should her paycheck dwindle. Having a great car and jetting across the country sounded exciting. But I couldn’t help but wonder if the compromises she made regarding career satisfaction were ultimately worth it.
All of us make decisions about our careers that are in part driven by financial considerations. This is necessary. But sometimes we let the allure of financial security and maintaining a certain lifestyle do most of the driving. Most of us are influenced by this underlying fear of making changes, fear of losing our stuff and our expensive lifestyles, and fear of failing at something new. We collude with our fear. In this agreement, we don’t have to take risks and are allowed to keep our fancy titles and salaries. But in return, we have to live with knowing we’re not reaching our potential and that there is little meaning in what we actually do day-to-day.
Figuring out what you love to do and pursuing it IS a scary and risky proposition. But following your right path can eventually lead you to true career and life satisfaction (and even financial reward). When Steve Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford in 2005, he shared his personal story of how he started, grew, got fired from, then was hired back at one of the most innovative and visionary companies. He conceived of and nurtured a company that was truly a “game changer”. The key to his success was found in his determination to do great work and to love the work he did. This love made all the difference and reverberated throughout his professional and personal life.
I am not advocating that people immediately quit jobs they hate, stop traveling or stop enjoying things they can afford. But I urge each one of us to take a look at our career satisfaction. If you don’t love what you do then change it. Start to downsize your lifestyle. Save more instead of spend more. Stop worrying about maintaining your coveted image, title and salary. Make new connections who can advise you and help you uncover new opportunities. Don’t discount the different possibilities even if they seem outrageous or unrealistic. Decide now, and keep making the decision over and over again that you will eventually find your true love so to speak.
We spend at least a third of our life at work. Why should we waste this precious time on something that we know is not right for us? If we’re courageous enough, we’ll stop making excuses and stop procrastinating. So even if you’re starting out in your career or are well established, you still have time to examine and pursue your life’s purpose. We want the highest pay possible for the work that we perform, but the price we pay when we compromise our spiritual, emotional, physical and mental selves for a paycheck is incalculable.