When You’ve Made The Wrong Career Choice

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It’s the low hum in your mind late at night, keeping you awake. It’s the distress beacon that permeates your thoughts. It’s the fear that drifts in and out of your thoughts every Monday morning without fail. You can’t ignore it any longer: you’re not just in the wrong job, you’re in the wrong field altogether. You took a serious wrong turn somewhere in your career, yet starting fresh seems even more terrifying than staying the course. Now what?

A career misstep this big isn’t easy to face. For many of us, accepting it is a slow, arduous process. Denial, repression, fear and a host of other factors can come into play, and it may take years to accept the truth. In my own life, it took me a full decade to leave the finance sector to pursue a career in psychology. Ten years is a long time to think about changing jobs. It’s a long time to listen to the same, unrelenting hum.

I majored in economics as an undergraduate, and when it came time to begin my first job search, I picked my field in the same way that so many of us do—I did what was “expected.” I soon landed an entry-level job at a solid company, where I stuffed myself neatly into expectation’s box. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I entered investment banking mainly because I wanted to impress my friends and make my family proud. At 22 years old, validation from those around me mattered a lot. Too much, maybe.

Initially, I believed I’d made the right choice, and I entered the workforce with all the fervor of an emerging adult. Soon, though, the novelty of finance wore off and was replaced by the very first whispers of that low hum. Little by little it grew, its volume creeping up slowly.

About five years later, I was facing the complicated reality of my own unhappiness: I wanted—maybe even needed—to do something entirely different with my life. Was I absolutely miserable? No, but that’s what made the situation even more difficult. I was moderately unhappy—and you don’t leave a good job if you’re “moderately unhappy.” Or do you?

After another five years, and after much soul searching, journaling, silent lamenting and deeply contemplating what I wanted to accomplish, I accepted my authentic career truth: psychology was my calling. Thoughts of becoming a therapist had peppered my years in finance, even as my own fear had been pushing them away. That’s the funny thing about uncovering an authentic truth: once you embrace it, you suddenly understand it was there all along.

When I told my managing director of my grand plans to pursue a master’s degree in psychology, she was far from impressed. Was she upset that she would soon have to fill my position, adding more work to her desk? Probably. But much more than that, she was worried for me, personally. “Erika, people don’t leave this company,” she counseled. “You’re risking a lot. Have you thought about how this will impact your future?”

She was right to worry. I was about to leave the safety of the only field I’d ever known. I was turning my back on steady paychecks, a robust benefits package and annual bonuses. Worse still, unlike finance, psychology has a historically tumultuous reputation, to put it mildly. I was also staring down the barrel of two or three years of grad school and the hefty price tag they carried. To top it all off, since my goal was to enter private practice as a couple’s counselor, I would be stepping onto the rickety bridge of small business ownership, with all the associated risks. A career shift this immense almost seemed irrational when I added up the pros and cons. Save for that incessant hum.

Jumping from finance to psychology was especially radical, yet any number of us will change fields in some form or another. So what causes us to make that leap? For the lucky few, the signs are clear—the skies practically part, and the choice doesn’t seem like much of a choice at all. For the rest of us, it’s much more complicated. If you too are hearing the low hum of career discontent, here are four signs to pay attention to as you navigate through this complex decision:

How Taxing Is The Wrestle In Your Mind?

How much time do you spend dreaming about a new career? How many hours a week do you squander trying to convince yourself that staying put is the better option? All of us have thoughts of “making a big change” occasionally, but if you feel like there’s a constant ping-pong match in your mind, you’re likely pouring far too much energy into mental gymnastics. This is a type of spiraling anxiety, and it’s an insidious vitality-drain. If your wrestle is too taxing, it might be time to make a career switch.

Look Outward, Not Forward

Looking forward at your expected trajectory in your current field is easy: annual raises, new job titles, management roles and—maybe someday—the corner office. On the other hand, looking outward means adopting a much broader perspective, and it requires that you ask bigger, bolder questions of yourself—questions that address what you can realize in a new field, as opposed to what you can gain in your current one.

When you look outward at what you can realize, far more factors than money or security come into play. Realizing is about achieving deep satisfaction through your work. It’s about having a career that aligns with your drive, ethics and greater sense of purpose. As you envision yourself in your new field, let your curiosity and passion lead the way. Brainstorm. In what ways would a career jump contribute to your overall happiness?

Find Clarity

Dreaming is one thing, but if you’re seriously considering switching fields, you need to do some homework before making your final decision. Make a list of the tough questions: “How much new training or education will I need?” “Can I take courses while staying in my current job?” “How much of a financial hit will I take as I transition?” “What will it mean for my family if I do this?” “Will my spouse support my decision?”

Now do a little research. Open a few books, read a few articles, get to know your options. Consult with a career counselor if you can, or set up an informational interview with someone in your chosen field. Once you have a better understanding of the more-practical basics, you can begin reaching out to your support system. Discuss what you’ve learned with your significant other. Talk to your family and friends. Find the clarity you need.

Embrace Humility

If you’re going to change fields, you have to be humble. Accept that it’s okay to start over, no matter your previous accomplishments, no matter your age. Acknowledge that everyone in your new field will have more expertise than you, at least for a little while. Breathe into that newness. Give yourself permission to learn as you go. And remember, a fresh start is also a start that’s full of possibility.

You can’t shelve unhappiness forever; the cloud of career discontent will hover over you until you set yourself on the road to bluer skies. Even if you don’t have the option of quitting your job at 5 p.m. today, you do have the option of confronting that low hum head-on and figuring out its message. Because ultimately, finding your authentic career truth always begins with listening to your own inner wisdom.

[“source=forbes”]