If you are not currently in your dream job, you probably wish that it would just appear in your inbox one day.
The thing is, finding the right job and career usually takes work. I know this might sound obvious, and yet many of my clients come to me because they are looking for a magical aptitude test that will tell them the right answers.
Some of the best careerists I know spend three to five hours each week exploring career options, curating their network, and cultivating their skill sets. And they do all that while they are already working in jobs they love! When they're actively looking for new jobs, they triple that time investment.
I have found that people get trapped in what I call “mental quicksand,” which saps their energy, diverts their focus, and keeps them from actively cultivating their careers.
Here are the four most common types of career quicksand, and advice on how to escape them:
1. You obsessively analyze.
When it comes to career success, you don’t see a clear answer, and so you obsess about it. You run over the same scenarios in your head, over and over again, somehow thinking that you will see something different each time. But you don’t. You can argue one side, and just when you think that you finally have it right, you second-guess yourself and argue the other side.
Obsessive analysis rarely gives you the answer you seek. It is like breathing recycled air. Instead, you need to open the window and let some air into the room by getting out of your mind and into the world to find the pieces of information that really will make a difference.
If you are an obsessive analyzer, my homework for you is to “Stop, Drop, and Roll:” catch yourself obsessing, drop the thought, and roll to an alternative activity like calling a colleague, doing some research online, or listen to a podcast.
2. You regret the past.
You lament the series of decisions that got you into your current situation, and beat yourself for not doing things differently. If only you had gotten that graduate degree when you had the chance. If only you had applied yourself more in your 20s. While you may think that beating yourself up is harmless (after all, it leaves no visible scars, right?), if left unchecked, this type of regret will destroy you. You will lose faith in yourself and in the future, and waste an enormous amount of mental energy.
For example, a client of mine, Madison, was recently having serious troubles with the cofounder of her company. Her first reaction to the tension was to blame herself for having ignored early warning signs that she and her co-founder were not a match. Madison spent so much of her energy regretting her choice in partner that she had very little left to actually find solutions to the problems at hand.
If you are a regretter, my homework assignment for you is to practice trust. Trust that you don’t need to do everything “right” to have a great life. Trust that you can get yourself out of any bind with a little creative thought. Trust that no matter what happened in the past, you have the capacity to design a great future.
3. You complain to the same friends ad nauseam.
You have a few friends in your life who will listen to you vent and make you feel better about your situation… at least, temporarily. But if you spend all your time complaining instead of taking constructive action to solve your problem, your dissatisfaction will just return in a few days.
I have often found that in order to motivate yourself to make a real career change, you do need to feel a bit of discomfort. It is the desire to avoid that discomfort and find something more enjoyable that will drive you to a solution. A truly constructive conversation with your friend would involve an acknowledgment of your problem and constructive brainstorming to fix it.
If you are a complainer, my homework assignment to you is to transform your complaints into challenges. For example, one of my clients complained that her job had become routine and boring. So I had her shift this to a challenge: How can I find ways to learn new things in my job? Once you know the challenge, it easier to find the solution. It turns out that she could actually do her work in about 75 percent of the current time she was spending on it and spend the extra time volunteering.
4. You overcommit to other interests in order to feel fulfilled.
When people aren't enjoying their career, they often invest their free time in other activities. I'm not saying it’s a bad idea to have interests outside of work, but I have found that many of my clients spend time doing things that are not high priorities so that they can avoid dealing with the tougher career challenges. Being scattered means that you never need to be truly accountable for the few things that really matter.
If you are an overcommitted avoider, my homework to you would be to sit down and make a list of the top five priorities in your life. Under each priority, list everything you do to advance it. Then make a list of everything that you do that does not advance those top five priorities. You will likely be astounded at how long that last list is. Your job is to cut it back, and add more actions to your top priorities.
Looking for more advice on achieving a fulfilling career? Start here: