For most, the path to choosing a career starts in adolescence. Let that sink in for a moment. Ah yes, adolescence, that stage in life when your hormones run rampant, creating physical, emotional, and psychological metamorphoses with the grace of a ceiling fan missing a blade or an unbalanced washing machine on spin cycle. Adolescence, the stage in life where you know more than your parents but still need to be reminded to bathe. Adolescence, where you have big plans and don't need anything from anybody... except for money… and a ride… from mom.
Humor aside, adolescence, on many levels, is life's most tumultuous stage. There are many moving parts and things to deal with, not the least of which is answering the question, "So, what college do you want to go to and what do you want to major in?" This question usually takes place around the age of 16. And while some may argue, quoting The Maldalorian's creed, that "This is the way," we need to step back and think of all of the decisions we advise the adolescents in our lives to not give too much thought to until later on in life. In fairness, I don't know if there is ever a right age to make a career decision. Still, I find it interesting that for most, that decision, or at least most of what leads to that decision, takes place by the age of 17, the average age of the high school junior, and the academic year in which students take the SATs. Within a few months following the exam, they select the college(s) they would like to attend and, in most cases, the major and the career path they would like to pursue. That decision sets into motion a cascade of academic, financial, and social events that eventually lead to a career.
I write this not from a place of criticism but rather from a place of inquisitiveness and curiosity. Could there be a correlation between the age and level of maturity in which one decides on their career path, and dissatisfaction with that career choice? Statistics regarding career and job dissatisfaction are inconsistent and vary greatly, 20% - 80% based on the source, demographic surveyed, and sample size. You can find some examples here, here, here, and here. However, I believe it's safe to assume that the actual number is greater than 50% of the working population, across all industries, are dissatisfied at least to some degree with their job or career choice.
I do not claim to have the solution to preventing career dissatisfaction at its conception. But, as a burnout coach for healthcare professionals, I can tell you it is essential to acknowledge that it can be one of the most challenging experiences one can go through. When one completes a college degree or multiple degrees and begins their new career, they have already made a sizable investment, whether it is financial, time, sweat equity, or a combination of all three. In addition, there are social pressures involved for many, such as expectations from parents, peers, significant others, and themselves. After all, you didn't go through all that schooling just to throw it away. For someone who realizes that their career choice was not what they thought it would be, that last statement, "You didn't go through all that schooling just to throw it away," is the spark that eventually leads to burnout.
As a burnout coach for healthcare professionals, I have found that college-educated people who find themselves unhappy with their career choice default to rationalization as the means to snap themselves out of it. I call this a cerebral response. Others may refer to it as the ego or the lower self. When rationalization doesn't help, and it rarely ever does, anxiety starts to set in and thoughts such as the following present themselves:
What am I supposed to do now?
I spent so much time and money getting here in the first place.
I'm still paying for my degree that got me this job.
I make good money.
It's a good job.
I should feel fortunate to have a job.
There are people that wish they could have this career.
Maybe I'm just ungrateful.
And there it is! That last statement leads to a deeper level of stress and one step closer to burnout, self-reprimand, and guilt. As a burnout coach, I've noticed that this is where things start getting heavy, burdensome, and somatization (physical symptoms as a result of psychological stress) begins. In my experience as a physician assistant with over 14 years experience, at the time of this writing, people suffering from burnout commonly display symptoms of headache, abdominal pain, fatigue, changes in eating patterns, increased alcohol consumption, and digestive complaints. While I have found that psychosomatic symptoms fluctuate, the subsequent development of depression and anxiety are more persistent. It's at that point that personality changes ensue, and apathy follows.
In most of my blogs, I provide a few tips and suggestions on overcoming the challenge of the topic at hand. However, given the highly individualized factors leading to a person feeling that they made the wrong career choice and the profound psychological, emotional, social, and physical effects it can produce, today's tip is a simple and powerful one…empathy.
When a person feels that they have chosen the wrong career, and now that you know the multifactorial and profound impact it can have on that person, cynicism, criticism, or "walk it off" advice is far from helpful and is actually detrimental. It can cause more self-doubt and punishment. Instead, approach the situation with empathy. The use of sincere empathy in these situations can help decrease stress almost immediately.
As a burnout coach for healthcare professionals, one of my secret weapons when coaching my clients is empathy. My other secret weapon is uncovering their authenticity by using empowering questions. Questions that nobody thought to ask or perhaps dared to ask. The result is shifting self-blame to seeing growth opportunities, from feeling defeated to feeling fortunate. Now, this doesn't mean the person decides to stay in the career they are unhappy with. On the contrary, in many cases it sets into motion a new cascade which lead the person to a career path that is rooted in their core qualities and values, thereby making the work stress free and inspiring.
Feeling as though you chose the wrong career can have profound effects on many aspects of your self-perception and, in some cases, on those who interact with you. While it may seem that there is no solution, there are, in fact, many solutions and, in my experience as a coach, at least one solution that would be considered ideal. That ideal solution exists within you, albeit buried under a lot of fear, anxiety, frustration, and "can't" beliefs. If you want help with uncovering the solution to your "wrong career" dilemma, all you have to do is reach out to me and schedule a free 30-minute consultation. Together can put the dilemma behind you, get you on a path that inspires you, empowers you, and allows you to create a new career based on your specifications. So that one day, you will look back at the tough times and say, "Oops! Wrong career…My Bad!" as you indulge in the perfect new career that you created.