Sunday, January 4, 2009

Career Crisis - What now?

*Originally published October, 2006

So recently a close friend of mine has been talking to me about his career. He works for one of the largest energy companies in the world, is enjoying success and challanges but like many of us just isn’t happy. He is wondering if he should continue on the path that he is on or try something entirely different and give himself an opportunity to be more happy in some way. He has been working a new role within his company for the past 6 months which provided new opportunities, exciting challanges, and things to learn, but also brought with it additional stress and extended time at the office, some opportunity to work from home and even multiple out of town business trips. The stress got so bad in fact that this early 30-something started feeling chest pains!

Let’s call my friend Ted. Ted is a conservative responsible up standing young man. He has an MBA from a very reputable University and is just a great guy. He is the kind of guy most people would trust with their children. He’s also loyal, having been with the same company for almost 11 years! He’s going through some sort of "mid career" crisis which he openly admits is making him question his future. I think inevitabley we will or have all shared similar anxieties as Bill.

Most of us started at the bottom in some sort of assistant or other entry level role that required minimal skill. We spent the next 10 years proving ourselves, slaving away so that we could get promotions and raises to afford "the car", "the house", and a few toys along with the benchmark six-figure salary that seemed so meaningful at one time. One day we woke up and realized that the road we were on was just not moving fast enough or even in the direction we thought we wanted to go anymore. It’s funny how the thought of something is often times so fanstastically different then the reality of it. Maybe we’ve become Manager, VP, or Partner but still find ouselves feeling empty. The long hours at the office, in meetings with the same old repetative agendas and themes just isn’t doing it for us anymore.

This is a critical time where most of us can admit to seeing a small window of opportunity that very few of us take. The reason we don't take it is that we're cowards and slaves to our material world. Most people settle at this point because the lifestyle we've worked and bought ourselves into at this point is too difficult to replace starting all over from scratch. Instead, we don’t really do much except gripe and maybe overeat, drink, or find some other distraction to keep us in a state of numbness until the next day.

Typically time dulls the pain and we learn to just deal and come to realize that it’s really not that bad. I have friend who owns his own staffing company who has been experiencing a struggle of related but different sorts. The past 3 years has been stable but not enough growth to satisfy Arthur, my friend, the owner and President. He is constantly worried that losing a large account could be the domino that sets into action the demise of his entire company. He is constantly looking to expand. He just can’t seem to expand beyond his current status quo without something disasterous happening. He usually ends up losing a few key employees and having to scramble to replace the headcount to help maintain his business for a while before he can try to expand again. Ted, on the other hand, is on a very slow and steady rise up the corporate ladder. So slow however that it’s almost unoticeble most of the time. However, he’s got a great pension, established relationshps and a bright future with probably one of the most profitable companies in history. He works very long days, sometimes 15 hours or more, even logging onto his computer from home until 1:00 in the morning before going to bed and waking up again at 6:30 to get ready for work. The biggest issue is that if he continues with this company he knows that some day he will be asked to move out of state away from all of his family and comforts where Headquarters is located. He loves California so is looking for a way that he can stay here. Not only that but his whole life is in a new perspective. He is wondering, is this what he wants to do anymore. Like many of us Ted would like to make a decent living, enjoy time with family and friends, and not worry about his bills. He is willing to work for it but he doesn’t want to sacrifice his health or personal life to get there.

Personally, I’ve experienced a "career crisis" of sorts on a couple of occassions already. I often ask myself if I am doing what I really was meant to or want to do. This is normal I think as it keeps us in check with ourselves and makes us constantly assess our situation to see how we can improve in ways that better suites our changing goals. Not long ago, I got myself into a cush position with my own office and very little supervision. I was earning a good six figures with fat bonuses and at first I was highly productive. Slowly, however, I found myself waltzing in later and later, on two occassions just getting into the office in time for lunch and on a couple of others not showing up at all (I am embarassed to admit this but I don't think I'm alone and I've learned from my experiences). I took excesively long lunches and left early. Ironically, this experience was incredibley depressing and my days seemed the longest. When I first started recruiting, my 12 hour days seemed to just zip by. It’s funny how interesting, challanging work, especially when you have a lot of it can engross you so much that you never even notice the day slipping by.

We look to the future and wonder what’s next? Is this it? Every time we arrive, it’s typically not what we imagined. We are creatures that need constant challange. We need interesting work that keeps us thinking. We need rewarding experiences that fullfill us deeply. What ever your need, go for it. The worste that will happen is you will go back to what you had before or at least have had a new experience to put in your arsenal. If it actually works out, you’ll be happy that you gave yourself the opportunity to take action on your dreams.

*Footnote: Since this article was first written in 2006, many things have changed. Currently, I find myself at a cross roads and asking myself what I want to do. I find myself much more mature, appreciative, and anchored on family and values I hadn't thought about in some time. I'll write more once I figure out what I want to do with myself. For now, I'm thinking a lot and praying.

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