I spend a significant amount of time working with teenagers, making them think about money and time management. In one exercise, we talk about what you can do if you have gotten yourself into debt. They often have a hard time coming up with specific ideas, but when pressed come up with “don’t spend as much on food” or “don’t go out as much”. After several more rounds of leading questions, they begin to see that all of their answers fall into one of two categories. While there are many ways to do each of those things, there really are only two options to get yourself out of debt and back to a positive cash flow situation – either “spend less” or “earn more.”
The same dichotomy applies to your career. If your current job did not turn out to be what you thought it would, or you are disillusioned with how your career is progressing, there are two basic things you can do to fix it. The first is to adjust your expectations, and be happy with what you have. The second option is to figure out what you really want from your career and get it.
Dissatisfaction with your career is not as easily quantitated as an imbalance between your income and your expenditures. It will take some thoughtful introspection and careful consideration of not only your current situation, but also of your entire career trajectory. What is it that you really expected to have at this point in your career, and how is that different from what you currently have? Are your expectations reasonable for today’s job economic market and demographic realities, or were they based on what conditions that no longer exist?
If you are in the job you thought you wanted, but are unhappy, why is that? Did the job turn out to be significantly different from your expectations? Or are you doing what you expected, but you find you do not really enjoy it as much as you thought you would? It’s very difficult to really know how much you’ll enjoy doing something until you actually do it . How often have you been pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised when you’ve tried something new, and found it was different from what you expected?
As you’re considering what you really want to get out of your career, and how that differs from your current position and goals, make sure you are being realistic. The type of job you covet may not exist anymore, or may exist in such a transformed version that if you knew what it really involved, you would not really want it. You may be able to make small changes to your current job – adding some responsibilities, shifting others, to move what you have closer to what you want.
To continue with that theme, if the disconnect is very large, you will need to make large changes. You need to make the commitment to do what it will take to get what you really want – maybe attending night school to finish your degree, taking on extra projects at work to learn new skills that will make you eligible for a promotion, or moving your family across the country to a place where the type of job you covet is more readily available. Yes, these will take time, and yes, there are disadvantages with each. Only you can determine if the benefits of “getting more” in the long term outweigh the alternative of “learning to be happy with less”.
Carolyn Hax, who writes an advice column in the Washington Post, recently told a reader that “Stress is what fills the gap between what we covet and what we actually get.” Since your career is such a large part of your life, it makes sense that a mismatch there would cause a large amount of stress. Realizing that the world does not make promises, and there are many paths you can take, can go a long way towards helping you get your expectations and your realities in line.
In summary, in order to reduce your stress, either be happy with what you have, or go out and get what you want. Simple, right?
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.