Changing your career: Finding your way forward

The employment arena has changed dramatically in the past two decades with levels of stress and depression reaching an all time high. In America, 69% of employees reported work as a significant source of stress, with 41% saying they typically felt tense or stressed during the workday (American Psychological Society, 2009).


According to the Global Organization for Stress, the statistics in Australia and Britain are no better, with stress-related illness costing the Australian economy $14.2 billion a year in absenteeism and presenteeism, and around 400,000 people in the UK reporting work-related stress at a level they believed was making them ill.


We are working in an environment that is characterised by constant change, competing demands, competition, pressure, long hours and reduced resources. Is it any wonder that many are looking to escape the 9-5? Unfortunately, changing careers is a process that can be fraught with ambivalence, fear and anxiety. It is not uncommon or irrational to question why you are leaving your secure, well paying 9-5 job. In fact, some scepticism can be healthy and useful!


In order to make the best possible career decision you will need to dedicate time and effort towards reflection and research. This will be an ongoing process of gathering information, testing your assumptions, learning new skills and developing insights into your values and goals.


This chapter will introduce you to the concept of career management from a self-reflection perspective. It will help you understand your current views about work, what is most important to you, your transferable skills and will help you clarify what you really want from your working life.


Job, career or calling?


Dr Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor of Business at New York University, completed a detailed study into attitudes and general orientations towards work. Dr Wrzesniewski found that the way in which we view work could be categorised into one of three ways, a job, a career or a calling.


Individuals who view work as a job ‘work to live’; their job is a necessity rather than a positive or fulfilling part of life. The main driver behind work is to receive pay and benefits to support the things that are important, such as hobbies, family or life outside of work. People with this orientation prefer work not interfere with their personal life and will be reluctant to take work home with them.


Individuals who view work as a career ‘work to succeed’; their career is about advancement and prestige. The main driver behind this orientation is to move upward, to receive recognition, new position titles and pay-rises. People with this orientation prefer to work in companies that provide a clear career progression and can become de-motivated when promotion opportunities slow down or stop.


Individuals who view work as a calling ‘live to work’; their calling is deeply connected to enjoyment and socially useful work. The main driver behind this orientation is self-expression and personal fulfilment. People with this orientation often describe their work as an integral part of their life and personal identity.


While there is no right or wrong orientation toward work, research indicates that individuals who have a calling orientation report higher satisfaction with their lives and work, as well as better health. Interestingly, Dr Wrzesniewski found that most workplaces are evenly divided, with one third of employees falling into each of the three categories.


The reason why the same work can be a calling for one person and a job for another remains unknown; however, we can surmise that it may be related to goals, values, motivation and mindset.


Take a moment to think about where you are in this classification system and what’s not working for you in your career right now:


¨       Do you view your work as a job, a career or a calling?

¨       How does this affect your motivation to continue in your current role?

¨       Ideally, how would you like to view your work?

¨       What would you like to have happen in your life/work that’s not happening now?

¨       What are the things that are making your life uncomfortable? Where does your work fit into this?



Values guide our direction


Values are the things you believe are important in the way you live and work; they are at the core of who you are. Values sit metaphorically above goals to determine your ideal-self; the internal representation of the attributes that you would like to possess and that motivate change.


When your values, goals and subsequent actions are in alignment you experience a feeling of satisfaction and content with life and work. However, when these elements are competing or incongruent with one another, you may feel as though you have lost your direction in life.


An example of this is Bob, a Manager at a financial services company in Sydney. Bob was spending long hours at the office, in an attempt to get a promotion and pay rise. He was struggling to switch off from work at night and had an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction in life. After working with his coach, Bob discovered that the most important thing in his life was to nurture and provide for his family.


This value was supported by two goals; making money, so his kids could go to a good school, and spending quality time with his family. In reality, Bob became so focused on the next promotion, that he lost touch of the true reason behind why it was important. Once Bob reflected on his core values, he was able to create a much better balance between making enough money to adequately provide for his family and being able to spend time playing with his young children.



Spend some time identifying your values:


¨       What are the most important things in your life and what do you gain from them. For example, family may be the most important thing but you may personally gain love, giving and respect.

¨       What are you most proud of in your career to date?

¨       List your top 5 values and rank them in priority order. For each value consider, how often are you currently fulfilling this value and what can you start doing today to satisfy this value more frequently?



Life goals create career clarity


Like it or not, humans are goal-focused organisms; goals are our way of making sense of our behaviour and provide a mental guide of where we are heading and what constitutes an acceptable level of performance.

When we think about our life goals, we envisage the things we would really like to do or accomplish in our life. This provides a strong base for making career decisions. Only when we have a sense of what is really important in our lives can we make wise career choices.

Without a clear idea of where we are heading and what we hope to achieve, we are likely to find that life may not work out the way we hoped it would. Similarly, if you fail to have a clear vision of your life it will be difficult to understand exactly where your career needs to be to support that vision.

So setting personally meaningful life goals is an important step towards planning a satisfying career.


Take a moment to reflect on your life goals and what is of most importance to you:


¨       Assume you have been given $10m tax-free. List seven things that you would do or buy in the next six months with this gift, excluding investments.

¨       Letter from the future: Sit yourself down in a place where you feel calm, comfortable and creative. Turn off your phone, clear your mind and write a letter. But here’s the thing: the letter is from the future. It’s a letter that describes your view of the ideal world. It’s not where you are now; it’s where you want to be in two, five or ten years from now. In your letter write about what you’re up to. How your career looks. Where you’re spending your time – friendships, relationships, your outlook on life and your health. Name names, be specific and get it all down. When it’s finished circle all the major advances from your current situation. These are your goals for the year(s) ahead, the areas of life and work that demand your attention.

¨       Reflect upon the results of the previous exercises and consider the life goals that are most important to you. List your top 5 life goals in priority order.



Motivation to make a change


We all know that having an intention to change is simply not enough. Imagine how easy life would be if it was; there would be no smoking, no obesity and no criminal re-offenders. Unfortunately, simply deciding to make a change is not enough to ensure it will happen. Motivated and sustained change is a complex and ongoing process characterized by ambivalence; where two concurrent and conflicting ideas clash.


There are three key concepts to remember when creating motivation to make a change in your career, goal setting, intrinsic motivation and positives outweighing negatives.


Set a goal: Motivation is all about action, so setting a specific goal will give you something to aim for and to move towards. Make your goal challenging, chunk it down into management parts, give yourself time frames, recruit a support networking to keep you accountable and ensure the goal is aligned to your values.


Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic: Internal interests and enjoyment drive intrinsic motivation and this will be different for everyone. Some people may be motivated by personal growth and development, helping others, leading others, creating a worthwhile service or product, making a difference in the world or having a positive influence on others. Extrinsic motivation includes things like money, power, recognition and status.


It relates to any motivator that originates in the external world. While both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators can be powerful, intrinsic forces provide a more powerful sense of meaning and purpose, which will ultimately be more motivating in the long term.


Pros vs. Cons: At the most basic level, motivation to change is all about the positives outweighing the negatives. Once you have your goal in mind and you know what is intrinsically important to you in achieving that goal, write a list of the positives and negatives to change. Whilst this may seem very basic, it can be a useful tool to get you ‘un-stuck’, especially if you are a procrastinator.



Changing your mindset


Moving outside our comfort zone, into something unknown or new, will inevitably create a feeling of tension and anxiety. Whether you are presenting to a new group of clients, moving house or changing your career it is normal to feel some form of fear. Often when we feel this tension or anxiety it is common to get stuck in thinking traps.


Thinking traps come in all shapes and sizes; from over-generalising (“I’m never going to be happy at work”) to catastrophising (“if I quit my job Ill end up homeless”); negative self-talk (“I’m a failure”) to self-limiting beliefs (“Life should always be easy”). Thinking traps are created and used over a long period of time and often originate in childhood. They become automatic and often we fail to recognize when they are occurring.


We know from research in psychology that what we think impacts how we feel, our behaviour, and our actions. Our thinking traps keep us stuck in old behaviours and can prevent us from reaching our personal and professional potential.


For example, Louise is making the transition from corporate life as a lawyer into a management role in a Not-For Profit organization. Before the interview, while waiting in reception, her thoughts start to become more negative, telling her: “you’re hopeless at interviews” and “you will never get this job”. After having these thoughts, Louise notices the butterflies in her stomach become more intense, her palms start sweating and her mouth is instantly dry. When she enters the interview, she is so distracted by these thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms that her mind goes blank, she is not completely attentive to the questions being asked and she has trouble answering the questions.


Take a moment to reflect on the thoughts that are holding you back in your career and in your life:


¨       When you step outside your comfort zone and start to feel tension and anxiety what is it that your mind is telling you? What do you say to yourself? How do those thoughts make you feel?

¨       If you had all the confidence in the world, what would you do with your life? How would you behave differently? What would you stop doing?


Often our thoughts are simply not true but our minds convince us that it is reality. Fortunately, thinking traps can be broken and there are many techniques available to overcome the thoughts and feelings that are holding you back. One approach focuses on turning automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) into performance enhancing thoughts (PETs). This approach takes some initial effort and practice, but will pay off in the long run.


To turn your ANTs into PETs take a moment to complete the following activity:


¨       Sometimes our thoughts become so automatic we do not recognize when they are occurring. Over the next week keep a journal of your thoughts, particularly when you are outside your comfort zone. Start to take note of what your mind is telling you, how it made you feel and the behaviour that resulted.

¨       Once you have a list, review the ANTs – what themes or common situations occurred? What patterns do you see? What were the major consequences that resulted from these thoughts? How did they hold you back form doing what you really wanted to do?

¨       For each of the automatic negative thoughts, ask yourself: is this negative thought realistic? Can I prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is true? If I didn’t have that thought, where would I be in my life/career?

¨       For each ANT start to create a short, positive statement about yourself and the problem that is more realistic and true. This is the statement that you will say to yourself when you are outside your comfort zone.



r. Can’t escape? Why not recreate!


Having been through the self-reflection exercises, you should now have a better understanding of your values, goals, motivations and mind-set. You may also, like many others, have better insight and clarity around who you are, what it will take to achieve your life goals, and how your career can facilitate that. Whilst your ideal situation may be firmly in your mind, you may still be questioning how realistic leaving your 9-5 job will be. After all, mortgages, family, carer responsibilities and ongoing bills are a valid and real concern.


What’s the worst that could happen?


First, assess if your concern is genuine or a case of catastrophising. One-way to do this is through an exercise called ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ This exercise aims to tease out the thinking, or the fear, behind making a change and at the end, draw a connection between the change and the ultimate unrealistic fear. Here is an example:


Tina: If I left my job to pursue my passion and do something amazing with my life I could end up jobless!


Question: So if you left your job and ended up jobless what is the worst possible thing that could happen?


Tina: If I ended up jobless I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent and I would end up homeless


Question: So if you ended up jobless and homeless what is the worst possible thing that could happen?


Tina: If I ended up homeless I would have to go live with my parents again


Question: So if you ended up living with you parents what is the worst possible thing that could happen?


Tina: I would have to talk to them all the time!


Question: So if you had to talk to your parents all the time what is the worst possible thing that could happen?


Tina: Well, nothing really but I would not like it.


Question: So if you leave your job you may end up having to talk to your parents?


Tina: I guess it’s not so bad.


In this example, Tina’s concerns are very real but she also found a bit of humour in her catastrophic, worst-case scenario thinking. She could see that even if the worst scenario occurred, whilst it would not be ideal, she would survive.


Having done the “What’s the worst that could happen?” exercise, you may still feel that your concern about leaving your 9-5 job is valid, and it very well may be. Fortunately, there are still things you can do to alter your job without having to make a dramatic career change.


Job crafting


Job crafting is based on the idea that most jobs are flexible, meaning the focus can be adjusted to fit the skills and preferences of the jobholder. For example, Gene’s predecessor Linda was great with numbers and loved spreadsheets. Linda spent a great deal of time setting up the current monthly reporting function and did a great job at it. Now in the role, Gene is using his skills and flair for development to focus on implementing a new training needs analysis and online learning program.


By subtly redesigning your job like this, you can play to your strengths, improving both satisfaction and performance. Job crafting involves shifting the emphasis of the job towards things that you can do really well, and away from those where your performance is likely to be weaker.


If you are considering job crafting, consider the following:


¨       Write a list of your strengths and the things that you find most enjoyable at work

¨       Decide what it is you want to change in your job

¨       Evaluate how the change will impact you and your work environment

¨       Talk to your manager and act to put positive change in place

¨       Regularly check on progress and adjust where needed




Kelly Fischl


This is a sample chapter taken from the fantastic book, Escape your 9-5 and do something amazing.  Available from Mithra Publishing.

About the author


Kelly Fischl is the founder of Coaching Ink, a leadership coaching and HR consulting company that provides bespoke solutions for creating high-performing, flourishing and thriving individuals and organisations.


With a combination of business, human resource management and coaching experience, Kelly brings a unique approach to coaching and HR consulting. Her focus is on building strong working relationships through a collaborative and people-focused style, whilst also ensuring development is linked back to business results.


Understanding that one-size does not fit all, Coaching Ink’s approach borrows from a number of empirical techniques including, solution-focused coaching, mindfulness, cognitive behaviour coaching, acceptance commitment training, systems theory and positive psychology. Coaching Ink specialises in leadership and performance coaching, career coaching, talent management, succession planning, team effectiveness solutions, as well as culture and engagement programs.

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