THE CHALLENGE: “Can I leave this toxic career and make a change?”
Q: At 50 years old, I am trying to find a new career. I have spent three years trying to create something new. I am incredibly resourceful and proactive and never thought it would be so hard to re-invent myself!
I have not enjoyed many things about my job for years and felt like I was meant to do something else. I am a highly paid health care professional, well liked and respected in my field.
However, my field has changed dramatically and I now have a toxic career. My schedule keeps changing and my responsibilities have shifted away from the activities I enjoy; now I deal a great deal with automated systems. My current role requires a high level of professional training but actually can be quite repetitive and boring. At one point I was on track to move to an administrative role, which I enjoyed; however, that career path was eliminated due to cutbacks. I do like some things about my field and appreciate the ten years I invested to learn my skills. I love to create programs, educate, and use my passion and energy for something I believe in.
My children are in elementary school and I want to spend more time with them. My husband has a steady job he likes; he earns less than I do but I’m willing to cut back on income to get more control of my time.
I have an impressive resume and would be very interested in working towards the cultural change that needs to happen in healthcare for reform to be successful (such as patients getting involved, stop some of the waste, better communication, and stronger guidelines) but I have no idea if those jobs even exist yet and how I would make that happen. I am also open to leaving healthcare and turning to something else but I don’t know what that is. I am wondering if the medical insurance companies will be getting involved with improving outcomes for patients, with some new career opportunities.
I’ve begun some new activities: writing educational material for a consulting firm in my field, talking to universities about teaching, and exploring other projects. I considered working with a start-up company that makes supplements, but that didn’t get off the ground. I like lecturing and education but don’t want to be a teacher.
I am quite discouraged that after all my effort I haven’t found an alternative that will allow me to leave my current position permanently.People keep telling me not to quit without another job, but this job is literally making me sick.
THE CAREER CONSULTANT SAYS …
A: Usually career changers tend to focus on introspection at the expense of activity. As I read your story, it seems that you’re one of the few who have done the opposite. I want to congratulate you on jumping in and exploring a wide variety of career options.
In fact, you may have gone to the opposite extreme. You need to escape what does indeed seem to be a toxic career, i.e., a career that causes you harm the way poison can destroy your body. You’re spending a lot of energy dealing with job stress and exploring options. You need to think of implementing purposeful action, rather than spreading your energy in many different directions.
When you’re tired and frustrated, it’s hard to think rationally and make good decisions. It’s really hard to get in touch with your intuition.
Before you do anything else, find a competent, experienced financial advisor. Ask your advisor to help you run the numbers to see if you can take three, six or even twelve months off. You’ll continue doing something – consulting, teaching, and training – but you won’t have the big income. I am not a financial or tax advisor and you should take advice only from someone who is licensed in your state, not from career coaches, family or friends.
Additionally, I’d encourage you to take a look at your interests and your strengths. You’ve dropped a lot of hints about what you enjoy. You’ve also indicated that you are respected and well-regarded in your field. Start thinking about what brings you satisfaction and why. You might even consider creating a vision board, because this type of exercise taps into your nonverbal processes.
I don’t recommend coming up with an ideal job description because most of us have many excellent possibilities, not just one ideal career. Begin to focus on specific elements, such as control of your time, being in the role of expert, and spending time talking to people instead of staring at a computer.
You’ve identified several options. What attracts you about each one? Are you basing your interest on realistic first-hand information?
As you look inward, you can begin to scan the environment. You’ll find yourself framing questions differently as you interact with people and attend meetings. Think of exploring a few possibilities at a time in a purposeful way.
Many medical professionals find their opportunities become greater with a graduate degree in public health or social policy. If you don’t want a full degree, perhaps some coursework will help you get connections as well as skills. Your financial advisor will help you run the numbers to evaluate educational opportunities. sometimes you can work for a university to get reduced tuition, but you need to be sure you’ll actually get access to courses.
Most important, you need to take the pressure off. I would never advise anyone to quit a job but I frequently advise clients to talk to financial experts to see if quitting is a realistic option. Given your professional skills and degrees, I have a hunch that you would be able to find a way to bring in some income, even if you leave your specialty, if you took time off. But I could be wrong. You need to assess your own risk.
You’ll find more detailed suggestions in my ebook, Your 21-Day Extreme Career Makeover.
I’d also recommend
Ten Things To Do When You REALLY Hate Your Job
Intuition for Careers and Business
Of course this blog post is shorter and less specific than a one-to-one live consultation would be.
Have you ever experienced a toxic career? What did you do? And what would you do differently, if anything?