Two weeks ago, I received a newsy email from a former client. Dan gave me the scoop on his life and new love, and ended by saying that while work had improved, he was feeling the itch again to go after career change. He would soon give me a call for some personal coaching sessions.
I replied nicely to all his news, and on the itch, I said: "Call me when it's a burn."
Why this tough love response?
I meet scores of professionals who are unhappy with their work. In almost seven years, I've never seen an individual make a significant shift unless there is a burning desire to change.
You must have a clear articulation of the personal gain you see for yourself at the end of the career-change rainbow – and this personal gain must be greater than the pain of staying in place. I didn't want Dan to waste his time, energy, or for that matter, money.
So, how do you know if you're feeling an itch or a burn?
Itches are usually situational. A confrontation with a fellow worker; a poor performance review; a disagreement with your boss; environmental stress. Itches create lots of smoke, like "I can't wait to get out of here." or "This is it. I'm leaving." But no focused action towards change.
And these "reaction" moments are often followed by patches where work is really okay – an interesting project in the works, shared good feelings.
In other words, the motivation to change is externally driven. It waxes and wanes based on what is happening in one's environment. All of us have career itches at one time or another.
Burns go much deeper. They are itches that don't go away. They've been around for a long time (a year or more) and they have wrenched your value system to the point that:
- You can no longer compartmentalize work vs. life.
- You find it almost impossible (maybe even terrifying) to drag yourself out of bed on Monday mornings.
- You go through the motions at work – your feelings are completely disconnected from your work activities.
- Your energy hits the skids; you get sick a lot or have difficulty shaking a common cold.
- You may feel hopeless or a little (or a lot) depressed.
Burners – you can do these things, too, but it's probably not your ultimate fix. A value system pulled apart is only mended when there is a re-alignment between body, mind and spirit. For burners, career change is not an option – it's a requirement.
Take some time off to re-gain your energy and perspective. In this more relaxed state, figure out how to get some help. Your Employee Assistance Plan? Mentor or understanding colleague? Initially, don't try to solve the entire problem – just map out a few next steps and give yourself a timetable. Your world will brighten simply as a result of putting yourself in choice and action.