It’s an uncomfortable feeling when you realise that what you’ve been doing for twenty to thirty years isn’t your passion.
It’s natural to feel guilt at having ‘wasted’ all that time, and fear of change. Doubt and lack of confidence in your ability creep in, despite the fact you’ve done well and have achieved many, many good things.
The sensation that where you are now doesn’t chime with who you are is incredibly disconcerting and it’s easy to feel that you made a terrible mistake all those years ago. But you’ve just changed, as we all do.
The first signs of what I see as the ‘awareness’ stage are sluggishness, lack of motivation, being snippy with colleagues, the sense of ‘what is this all for?’ and looking at other jobs, other people’s jobs and wishing you were doing that – whatever it may be.
It’s likely that you try really hard to push all this away, and keep reminding yourself how hard you worked to get here, and press on. You’ll probably put it down to a blip. It may be, in which case, you’ll get back on track and return to feeling fulfilled by your work.
If it’s not a blip, now you probably move on to the ‘shoehorning’ stage, looking for jobs that vaguely fit the bill as an escape route. You cast around, seeing roles which might give you that little bit extra that’s missing where you are now.
This turns into a treadmill of signing up on relevant websites for job alerts. You spend half your free time tailoring application forms for vastly different roles, because there’s something you like about that job. You probably get some interviews, and then feel very frustrated at not getting them.
This can (take my word for it) carry on for years. The next phase should really have come before the shoehorning – ‘self-exploration’. I did it the wrong way round, so I really do know that it makes a world of difference. So as soon as you become aware that where you are now feels wrong, take a step back.
Before starting to look for other jobs, find out about yourself. I knew that my values had completely changed. I wanted to do work to support other people, and get out of an office environment and a leadership role, and no longer felt the drive for promotion. My top strengths align with helping others and being part of a community, so I researched courses and careers which were achievable within my resources.
And everything you’ve done before – every job, task, meeting – wasn’t wasted. All experience, even the negative (often particularly the negative), stands us in good stead and builds us for what comes next.
We all need meaning, purpose, fulfilment, and it will be unique to each of us. For some it might be about making a lot of money and living a hedonistic lifestyle, while for others it’s more important to feel a sense of community and serving others. Until you really think about your perfect combination, it’s impossible to decide what to do with your life.
I was sceptical about coaching. I dismissed a suggestion that it might be something I could do six years before I actually had coaching sessions and then decided to train as a coach!
I would never have considered paying for it, thinking it was all a bit dubious. It was only through meeting a coach, realising that I needed support, and having sessions myself that I saw how it worked. It not only gave me an opportunity to identify everything that was blocking my progress, but also to see something I wanted to do. It showed me how important it is to reflect on who we are, and what we want to change in our lives. Once we know that, we can identify the best combination of elements for our own meaning and fulfilment. It can take years to work out how to find meaning in life, or months.
It really is the adage ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. Time spent on exploring what’s really important to you as soon as disenchantment sets in will save you pain in the long run. Then hopefully, you can move forward doing what you really love.