It's Called a Life, not a Life Sentence! How to Move Forward When You Feel Stuck
If I never let go of my first dream job, I'd still be a can of beans.
Don't believe me? Here's proof (no, I wasn't being cheeky, my hand just moved as this was shot)! This was my very first day of my first marketing job, and I had to walk around a local market like this on Mardi Gras, handing out flyers.
Oh, and at one point, THIS was my dream job, too, when I worked as a bartender at a country bar!
I've worked in all sorts of jobs, from a grocery store clerk, professional bubble blower, Disney cast member, and a can of beans, to a legal studies teaching assistant and Marketing Director. Heck, I've even spent a few days cleaning carpets and urinals. I have had a spectrum of experiences, ranging from neat-o to nightmare-ish.
We all have to start somewhere. And for some, those experiences shape you, refine you, help you to become a kinder, more compassionate human being. You can talk about them (like I am right now) with humour, fondness, and a little bit of "What was I thinking???"
But what happens when you can't let go? When you've settled into a career that should have been abandoned long ago, but you're holding on for dear life in fear that you won't find anything better, that you're not worthy of your career dreams, or, worst of all, that you deserve unhappiness.
I have never been happier career-wise in my entire life. But not only did it take scrubbing toilets and dressing up as a can of beans to get to this place, it also took willingness to let go, move on, and trust in my abilities when the dream changed.
The most important thing I've learned over time is this:
There is nothing more excruciatingly painful than feeling trapped in a life that you've drifted into.
So, if it feels impossible to move forward, let's tackle what's going on behind those feelings, shall we? Here are the top 5 reasons why you are feeling stuck!
1) You don't recognize that a career is a relationship, not a task separate from your being.
A career is a relationship. Most of us aren't fortunate to find "the one" on the first try. It takes time and patience to figure out what your needs are as an employee. I know that I thought I'd love working in an open concept style office, but when I was actually put into that situation, I quickly realized how much I valued my privacy and peace.
The other issue I see popping up with my Linkedin connections is the belief that the culture will change. If the company doesn't value its employees, if gossip and bullying is the norm, or if the job feels like you're serving hard time, it's not going to magically change tomorrow. Focus on the things that you can control, and start examining your wants and needs.
2) You are too busy to focus on what you actually need to
We, as a society, need to stop the glorification of "busy". Being busy makes you feel important and valued while you're in the zone, but ends up depleting you of the energy you need to build the life you want. It becomes a vicious, addictive cycle. I remember feeling like I just needed to do more to feel more. But, the only thing I ended up feeling was burnt out.
I would say that most people feel stuck because of this. Think about what happens when you don't get enough sleep. Think about how hard to is to think clearly and make decisions. The same happens when you are constantly spending your energy in the wrong places. You can't pour from an empty cup. If you want to take those important first steps, you need to put your mind and body at the very top of your to-do list.
I've never seen a tombstone that said "I wish I had written one more work email". Time is a gift, so focus on what actually matters.
3) Your identity has become intertwined with your career
This is an easy trap for people that are perfectionists or just super passionate about their work, whatever it may be. I'm definitely guilty of this myself. I went to Carleton University for six years for a degree that should have taken four years. I was so wrapped up in the cocoon of being a student that I didn't want to think about being anything else.
The reason that my Linkedin title doesn't say "Marketing Manager at Grade A" is because I am acutely aware of how easy it is to mistake who you are for what you do. You are so much more than your job title, and moving on to a different career isn't going to make you more or less YOU.
4) You feel like hating your job is better than being a "job hopper"
The stigma surrounding "job hopping" is straight up silly. Yes, of course, there are extreme examples of people that just can't seem to get it together, but for the most part, "job hopping" is just "career experimenting".
I come from a long line of "career experimenters" and I'm damn proud of it. My mom was a nun that traveled the world, helping in orphanages, before becoming an elementary school teacher and internationally competing as a Masters track and field athlete. My father was a radio DJ and used car salesman before immigrating to Canada and becoming a beloved family doctor. I've been blessed to grow up with two parents that truly found their purposes and loved their careers, but were beautifully messy in their journeys towards living their passions.
So if the job is making you miserable, stop obsessing over how it may look to recruiters and/or hiring managers. That can't be your sole deciding factor. When I was laid off, I was only working at my last job for about 4 months. While, yes, it made me self-conscious, I knew that a resume could never fully capture my capabilities anyhow, and focused on proving that I deserved an awesome career. You are just as deserving!
5) We live in a fear-based culture where joblessness is a like a death sentence
I realized how deep feelings of scarcity were ingrained in me when I turned down four job offers before accepting the role with Grade A. Each time, I felt physically nauseous. I felt irresponsible, irrational, and ungrateful.
I had the student loans office calling me, and I barely had enough cash coming in from Employment Insurance to cover my groceries, gas and parking to get to interviews. For the first time ever, I couldn't pay my rent on time and had to call my parents to loan me the money. As desperately as I wanted to throw up my hands and throw out my dream job wish list, I knew that my fear was directing me to where I needed to keep going. It was actually my compass.
It's so easy to doubt your own capacity for awesomeness, to listen when well-meaning friends and family encourage you to stick it out because the job market is brutal. But why cheat yourself?
Stop waiting for the tide to change. You are the tide. You have absolutely everything that you need to create the life you deserve. At some point, you'll need to decide whether to allow yourself to drift aimlessly and hope for the best, or strap on a life jacket and swim like hell towards the shoreline.
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