Overcoming Barriers to Doing Work You Love
Chances are, if you're unhappy in your current career, you're meant for something bigger.
According to Gallup, two out of three of American workers are not engaged with their work. "Two-thirds of American workers and eight in 10 Canadians are either watching the clock, doing the bare minimum to get a paycheck, or worse, actively working against their employer."
Even more alarming, according to their 2021 Report: State of the Global Workplace, Gallup reported that only 32% of employees globally are thriving in their lives.
Here is the question Gallup asked employees in order to get this number: "Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom, to 10 at the top. Suppose we say that the top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you, and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (0-10)."
How would you rate yourself on this scale?
Gallup considers an employee as "thriving" who rates themselves at a seven or above.
We spend about a third of our lives at work, so it is easy to see the connection between feeling dissatisfied with work, and feeling dissatisfied with life.
Maybe you feel this way too. And maybe you've tried to find work that would be more fulfilling, but have run into a few barriers. If this is you, read on.
Types of Barriers and how to Overcome Them
According to the book "Switchers" by Dawn Graham, (which I highly recommend reading), the average person will hold 11 different jobs in their lifetime. Dawn writes that the "magic" equation for achieving career success is a targeted career goal + hard work + unknown factor = success. We'll get into the "unknown factor" in the next section. First, let's focus on the external barriers that we sometimes run into, and how to navigate them.
Many of us don't really know what we want to do until we get some experience doing it. This was certainly my case. I defaulted to being a classroom teacher after college because that seemed to be the most accessible form of employment, and I just really wanted that sweet $35k annual income (ha!). After teaching, on and off, for about twelve years, I finally admitted to myself that this was really not what I wanted to be doing. The chaos of the classroom, plus the piles of extra work and pressure to please all parties was burning me out. I knew I wanted to work with people individually and help them in meaningful ways, but how?
At that point I had a MS in education, plus about fifteen years of work experience, mostly teaching but a bit of human service work sprinkled in. My impulse was to go back to school for a Master's pr PhD in counseling. But when I really started to look at it, and realize that this would likely add another $50k plus of debt to my already large student loan portfolio, plus two years of my life put towards school, I was turned off.
Instead, I decided to explore my options. I took a job as a student advisor, which gave me some great experience working one-on-one with university students and was much closer to what I wanted than teaching - good data.
After my position was eliminated due to COVID, I took the opportunity to explore some more, since I knew advising wasn't quite it either. After many months of self-exploration, tears, joining professional organizations and discovering different ways to upskill, I finally landed on college, career, and life-path guidance and man, the universe continues to reward me for my efforts.
I didn't have to take on more debt, I have learned relevant and useful skills that I apply in my work with clients, and the kicker is, I'm doing work that I feel personally and professionally fulfilled by. Basically, I've become the person I wish I had all those years ago, when I knew I wanted to make a change but couldn't see how.
Did I invest money, time, and energy into myself? Yes, and quite a bit. Did I try things that didn't ultimately turn out to be "it"? Hell yes. Am I still learning and growing and investing myself and my growth? Always.
But I will say that I have found work that I feel excited to do every day, and is in high demand, both of which are important.
How to overcome external barriers.
Explore. Become curious about what kind of work you would really love to do. If nothing was standing in your way, and money wasn't a factor, what would you enjoy spending your time doing? What problems would you like to solve and how would you like to solve them? What opportunities are out there for you to solve those problems?
Be proactive. I work with clients in different phases of their career path. In the first phase, we explore. Once they have the clarity about where they'd like to be headed, we work on executing the plan. One thing I coach my clients on is effective networking strategies. You may have people in your network who do similar work, so first and foremost, reach out to them. But once you've exhausted the people you already know, it's time to grow your network. The key here is to be thoughtful in how you approach people, be specific in what you are looking for, and allow them to share their best advice. We all want to be helpful, so making it easy for others to be helpful to you, and appreciating them for it, makes it a win-win. This is also a good time to update your resume, look at what skills and abilities potential employers are looking for, and even start applying.
Learn. What skills can you gain that make you more competitive? I highly recommend starting with the less expensive things, such as courses on Udemy or Skill Share. Join a professional organization in your field and see what professional development opportunities they offer. Attend webinars and free events. These can also give you more data about what direction you want to be heading.
Now, taking these steps may get you to where you want to be, and if so, congrats! If not though, there may be something else at play.
Here's where we get into the "unknown factor" part of the equation. As we move along the process of making a career move, it can bring up a lot of emotions. When we step out of our comfort zone and start taking steps towards personal and professional empowerment, we may forget that there is also internal work that needs to be done, in order to become the person we know we really are meant to be.
The internal barriers can show up as feelings of despair or hopelessness, self-doubt or lack of confidence, a belief the we are not good enough or not worthy of success and fulfillment, etc. Please hear me when I say that these feelings are normal, they will pass, and they are not the Truth of who you are. This is classic imposter syndrome.
When we are young, we develop strategies to keep ourselves safe, based on the input we receive from the world. These feelings are old patterns that we used to help us fit in and be safe when we are young. As an adult, the goal is to be more authentic and self-expressed, so this is where putting in the internal work becomes super important, and not easy.
How to navigate internal barriers.
Name them. What are the feelings that come up when you notice you want to disengage from your career-change process? Is it fear? Unworthiness? Self-doubt? Rather than stopping all together, this is where having someone to talk to, (like a *cough* career coach *cough*) can help you move through the negative self-talk and recognize that while it may feel real and true, it is not. It is also great to journal about the feelings, and get as angry or sad as you possibly can while doing so. The only way out is through, so the more you can allow yourself to feel the feelings, without giving up on the whole process, the faster they will move up and out of your system.
Put them to work. Remember, these internal barriers were useful to you at some point in your life. Take a look back and ask yourself how? Now, look at your current and future life, and see how they might be utilized to help you get to where you want to be. In my case, self-doubt was coming up BIG TIME when I started my private practice. It said things like, "who would ever pay you for this? You have nothing to offer. You don't even know how to help yourself, let alone anyone else. You have no skills or talents." Ouch. So after sitting with these feelings for a few days and feeling like they would never go away, I began to ask myself who I really wanted to become, and what would help me get there. My goal was to become to kind of career guide who I would have benefitted from working with when I felt lost and dissatisfied in my career and life. I wanted to be able to offer both practical and deep-level work to help my clients step into the people they are here to become. So, I learned, a lot. And I practiced, a lot. And I asked a lot of questions, and got a lot of feedback, and read, and collaborated and I am still doing most of those things today.
Thank them. When you believe that you cannot live the life you most desire, recognize that this is your mind doing it's best to protect you from the unknown. Transitions can be terrifying because no matter how well we plan, or save, or prepare, we never really know how it will turn out. So while you are taking the incredibly courageous steps towards a career and a life that is in alignment with who you really are, thank all of the systems that have kept you safe all these years.
Keep trying stuff. Most people who work in career services will tell you that applying for jobs on job boards is the least effective way to land the job you want. And while I know the data is there to back this up, in my personal experience, I have had good luck landing jobs from job boards. My never-ending quest for personal and professional development has led me to do a lot of learning, growing, and exploring. This translates into a very strong resume and cover letter, as well as a level of authenticity in my interviewing skills. On another, more esoteric level, when we step into alignment with our true self, the universe responds with miracles. This is the "unknown factor" part of the equation. Dawn Graham, the author of "Switchers," writes about her experience working as a recruiter. She would bring in potential candidates and then the hiring managers would make the final hiring decisions. In her attempts to better understand why they made the decisions they did, it often came down to their gut feelings about a candidate. This is where the internal work translates into external rewards.
When we work through the internal barriers, it often opens external doors that we couldn't have imagined. In my case, I allowed my self-doubt to fuel me on a never-ending quest to better myself. This, inadvertently, helped me break through many of the external barriers I faced in the beginning as well. And now, when the negative voices show up in my head, it is much easier to open the door and invite them in for tea. This allows them to relax and take a back seat, while I step ever-more-fully into myself and my soul purpose. This is available for you. It's your birth right.