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by by Jane Allen | March 10, 2009


The term "killer career" used to have a glamorous meaning. For many in the "good ole days" before the dot-com collapse, it used to mean working long hours, making lots of money (or having stock options that supposedly would generate a zillion dollars for you) and neglecting your personal life.

Now, a killer career is much less likely to include stock options, but it still includes long hours and a neglected personal life either with or without the big bucks. Working too many hours creates stress. Add in hating your job, and stress increases. Unrelieved stress leads to health problems (physical and mental). It's no surprise that I hear from a lot of people who say their careers are making them sick.

There aren't a lot of definite rules about career (or job) change, but here is one: if your job is making you ill, something has to change. If change means finding a new career, here are three steps for beginning that process.

First step: take some time off. If you are miserable in your job, you are not in good shape to be making career decisions - or any major decisions, for that matter. First, you need some time to rest and clear your head.

Hating your job can cause anger, irritability, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, change in sleep habits (too much or too little), change in eating habits, chronic fatigue and changes in cognitive functioning (problems with concentration and making decisions). In case you don't know, those are all signs of depression.

Carrying all of that (or even some of it) around with you and continuing to do more of the same is like running on a treadmill enclosed in a big cardboard box. You keep going, you arent getting anywhere and you can't see your options. No matter how hard you run, you're still in a box. You must take some time off if you are going to punch your way out and get off of the treadmill.

You say you dont have any vacation time left? Take some sick leave. (This job is making you sick, isn't it?) Or tell your boss that you are burned out and need some time. Take at least a week off without checking phone messages or e-mail. Two weeks or more would be better.

If you read the last paragraph and said to yourself, "I really can't take any time off," then you have decided to stay where you are and continue to be unhappy. Your next step is to ask yourself how long you are going to be there and how bad it has to get before you will make a change. If, instead, you are thinking, "Well, maybe I could take some time ...," then read on.

Do whatever pleases you during your off time. A change of scenery would be excellent. If you can go on a trip, do it. If your budget won't allow for out-of-town excursions, then plan pleasurable activities closer to home or take day trips. The important part is doing something enjoyable to distract you from thoughts of work. What are your leisure interests - movies, walking, biking, sitting in the sunshine, books, museums, time with friends, a Monty Python marathon? Plan it and do it, along with getting some rest and exercise if your list of fun stuff doesn't include things that make your heart beat faster.

Second step: begin thinking creatively about other options. After some relaxation time, brainstorm about what you really want to be doing. Don't try to think in terms of CAREER TITLE (remember, you are getting out of a box, not trading one box for another). Use your imagination to create the ideal job for yourself without a title.

You can start by exploring what other interests you have. Examples:

  • What were your goals, hopes and dreams before you got on that treadmill? What did you want to achieve?
  • What careers looked interesting when you were 10 years old?
  • What are your interests now, e.g., what magazine or newspaper articles catch your attention so completely that you read every word)?
  • What kinds of work settings appeal to you?
  • With what kinds of people would you like to spend your workday?

Put this information in writing. Look at the list the next day and add to it. Do this day after day until you can't think of anything more to add. You probably won't be able to design your dream job in a few days, but letting your imagination take over is a good way to begin.

The third step you can take is quite simple. Write this quote on a piece of paper and tape it to your bathroom mirror so you'll see it every day:

"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." - Joseph Campbell

Think about it.


Filed Under: Job Search

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