If you’ve read my prior post on determining whether your job is a good energetic fit for you or not, and you also believe that life is short (because it is), then you may wonder why on Earth someone would choose to stay in a job they don’t love? Everyone knows that one person who complains endlessly about their job yet never does anything about it. Why would they do that? There are actually multiple reasons why people stay too long in unsatisfactory jobs and there are even valid reasons for doing so. If you’re a single parent with six children to feed and put through school, it’s risky to chuck your day job to pursue your dream of becoming a slam poet. Also, in general, people don’t love change—it’s uncomfortable. But as I’ve said before, all true growth happens outside of your comfort zone and you can use mindfulness to help you through the process of change.
Here are the top 5 reasons I’ve heard from my career coaching clients for staying in jobs they don’t love:
- Fear of the Unknown. This is commonly known as “the devil you know is better than the one you don’t” excuse. Your job may have exhausting demands that involve over-time and having to skip your child’s ballgame or you may have the boss from hell but at least you know what to expect…and what if the next job/boss/commute is even worse?
- Fear of Starting Over/Change. Even if you know you absolutely do not want to keep doing the job you are doing, you’ve been doing it for enough time that you are making decent money at it; therefore, starting in a new field could involve taking lower pay or having to start at a more entry level job. Also, who wants to hire someone [whatever age you are]? I’ve had clients think they were “too old” for a new job at 35! Though ageism in our society is unfortunately a real thing, I’ve had clients successfully change careers well in their 60’s.
- Fear of Stepping Outside the Box. This one has to do with societal norms and I hear this one from people who are thinking of starting their own business rather than finding another traditional job. Things like a steady paycheck, 401K match, and paid vacation days are not generally associated with being an entrepreneur and therefore more risk is involved. Some people are naturally more risk-averse than others, which is totally okay, and you just need to know where you fall on this spectrum. Not everyone wants to own their own business.
- Fear of Who You Are If You Aren’t [This] Job. This is usually the ego talking. For instance, if someone has been in corporate finance for decades, you may attach your identity to your career and wonder who you would be if you weren’t “Bob from accounting.” Or maybe you’ve invested a ton of money and time into becoming “Sally the lawyer.” (Side note: it’s interesting to me how many lawyers I’ve had as clients!) Sometimes, pressure comes from society, friends, or family to be in a certain job due to perceived benefits such as pay, status, or credibility. The key is to tap into what you want because it’s you, not them, doing that job every day.
- Fear of What You Would Do Instead. Sometimes people come to me for career coaching because they know they don’t want to do their current job but they have no idea what they want to do instead. Sometimes, they aren’t even sure what their true strengths or passions are. There are many exercises you can do to figure this out but it’s still scary when you don’t know exactly what you want to do next.
What do these all have in common? FEAR. All of these are fear-based responses. Does that mean the fears are unrealistic? No, some of them are very real, hence why many people stay stuck in jobs they don’t like. But overall, people are happiest in life when they make decisions based on what they want rather than what they fear. I’m going to repeat that in a different way because it’s so important. When you live your life as much as possible focused on what you want rather than what you don’t want, you are placing your energy on the good instead of the negative—and wherever you place your energy grows. Some call this the law of attraction but it’s really a law of energy. You can be realistic about mitigating the concerns and fears you have while still taking steps toward your dream career. Too often, people use their fears as a reason to stand still and take no steps at all. It’s easier to by overwhelmed and paralyzed by fear than to break through it and take small action steps.
Do any of these fears sound familiar to you? Which one resonated most with you? Are there other reasons you have stayed in a job you didn’t like? Usually, there is a tipping point for my clients—they reach out to me when their desire for change is greater than their fears. Notice that I didn’t say the fears magically disappear—but they have decided to take steps despite those fears, which is always the fastest way to overcome them and create a more fulfilling life. This quote by George Eliot sums it up pretty well:
“It is never too late to be who you might have been.”
Kristi Helvig is a Ph.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Certified Professional Coach who helps clients reach their goals all over the world through the magic of Skype. If you’re ready to change careers or would like a free consultation to see if coaching is right for you, please email Dr. Kristi at firstname.lastname@example.org.