About fifteen years ago, I was unemployed for about six months. To be honest, it wasn’t exactly my finest hour. I had plenty of speaking and counseling experience (from my time in the ministry), but I had no ‘official’ training nor a license to practice. I had experience in tech writing and software design and programming, but then not enough background and training to land the kind of job I needed – or, really, any job at all. As my modest bank account steadily evaporated and, despite all my efforts, no leads materialized, I was grasping at straws. I scrutinized my training and experience looking for something, anything, I was qualified to do. I was over-educat ed, under-experienced, and both under- and over-qualified for work. I didn’t just fall through the crack, I dropped like a rock.
My odd set of job skills and experience, together with my inexperience with the whole job search process, left me in an odd, but not altogether unusual, position. I had no idea of what I wanted to be doing. By the time that number of months had passed, I was ready to take just about anything that came along. As fate (or humiliation) would have it, I was hired back at my old job before I actually had to start flipping burgers. Two things became abundantly clear to me from that experience: 1) while you’re employed, develop and actively pursue an exit strategy; and, 2) take the time and energy to figure out your passion. You’ll never accomplish anything at a job that doesn’t suit you.
What happens when you take a ‘shot in the dark’ and go for the first opportunity that comes along? First, let me say that I acknowledge that sometimes that’s a practical necessity. I also acknowledge that sometimes you can fall into a job that you later discover, to your amazement, you actually love. That does happen. Yet, if I were you, I wouldn’t count on it. Far more frequently, people wind up in jobs that pay the bills but that, at the same time, eat them alive inside, leaving them dreading each day, feeling angry, depressed, frustrated, or any combination of the three. I was shocked when I learned, during my coach training program, that the first move you should make upon landing a new job should be to develop your exit strategy.
Regardless of how well you love what you do, so long as you survive, you’re assuredly not going to stay in that job forever. Life is risk; but the more you’re able to address and lower that risk, the more successful you’ll become. The current world economic situation didn’t look at all probable a year or two ago. Stuff happens and, as Murphy’s Law predicts, it most often happens at the worst possible time. Having a viable exit strategy before you need it prevents you from going the self-destructive route of panic. Career change isn’t just a vague possibility; after all, it’s an almost absolute certainty. If you’re not willing to gamble with your happiness, you’ll have a plan in place now so you’ll know what you want to do then. One thing’s for certain: then will become now sooner than you think.
Your sense of self-worth and life satisfaction will be directly proportional to how closely aligned your future work will be to your personal passion, your life vision, and your understanding of your destiny and purpose. Regardless of what kind of work it may be (for hire or volunteer), it has to resonate with both the person you are and the person you most ardently desire to become, otherwise it’ll be a waste of your time and energy. Just because some job pays the bills doesn’t mean that’s where you need to be working. Here’s what I’m talking about.
Irish Playwright George Bernard Shaw once was at a cocktail party, where a very loud and pretentious lady (probably after a few drinks) was becoming obnoxious and dominating the conversation. Shaw asked said to her, “Let me ask you a question. If I were to give you a million pounds, would you sleep with me?” The woman stopped and thought for a moment, then said, “Well, I suppose I might.” Shaw continued, “Would you sleep with me for a half a million pounds?” She laughed and said, “Oh, Mr. Shaw, you are naughty! For a half a million pounds, I suppose so.” “Well,” Shaw retorted, “How about for fifty pounds?” “Mr. Shaw!” said the lady, suddenly taken aback, “What do you think I am?” “Madam,” said Shaw, “we’ve already established that. Now, we’re just haggling over the price.”
When you’re considering your exit strategy, what’s your price? Don’t think that being tempted to sell your soul to the devil implies a contract with fiery shape-shifting letters and a signature in blood. To sell your soul, all you need to do is to abandon your dreams and to sell yourself short. That fairly accurately describes accepting a job you hate because it pays well. Again, at some time, most people need to do something that doesn’t suit them because of necessity. At the same time, that should be just a stop-gap measure, not a career choice.
Here are some questions for you. Regardless of whether you’re in a job you love, a job you hate, or a job that’s just ‘OK’, what’s your exit strategy? What do you plan on doing next? What are you going to need to get there (education, training, experience, contacts . . . or what)? What are you doing right now to move yourself toward that goal. What’s your time line? And, what’s your contingency plan, should things not go the way you think they will (because they won’t)? Your life – your career – is worth much more than just a shot in the dark taken out of necessity. You’ll get exactly what you pay for and what you plan for. If that’s a scary prospect, now’s the time to do something about it. The longer you wait, the longer you put it off, the sooner the unexpected will overtake you. So, don’t wait. Don’t put it off, for your happiness’ sake.
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