Time for a change?

For most of my working life, I have counselled individuals, couples and co-workers and managed counselling programs in the government, community and business sectors. For the great majority of those 24 years, I enjoyed my work.

But in 2007, I started thinking about whether I wanted to continue doing this type of work. As worthy as what it is, did I want to subject myself to other people’s pain for the rest of my life? For me, the answer was ‘No’.

It was time for a change. Was I burnt out? I honestly don’t think so. But if I had stayed, I may well have ended up that way. Don’t get me wrong – I still enjoyed the majority of my work, but I was feeling somewhat ‘dry’. There are some jobs, I believe, that you cannot do forever.

Apparently, I was not alone. According to the research, the longer you do a particular line of work, the more your satisfaction with your work declines. It appears that most of us like some variety in our work, as well as opportunities to learn and grow.

The challenge is to find work that is still a good fit for your strengths and which engages your interest. You may have to give quite a bit of thought to what are your strengths and interests and to ask yourself, 'How can I do more of the work I enjoy?' or ‘Who else needs what I have to offer?’

For me the leap was not so hard, given that speaking engagements comprised a large part of my private practice. The hard part was letting go of my identity as a therapist, not to mention stepping away from 60% of my usual income. Maintaining income and working conditions are often barriers that stop people taking action. But I think it is a real tragedy to be stuck in work that makes you miserable.

Here action of some sort is needed – to make yourself feel more satisfied at work or to get yourself into another workplace. You can, of course, opt for simply coping better with the challenges at work. One way is to make yourself happier in your personal life. If you become happier at home, you tend to become somewhat happier at work. But I think many of us have gone past the point of simply coping with the challenges. Other actions are needed.

Perhaps you can ask your boss for more variety in your work. You may be able to negotiate some changes – perhaps taking on a new challenge, mentoring others, or swapping roles with another team for a period of time. You might also be able to find a seminar or course that engages your interest. At the very least, notice the aspects of your work that you most enjoy and let people around you know. You may well be able to do more of the work you especially enjoy.

But perhaps the action you need to take is to change jobs. Clarity on your options tends to come with activity. Often, the more you look into various options, the clearer a choice becomes. It also becomes easier to make hard decisions when we have the support of good people around us. Throughout my career, I have always sought out a good person to mentor me who has expertise in the areas that I need. I continue to do so. I have also been fortunate to have a number of good people around me who love and believe in me.

Has the change in my career been worthwhile? Absolutely! Although the learning curve has been steep and there have been challenges along the way, I am very glad I made the decision. My energy for my work has returned and, financially, it has been a good move for me as well.

Sometimes change can be achieved with very small steps. Other times, a chasm needs to be leapt in a single jump.

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