Career Crisis?

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In the summer of 2009, I entered a major career crisis. The crisis was a realization that this was not the work that I was meant to do.  This was an overwhelming and honest discovery.  There were two main reasons that made this unpalatable realization so overwhelming.  The first seemed the most daunting: what did I want to do? The second was how will the answer to the first question allow me to support my family?  It is all fine and good to find out what you want to do, but if it does not meet basic needs then you have to clarify.  By the way, if you would like to read through the entire story, you can check out my 2009 blog at (

I was reflecting on how I got to that unfortunate, scary and trapped place. Essentially, it boiled down to three central themes.

The first was IGNORING my own interests and looking at the interests of others for my career path.  I recall asking others: “What do you think I am good at?” There is nothing wrong with obtaining feedback, yet when it comes to our career, INTERESTS rule.

Research indicates that we typically gain skill in areas that we are interested in.  I can still hear my father say “Go with what you enjoy and what you are good at.”  I later realized that I needed to heed this simple yet effective advice.

According to G. Richard Shell, the years between 20 and 30 of our work life are considered the ‘Odyssey’ phase.   In this phase, we branch off, explore, try and experiment.  During this period of time, we can often face personal challenges with family, friends and marriages.  The challenge for me was that my Odyssey phase was ending, but I was looking to others to validate what I should be doing.

Shell encourages the career ‘journey man’ or ‘journey woman’ to ask the question “what do I do better than most?” – here you will find the connection between interests and skill.  This intersection is critical.

The second mistake was that I chose to focus on the paycheck vs. the PURPOSE.  It was important to me to find a cause that was invigorating and created strong results for others.  Insurance and risk management certainly met a strong need for people, yet it did not interest me.

“Life’s too short for the wrong job.” – Advertising Slogan German Online Recruiting Website

G. Richard Shell sites a study by Yale University professors analyzing the difference between a JOB, a CAREER or a CALLING.  A JOB of course meets your financial needs and this is the foundation of any work, you need to have an income to provide for essentials.  A CAREER allows for things like promotion, skill development and advancement. It can have meaning, but a CALLING (loaded word IMO) is when employees felt lucky to get paid to do what they do.

I had a CAREER for sure – great paycheck and great climate, yet for me no CALLING or CAUSE.

The third mistake was holding tightly to the CAUSE OF ANOTHER vs. MY OWN CAUSE.  Essentially, leading the life of another is a one-way ticket to misery. This is about losing yourself vs. being true to who you are.

There are many individuals I know, that are quite content to show up, receive benefits and a strong paycheck and dislike their job.  That is their choice and as long as that person is ok with that choice then – onward!  However, there is still a large portion of personnel that would choose something different if they could – the big questions are usually what and how?

Consider this research regarding people at work –

1.) Motivation is about working on things that are important to us.  See Adam Grant’s Tweet below citing Sheryl Sandberg.

2.) Skip the word passion and consider the word interest – Follow your interest vs. pursue your passion.  There is way too much pressure associated with the word passion.  This creates an intensity that you do not need to carry.  Instead think of passion as those intensely satisfying work & life experiences that creates an exceptional outcome.

The article from the New York Times shares how the word passion created too much pressure for this recent graduate.

3.) Stress is heightened in the workplace when we are not connected to the impact or cause – “Give and Take” – Adam Grant

The research points to the importance of seeing our impact so that we can know that we are making a difference.Unknown

So what do you do about all of this? Here are 3 of my most favorite career exercises to help you gain clarity:

1. Career Audit:  Write down your Top 5 favorite, enjoyable and satisfying accomplishments.  Do not just limit this to your work life, go back into the archives of your entire life.  Make sure you document not only the outcomes of the accomplishments, but the emotions you felt.

You might consider using the assessment from Career Leader – Check out their assessment at –

2. Interviews:  Go and meet with 10 people in jobs that look interesting to you and ask them questions to learn  – how they arrived in their career, what skills they obtained and positives / negatives.

3. Practice:  Move into the work that you want to do like it is your cause.  In other words, find a way to engage in the work you love where you are at today.  This could include special work projects or volunteer work.

Hopefully, this perspective helps you in your career, whether it is a crisis or not.