According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker goes through 12 different jobs before retiring. For many people, this entails complete career changes. In 2016 alone, approximately 6.2 million Americans switched to an entirely new field, leaving their current positions in an attempt to find the perfect fit.
So, if you’re thinking of forging a new path in your professional life, understand that you’re not alone, and that countless others have been stumped by this daunting decision. Perhaps it means deserting a stable environment and entering uncharted territory. Maybe the switch is less drastic, such as a lateral move to something nearby.
In any case, you have at the very least an opportunity to learn more about yourself, including your interests, preferences and work values. What might seem to be a potential mistake will likely prove to be an informative and transformative experience that brings you closer to your biggest goals.
That said, career changes of any sort are major steps that are best taken after thorough consideration. Here are 11 signs that can point you in the right direction and help you determine whether now is the time to make the switch.
Let’s begin by taking stock of your physical health.
Do you feel drained, slow or heavy? How often do you arrive home from work wanting to immediately lie down and recuperate some energy so that you can get to all of your other responsibilities? Have you developed any aches or pains in places where you’ve never had them before? What about your shoulders? Do they always feel tense?
You might be getting sick more often than normal. This typically manifests in the form of colds and twinges. As you can probably guess, an unhappy career can be identified by its physical effects. However, these are often subtle and tricky to notice as they creep up slowly over extended periods of time.
It’s also possible to misinterpret these physical signs as the norm, or to assume that they’re linked to other factors such as getting older. Whether it’s an aching back and painful limbs, or constant headaches and difficulty concentrating, pay attention to any physical issues and their source, and ask yourself if it’s really worth enduring for any longer.
We all experience shifts in our mood and thought patterns on occasion. You might find yourself being kept awake past midnight by an insufferable thought loop, or losing your motivation after a round of depressing daydreaming. You might spend the morning panicking while trying to get ready, or suddenly start feeling like everything is hopeless.
If your brain is only playing Breakfast Blues, Depressing Daydreams and Midnight Madness every now and then, you’re probably fine. But if they’re the kind of records that you hear in your mind on a regular basis, a change of scenery may be in order. When you’re in dire need of a career change, these thought patterns don’t come from nothing.
The midnight thought loop is usually the result of desperately trying to figure out how you can actually be happy, trying to determine whether the problem is you or your work. Then the alarm goes off and negative thoughts continue, taking your attention and distracting you as you prepare for the less-than-exciting day ahead.
Later on, your brain might jet off to ideal worlds of happiness and fulfilment, only to jerk you back into reality. As the day comes to an end and your mind is drained, nihilism sets in. While nobody is happy all the time, identifying strongly with the above thought patterns is a sign that things should change.
It’s not uncommon for people to start questioning if the problem actually lies within themselves and not their job. You might think you’re not suited for the position – that it’s awkward, uncomfortable or unstimulating. Since you don’t feel at home, you give it less than you could or should. After all, it just doesn’t feel natural.
On the other hand, you might be really good at your job. Perhaps you do it better than anyone else in your department. But still, it doesn’t feel good. Continued exposure to this uncertainty leads to a sense of weakness and loss of touch with yourself. And the less you feel like yourself, the less able you’ll be to determine what else you could be doing.
This isn’t to say that you can’t find fulfilment in doing something you’re really good at, even if it isn’t your dream job. The problem usually comes when it appears that you’ve run out of hurdles. You need to be able to work towards something and continue learning and improving.
There are many ways to make this happen. You can return to university and pursue a higher degree. Now more than ever, this option is possible thanks to online universities that give you enough spare time outside of studying to continue working. Plus, they’re more affordable than their traditional counterparts.
For example, an aspiring nurse might look into one of the accelerated BSN online programs that align with their intended career path. If you’re not able to take up a formal education, there are countless online courses available on just about every topic imaginable. This can serve as a way to grow your skill set and expand your horizons.
“I would have left by now if it wasn’t for the money.”
This all-too-common phrase keeps people locked into careers they loathe and out of jobs they’ll love. Maybe the salary is significant, stable or sufficient for the parents. You also have very real and important responsibilities. There’s a family to take care of, a mortgage to pay, and a future to save for.
It’s cliche to say that money shouldn’t be the reason for your career choices, but if it’s really the only thing holding you back from exploring a change, explore a change. You don’t have to dive right into some risky venture or uncertain career path, but at least look into it from a distance and consider whether it’s financially viable.
You might have to make some sacrifices from the beginning, but you can always find a way to make it work financially as time goes on. The point is that if your current career is making you miserable despite how lucrative it is, then you have every reason to look elsewhere.
These are not vices. They’re just the extra hour of TV in the evening, the extra round at the bar after work or the extra bag of clothes from the mall on the weekend. It’s your reward for a long shift, or for getting through the week. You did it yesterday as well, but everyone needs to treat themselves, right?
The rational mind can get too good at making wrongs seem right. Whatever your fixations might be, chances are that if they’re a regular part of your life and you have doubts about your career, those vices are an attempt to block out the discomfort of an unsatisfying job. If this resonates with you, it’s time to take your feelings seriously.
Is your career tough to talk about? Are you happy to share the details of what you do with others, or do you dread being asked? You might not be proud of the answer. Those around you might not ask about your work anymore, knowing that they won’t like the response. Maybe your friends are visibly tired of hearing about how awful your job is.
There can be situations where it’s simply difficult for certain people to accept or understand what you do. But if you’re not proud of your job and you hesitate to speak to others about it, there might be a better career path to take.
Do you ever feel like you’re putting on an act when you enter the workplace? You might not be sure how or when it started, but it’s as though you’re a different person whenever you’re at the office, and you can feel the mask coming off when you head home.
Perhaps when you’re around your colleagues, you become quieter and more withdrawn, staying on the edge of things. At home, you’re confident and outgoing, but at work, you shrink. Maybe you’re naturally calmer and more introverted. Yet at work, you become pushy and unforgiving, always impressing your team and smashing targets.
Whatever the disconnect might look like, it’s never a comfortable experience. It doesn’t feel right spending so much of your time being someone else. Of course, the solution would be to first look inward and understand your true self, before heading out and exploring where you will feel more comfortable being that person.
Here’s something to consider if you’re not exactly sure whether it’s time to switch to a new career:
Do you see yourself doing (and enjoying) your boss’s job? What about his boss? If you feel despondent about the future of your career, and you’ve tried to ignore those thoughts, you need to start confronting the reality of where you’re headed. It’s not possible to survive by pretending that it’s not coming, so be sure to give this some thought.
You’re already well acquainted with how you’re currently feeling. It’s not even something that you’ve denied or swept under the rug. You’ve taken steps to improve your position, be it by adjusting your daily responsibilities, speaking to your boss, or even moving to a different company.
Either your efforts haven’t been taken seriously by those responsible for helping you, or the changes you’ve made were to no avail. There might be a deeper feeling that fundamentally, you’re still not in the right place. It’s not like you have simply been complaining. You’ve taken initiative and tried to improve things.
But with enough honesty, it may be clear that those efforts were ineffectual, for the true solution is to change careers. In cases like these, be sure not to beat yourself up for all the things you’ve already tried. Those efforts show that you have drive, motivation and a willingness to be the change you want to see, so take that with you to your new career.
Many people find themselves on the other end of the afore-mentioned scenario. You might be questioning what the point is, numbing yourself to the disappointment and sadness that characterizes work life.
You’ve stopped caring – about the projects you’re working on, about the office politics, about how you feel, and about needing a change. You’re just moving through each day. The first step is often the hardest, but as hopeless as it might seem now, taking that step and improving your situation will pay off in due course.
Put simply, if you’re even thinking about a career change, chances are that it’s time for a career change.
These kinds of doubts don’t strike someone who is fulfilled and satisfied with their work. There will always be bad days and difficult times, but a good fit brings no premise of change into question. So, what now?
First, try getting specific about what exactly isn’t working for you. This will help you determine the makeup of the career you should be switching to. Don’t forget to note down what you do like about your current role. Think back to your motivations for choosing to be where you are today, and examine which aspects of this job are still enjoyable.
Also assess your core values. It’s important to find a cultural fit that aligns with your overall goals in life. Take a good look at your strengths and weaknesses while you’re at it, paying particular attention to your transferable skills.
From here, it’s mostly a matter of putting your plan into action. After sufficient self-assessment, goal setting and mapping out the way forward, a career search is in order. Make sure to expand your network along the way, building connections and continually expanding your skill set as you find the right fit.