How Do You Know When It’s Time To Change Careers? (5 signs that it's time to change)

I remember the feeling – I had a corporate career that looked great on paper with a fantastic salary but something just wasn’t right.

I’d catch myself thinking:

Is this just a phase?

Just the normal ups and downs?

Is it just where I’m working now – should I change companies, or is it everything?

I used to love this job, why do I feel like this? Perhaps it will pass?

I stayed in this no man’s land for a long time, swinging between thinking I needed to just push on through and then furiously searching for anything that looked interesting on LinkedIn’s jobs board.

How about you? Does this sound familiar?

I wish I’d had more guidance at that stage to make a decision on the right way forward, and so here I am writing the guidance for my former self and hoping that it helps others in the same position today.

Is it a Phase?

Ups and downs are common in any career and it can be tough to distinguish between a challenging phase that will pass and the kind of fundamental problem that means that your current career just isn’t serving you anymore and isn’t likely to in the future either.

Below I give you five signs that mean it’s time to consider a career change and three signs that mean you should consider sticking it out…

Five Signs that it’s Time to Change

Here are five signs that it’s time to really consider changing careers and that this isn’t a passing phase:

1.    You have ‘Sunday night dread’

If you’re consistently getting that heavy, sick, slightly anxious feeling in your stomach just thinking about having to return to work on Monday it’s your body giving you a big sign that there’s a more fundamental issue going on here.

You shouldn’t be having a physical reaction to the idea of turning up to work the next morning. This is your body waving a great big red flag at you that says ‘Hey…if you carry on like this we’re going to be ill’. Your work is resulting in some serious anxiety and there’s no pushing through that…you’ve already tried pushing through it and now your body is using its very own escalation process which is to make you feel a physical reaction.

Take this sign seriously especially if it’s coming alongside other symptoms of chronic stress and burnout.  

2.    You don’t care anymore

You don’t enjoy the actual job anymore. Maybe you fell into your current career and deep down you always knew that it didn’t connect with you at a deep level, or perhaps you used to love it but somewhere along the line you fell out of love. Either way, you feel like you don’t believe in your job anymore.

You’re generally a conscientious person and want to do a great job but your motivation has drained away and left you feeling like you’re going through the motions. You know you aren’t applying yourself like you used to and you’re worried that someone is going to notice.

I compare this to ‘getting the ick’ when you’re dating. It’s been a while since I was dating but I remember a guy who seemed great on paper and the first couple of months of dating were good – but then I ‘got the ick’. I found his habits grating and the attraction disappeared. I soon found out that in dating once you ‘get the ick’ you can’t get that attraction back. It’s the same with jobs.

3.    If your job was your partner, you’d divorce them

Your job is so demanding that it’s making you chronically stressed, sometimes you feel like your hanging on to your sanity by threads.

You don’t get to spend much quality time with your friends or family because your job demands so much of your time and attention. Even the hobbies you love have fallen by the wayside, perhaps you can’t even remember what it is you used to do when you didn’t spend all of your time on work.

Perhaps it’s impacting your self-esteem and confidence because its demands are so high or it’s a toxic environment.

Consider for a second that this was your partner rather than your job: incredibly demanding, slowly cutting you off from friends and family, eroding your self-esteem, causing sleepless nights, anxiety and chronic stress…would you be thinking about divorce?

4.    You feel unfulfilled, stuck and like you aren’t making an impact in the world

You long to make an impact in the world but you just feel ‘stuck’. You don’t feel like you’re growing any more and you know you’re not living up to your full potential.

Perhaps you’re questioning whether the career you’re in really lines up with your values now…maybe you feel like all you’re doing is ‘just making rich people richer’.

You want to make a real difference in the world, your community or in people’s lives and you feel completely disconnected from this in your current job.

As human beings we have fundamental needs for growth and for purpose – this feeling of being stuck and not making an impact is your sign that your current career isn’t serving these fundamental needs (and that’s highly unlikely to change). You can push this feeling down for a while, but mark my words that it will come back again and again until you take action. You’re meant for bigger, different things – the sooner you come to terms with that, the sooner you can start finding out what it is that you’re meant to do instead!

5.    You’re jealous

You hear of a friend who sets up their own business doing something they enjoy and you feel deeply jealous. You see other people doing their own thing outside of the corporate world and really wish you could do the same.

But you tell yourself – you have to make a choice between doing something that you love and earning enough money to pay the bills you have and you can’t do both. So you feel trapped in a job you know you don’t want to carry on doing.

What if I told you that this is what I thought too but that I found out that it’s bullshit…you can do a job that you love, that gives you a sense of purpose and fulfilment (even joy) that still pays the bills, even if you’re the main breadwinner like me?

Intrigued? Listen to my ‘Careers with Purpose’ podcast coming out by the end of September which will feature real stories of women who have left their corporate jobs and are living the life you dream of…I hope it gives you the insight that I had about what is possible.

3 Signs That It’s Just a Phase

Hang on a second Sarah…you’re a career change specialist. Of course you’re going to point out signs that it’s time to change careers!

True. But I don’t want anyone to change careers if that’s not the right thing for them, so here are three signs that it’s worth sticking with your career through this challenging phase…

1.    You love your job but your director/manager/colleague is an asshat

You love your job. Sure, it has its downsides like all jobs but overall you enjoy your days.

Or you did.

Then the new manager/senior manager/colleague/insert whatever else here started and since then it’s been, frankly, a bit shit.

Maybe they’re a bully, an insufferable micro-manager, incompetent or perhaps they’re taking the business or team in a direction you don’t agree with. Perhaps they’re a mixture of all those things and more. Basically they’re what I call an asshat and it’s really killing your love for what you do.

If you imagine that you could click your fingers and make them disappear do you know that you’d love your job again?

If so, then you have an asshat problem. Not a career problem. Which means the answer is to escape or deal with the asshat, not change careers.

2.    You’ve got a lot going on outside of work and that’s impacting your capacity

You’re going through a lot right now outside of work – this could be anything from divorce, physical illness, bereavement, mental health issues that haven’t been caused by work stress, worries about your children. It could be anything…but it’s really reduced your capacity to care about your work.

Your work hasn’t got any more stressful than it’s been in the past and you know you could absolutely handle it if only you didn’t have so much to deal with already.

Firstly, this is completely normal for the situation that you’re in. As humans we don’t have an unlimited capacity to deal with stress or an unlimited capacity to care about things.

Try talking to your manager, a colleague, someone in HR or a mental health first aider if you have them at your place of work who can help you come up with practical ways of giving you some headspace to get through this challenging time. If you’d prefer not to talk to someone at work about it just yet then try speaking to a career coach like me who can help you work through the practicalities and consider the best way to balance everything that’s going on for you right now.

3.    It’s been weeks, not months

If you count the period of time that you’ve been feeling like this in weeks rather than months then I’d advise that you stick with it a little longer. There’s a difference between being temporarily stressed or frustrated and truly being at the end of your rope.

Sometimes that difference can be quite slim but if you’ve put a lot of effort and hard work into your current career I’d give it more than ‘weeks’ until you decide to make a change.

Having said that, do set a specific timeline by filling in the blank:

“If this hasn’t improved by X, then I’m going to look at changing careers”

Because I didn’t set a timeline and got stuck in this loop for years. Don’t be me!

In the meantime, consider what exactly it is that’s causing you to feel stressed or frustrated. Find a manager, colleague or friend you trust and ask them to help you work through whether there are solutions you can put in place. Again, if you’d rather talk to someone objective you can use a career coach like me…other coaches are available ;)

What To Do Next If Changing Careers Is Where You’re At

Well firstly, unless you’re in a serious mental health crisis related to work, I never advise anyone to quit their job straight away so don’t go resigning on the spot as tempting as that might be!

You need a plan.

The simple act of starting to take your career change seriously and saying your intentions out loud to a trusted friend or family member will help alleviate the frustration you’re feeling and set you on the path towards change.

Write a plan of action and set yourself some goals. Accountability is key, perhaps you can ask a friend or partner to be your accountability buddy as otherwise, you may find your career change slips away under your usual daily tasks and routines.

If you’d like support figuring out what on earth you should do next and how to go about it – well, that’s where career change specialists like me come in. Have a look around this website and if you like what you see then book an initial confidential career strategy chat with me over a (virtual) coffee…

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