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What to Do When You Fall Out of Love With Your Work

You started out loving your chosen career – at least in the beginning. But over time, you and your calling, well, you just grew apart.

And just like a relationship that’s gone bad, it can be hard to walk away from a career or a small business into which you’ve put so much time and effort to say nothing of the financial investment.

Take my friend Donna. After earning her master’s degree in social work some fifteen years ago, she went into private practice as a family therapist. For the first five or so years, Donna got a lot of satisfaction out of helping others. For the last ten though, her work has felt more like a burden.

So what keeps her there? It’s simple. Donna doesn’t want to “waste” the degree.

I know it’s not easy to turn your back on an established career, especially if it’s one that pays well, has some prestige associated with it, or required earning some kind of advanced degree. And yet, think about the logic here.

What you’re really telling yourself is, “I’ve wasted the last 10 years of my life so I might as well throw away the next 20 as well. To hell with my true gifts, I’ve got more suffering to do”

John Powell once said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” The fact of the matter is we all get lost from time to time. That’s life. The danger comes when we fail to heed the road signs and thus remain stuck in the breakdown lane.

I have an abiding belief that everything in life happens for a reason. The key is to find the lessons. Even my own job with the boss from hell offered invaluable lessons and experiences.

In addition to getting to travel the country, I learned in no uncertain terms to trust my instincts. That job was also just the catalyst I needed to make my final exit from the j-o-b world. And, as importantly, it introduced me people who’ve been integral to helping me succeed as a solo entrepreneur.

What should you do if you find yourself on the wrong career path? We’ll, if you’re living with the consequences of having long ignored your better instincts, get a pen and paper, find some quiet space, and put your listening ears on. Then write down everything that little voice has been trying to tell you but this time without censor or rationalization.

If you find for example, that you’ve been living someone else’s dream ask yourself:

  • What does having other people’s approval or meeting someone else’s needs help me avoid or get?
  • What price am I paying for this approval?
  • Do the costs outweigh the benefits? If so, it’s time to start exploring your own dreams.

If you’re hanging onto a job or career solely because of all the time and money you’ve invested then the first thing to do is to let yourself get close to your fear. I’m not talking about the fear of letting the world know you made a mistake or the financial angst.

What I’m talking about is getting in touch with the one thing that should really scare the heck out of you – namely, never getting to experience what your life would be like if you pursued your true gifts and passions.

Once you let that little reality sink in, sit down and write a “Dear John” letter to your past love. Talk to your career or business. Explain that while it has been a good and faithful partner for some time that you have simply fallen out of love. It will understand.

Then pick up a paintbrush, look into culinary school, or otherwise start courting your new love interests.

It’s easy to find yourself on the wrong career track. When that happens, the key is to stay alert for warning lights, watch for the signposts along the way, learn from those inevitable detours, ask for directions, and then start slowly inching your way onto that big expansive highway called Your Life!

As George Bernard Shaw once observed, “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”

There are 9 comments. Add yours.

  1. Your timing is perfect. I find myself torn between a ‘good’ job and wanting to dive into realising my dreams, while all my friends and family tell me I’d be an idiot to give it up.

    I’ve been compromising by looking for a job closer to home that would give me more time to chase the dream, but now I wonder if I’m chasing two rabbits and that’s why I’m not catching either.

    You’ve helped me realise that sometimes I just need to be able to let go. All the way.

  2. Fantastic topic. A couple of times I have found myself holding on, either because I invested time or waiting for a payoff. Indeed, it is not worth it. Start courting new interests is really great advice.

    Oh, and congratulations on your auction win.

  3. Leesa.s.

    Your article comes at impecable timing! I myself am at a cross road in life and career. Feeling like the position that Ive held the last 5yrs has burdened my spirit so heavily that I am no longer myself. I nor my career are enjoyable anymore, and it is time for change. Day in and day out so much has been asked of me that I lost sight of who I was and what I could offer and where to draw the line, and now I need to step back and look at everything again. Thank you for your article and suggestions.

  4. Yvonne

    Wonderful post and so true. I am in exactly the same position as your friend. I am a Physical Therapist who has worked in the field for 30 years now (at least 20 years too long). I have grown accustomed to the income, therefore cannot walk away from it. Instead, I have begun trying to figure out how to supplement my income and hoping the supplement will grow so that perhaps Physical Therapy will be the supplement.

  5. Thanks everyone — If you’re like me it seems that the right messages seem to find us when we most need to hear it.

    Crystal I once took a job closer to home so instead of commuting 10 hours a week it was closer to 5. As long as you commit to taking any saved time and investing it totally in building your dream business then sometimes it can be a good short time strategy. Than again, if you’re feeling called to let go of one thing to go full on for the other, do it!

    Leesa I have a feeling this will be an important year for you.

    Yvonne, I think building something on the side is a great idea and just knowing you have something else going on can make your current work more bearable.

    Appreciate all of you for taking the time to share your journey.



  6. Caryn

    As others have commented, the timing of this article is spot-on for me, too. I’ve already moved forward on making my self-boss dreams a reality thanks to the chance to work as a consultant for my previous employer. But they recently told me they are considering a shorter-term contract renewal for my services. While I get excited about the possibilities of working with new clients, and enjoy the new clients I’ve signed on, I’m sad to say a final good-bye to a company I worked at/for for over 8 years. I think a Dear John letter is just the thing for me to do right now.

  7. Chantel

    Valerie, truly you always hit home with your words. I, like many of the others that have commented have an unfulfilling career and know it, but am trapped because of the income. The fear of the unknown is crippling but I will let go of the fear and continue to push forward to my true calling. It’s definitely time for the Dear John letter! Thank you for a wonderful article.

  8. Caryn,

    Sorry to hear about the shorter contract — you never know, things can change in the future. As sad as it can be to say goodbye (or perhaps until we meet again) as the saying goes when one door closes another door opens. (Yikes initially wrote that the other way around!)


  9. Chantel,

    Whether its changing jobs or leaving a bad relationship, fear of the unknown goes with the territory.

    When you understand this you know you don’t have to wait until you’re no longer afraid to start dabbling in a new business venture. Just know that you’ll some days where you feel more steady and confident than others.

    Nor do you have to up and quit. Most all small businesses are started on the side while you still have your employment income (my friend Suzanne Evans suggests thinking of your j-o-b as your “business loan.”

    I’d love to see your Dear John letter! This goes for everyone!



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