Everyone wants to succeed at something. You probably know a lot about success. You’ve done well, continued to excel, and keep advancing up the ladder as you’ve been told to do all your life.
But have you ever stopped to think about what that advancement will really lead to? So many people simply follow the logical progression of their resumes and don’t think about where that will lead them. Instead, they continue along with the same habit of progress and advancement that got them to where they are and that they’ve always assumed is the best path.
Advancement? Check. Achievement? Check. Fulfillment? Not so much.
Is this you? Have you made it to the top of your ladder and realized it’s not all you thought it would be? Or maybe you know it’s not at all where you want to be but just kept moving and now feel trapped and alone up so high in the wrong place.
I recently spoke with a woman who had been practicing law at the same firm for 22 years. By most people’s definition, she’s a success. A partner at a great firm and highly regarded within her firm. When we dug a little deeper, though, she wasn’t happy. Here’s what she actually said to me:
“Every year I just assume I won’t be here by the end of the year. But here I am. 22 years later in the same office at the same firm. I get good reviews and people love to work with me…but I’m not happy.”
Sound familiar? Even if you’re only 5 years in, this could be you. Here are the traps that lead you there and how to avoid them.
The Coping Creep: 3 Things Keeping You From Doing What You Really Want To Do
1. The Coping Creep
At a certain point, people just settle in. It’s not terrible, but it definitely isn’t great, so they just let it ride. If you know anything about me, I’m willing to admit that sometimes work will suck. But, generally, you shouldn’t want to change your job every year. This is what I call the coping creep.
You settle in and think life is good enough – let it ride. And then, 22 years later, you’re still there. Not doing what you want to do and assuming it won’t last much longer. And trapped by the income and status you’ve achieved (the higher up you get, the harder it is to get hired in a new role or profession).
Life often demands a bit of coping and being happy with what you have and not needing to progress. But at a certain point, the happiest people learn to balance being satisfied with what they have with doing something to advance to where they want to be.
When you let the coping creep settle in, you’ve essentially given up. You can’t be coping with your job and have goals. The two don’t go together.
[RELATED: 3 Steps to Finding a Career You’ll Love]
2. Fear of Giving Up
Issue two? The fear of giving up or changing gears.
I hear this ad nauseum: Well, I knew I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t want to just give up or I thought I’d just be a failure if I called it quits and tried to find something else.
Whew. I get it. I did it. It’s hard.
I’m a believer in sticking something out if you committed to it. I don’t think you should just quit at the first sign of struggle or when something gets uncomfortable at all.
I practiced law for nine years before I quit. Within 6 months of practice, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do long term. But, I tried some different settings (two very different in-house positions) and thought about many other options I could stick with as a lawyer. But after the exhaustive research, it just wasn’t right for me.
And that was so hard to admit.
Really. Spending $200K on a degree and nine years of your life (12, if you include law school) is really hard to give up. I was giving up more than just a job or even a career. I was giving up an identity. But how could I see that as a failure if I knew the identity I was holding on to wasn’t accurate? To me, the really tragic thing would have been to charge ahead and wake up in 20 years realizing I had spent most of my life doing something just because I started it.
While I’m not a big “live your life according to quotes” person, this one from CS Lewis sums it up quite nicely:
“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive”
And you don’t even have to do an about turn. Everything that you’ve done so far is worth something – and not JUST a lesson in what you don’t want (though that is helpful). You’ve developed transferable skills and contacts and general knowledge you can capitalize on in your new career. All it takes is a shift of perspective and finding the right thread to connect your new path.
But, trust me. It’s there. If I can find a thread between being a commercial attorney and a career coach, I KNOW you can find a commonality between whatever you’re doing now and what you want to be doing.
3. Lack of Creativity
Simply put: most people lack creativity when considering other options.
Some of this comes from merely not knowing what’s out there because you’ve been in the same or similar type of work for several years. To combat it, get out there! Read, engage in outside activities, and talk to people about what they do! It will help spark your creativity and might even make you happier in general.
Some of it comes from being too literal: “I have an accounting degree. Therefore, I must account.” Not so. Your accounting degree can be used for so much more, and we all know your degree has very little to do with what your talents and skills are anyway.
You need to think outside the box and shift your viewpoint from myopic to expansive. If you’re having a hard time with that, ask your friends, your family, mentors, strangers on the street – anyone! And, if none of that works, hire a professional! Seriously – it’s easy to get trapped in a very narrow viewpoint, but once you start to understand that there’s way more out there, you’ll be rewarded and see all of the possibility out there. Don’t define yourself by your job title, define yourself by your experience and talents.
Ready to Shift your Ladder?
If any of this rings true, get ready to shift your ladder. It’s not worth it to sit in safety. I’m not encouraging you to give up everything you’ve worked so hard for. I am encouraging you to figure out a way to capitalize on it in a deliberate way that will leave you more fulfilled in your career. It will be a bit scary, for sure, but it doesn’t have to be as scary as you think with the right support!
And isn’t a life of settling ultimately scarier than the potential your life can hold?
- The Coping Creep: 3 Things Keeping You From Doing What You Really Want To Do - February 28, 2018
- The One Thing You Need to Make Your Dream a Reality - October 25, 2017
- The 3 Reasons Why You Haven’t Found Your Passion Yet (and What to Do Instead) - October 4, 2017