Seeing as how it was just Canada Day, and tomorrow is Independence Day for the United States, freedom seems like a good topic. I’m thoroughly fed up with politics, though, so I’m staying away from political freedom, and am going to talk about it from another perspective; leadership and your career.
We live in a culture where freedom is sacrosanct, and we all pretty much believe we should have the freedom to make our own choices. This means that we have the ability to choose what we will do and what we want in our life. Of course, this in no way absolves us of the consequences of our choices, whether it be legally, career-wise, or emotionally (as much as that would be nice).
This is nowhere more true than when it comes to our career; one of the most significant areas in most people’s lives. Most of us, on some level, have desires, talents, and ambitions, and are free to pursue a career that is in alignment with those. What I’ve seen more often than not, as a coach, is a whole bunch of seriously unhappy people who feel stuck and like they have no choice. They are in jobs they hate, or working for people they hate (or at least seriously dislike), doing things that suck their soul and make them miserable. Until the pain of this becomes unbearable, these folks always say the same thing about why they’re there: they have no choice.
I remember telling this to a boss of mine one time. I’d just found out I was pregnant with my first child, and he was wondering if I’d come back to work after the baby. My response was that I had to, that there was no other choice, to which he replied “there’s always a choice”. At the time, this kind of annoyed me. Easy for him to say, I thought. Because my husband and I had agreed that he would launch a startup business, we completely depended on my job for our family income and medical benefits. How on earth did I have a choice?
When you’re in a leadership role, this feeling of being choice-less can be even more compounded. You feel the burden of other people’s livelihoods, as well as the responsibility for the outcomes of everyone’s efforts. Concern about the potential impact of any given action can be paralyzing.
I’ve come to see that being in fear and uncertainty about the future makes us feel like we have no choice. It’s very easy to make assumptions about the value we bring, the economic climate, and the marketplace, and come to the conclusion that we can’t do any better than we’re currently doing, only worse. We eventually embrace the idea (and bad bosses will reinforce this) that we’re actually lucky to have what we do, and we’d better not rock the boat.
As a coach, I am completely sold out to the idea that if we’re operating in our area of proficiency, passion, and purpose (to paraphrase Michael Hyatt) that we will be fulfilled and eventually successful once we find the correct platform or point of entry. The problem is that if you don’t believe this, you won’t try, and you’ll experience the crushing weight of being stuck.
Anyone can exercise their freedom to choose when it comes to their career at the end of the day, by simply choosing to not be there. Most of us would prefer to improve our circumstances rather than just escape them, so that takes a little more strategy. The first step is recognizing the assumptions and beliefs you’re currently harboring about your situation, and challenging their veracity. For example:
- What are you truly passionate about?
- What are you good at?
- Is it possible to conduct research into opportunities to contribute your passion and proficiency?
- Do you really have the ‘freedom’ you think you do in your current role?
- Is it really true you’d never make this much money somewhere else? Does it matter?
Depending on the answer to these questions (and a few other ones), it may make sense to begin a career transition. On the other hand, sometimes you have a passion that doesn’t necessarily translate well into a career transition, and that’s okay. A lot of times that stuck feeling is not so much about your particular job, but the amount of mental and physical resources you’re devoting to it. Sometimes a recalibration of your investment can create the freedom you need to refresh and recharge.
And yes, I’m sensitive to the fact that there are some people with far less options, opportunities and advantages than others so I’m not cavalierly suggesting for anyone that the way out of a tough situation is simply to choose differently and things will magically get better. Change can require enormous sacrifice, perseverance, and effort, and sometimes other priorities or circumstance can make it unfeasible to accomplish what it could take.
Focus has always been a problem for me. I’ve often joked that it’s so unfair to only get one life, when there’s SO MUCH I want to do. Unfortunately, we do only get one shot. What a tragedy at the end of it to have spent the majority of your career feeling stuck. From my own experience I can tell you that taking even the most incremental steps to move towards your passion can breathe new life into your experience of your career.
I’d love to hear your stories about how you’ve moved from a place of stuck to a place of fulfillment!
Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people. With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work. Carrie can be reached for consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org