What happens when you stop living by your limiting career rules
The experience of career success without satisfaction, which I’ll call “career entrapment,” happens with good reason… it protects us from the unknown, the unfamiliar, the pangs of fear that creep in when we pause to consider what we really want to do. At worst, career entrapment feels like handcuffs or being chained to your desk. More commonly, it’s a dull ache, cynicism, or numbness. Across the board, it’s familiar. It’s what we know already.
A funny thing happens when we consider the alternatives: We have no idea what to do! And/or, the potential for change slaps us with the fears, doubts, and uncertainties that derailed us from acting as free agents to begin with.
Everyone’s process looks unique, but here are the stages of successful career transition we tend to cycle through:
Safe success without satisfaction
:::This is the starting point for my “high achieving rule follower” clients::: You look great on paper, but something big is missing.
Vision of possibility
This can be as simple as thinking “There must be more to life” to broad strokes of an ideal future, alternative roles and industries.
This is a critical turning point where you realize it is in your power to change your experience and/or direction, and that it is worth the effort and resources (psychological, time, potentially money) invested.
Chaos and overwhelm (yay!!!)
Upset a system in equilibrium and the system will be upset. Proper inputs will make the process of change smoother and more likely to yield the desired results, but in the end, change is scary. Fear and a sense of being “undone” are totally normal — you need to move through it to get over it, and not away.
This stage is an anchor for the choppy waters. Knowing yourself deeply has implications far beyond your career. It means knowing who you are at your best, what truly matters to you, and what you want to contribute. It also means knowing your blocks, for instance self-doubt, fear of failure, need for certainty, not recognizing your own value, guilt, and lack of clarity — the mental knot of a million conflicting datapoints. You may even be more comfortable in pain, so you can point a finger and complain, or shrug your shoulders in feigned indifference and defeat. Ultimately, freedom from career entrapment has much less to do with the alternatives than it does with having a sense of YOU.
Next steps and experiments
Removing blocks requires tapping into new skills and capacity. If you want your career routine to go differently, you’ll need to practice some new dance moves. Believe it or not, you don’t need a 10-year plan or a vision carved in stone to move in the right direction. You DO need to be in action — and to stick with it.
Chaos, overwhelm — and a thrill
Did I mention feelings of chaos and overwhelm already? Great. When you start acting, the feelings behind the dam of your routine often flood in along with a sense of thrill- assuming you have solid supports in place. That’s the good stuff!
Deep, satisfying engagement
Once you start pursuing success that feels authentic, two things often happen. The first is that you’ll have a deep sense of self-alignment, purpose, and fulfillment, because you’re doing exactly what you want to do. It may be uncomfortable and challenging at times, but you’ll no longer be questioning. Second, once you’re clear about what you want you’ll likely throw yourself into it — all the more so if you are supporting yourself and/or a family.
Growth and maintenance
This stage is all about developing support and learning structures to establish yourself on your new path. This includes self-care, social support, and intentional learning and reflection.
Success and deepening forward
As you build toward success that feels like real success to you, rooted in a strong foundation of maintenance/growth/learning structures, your efforts will start to bear fruit. As you reap the internal and/or external rewards for your efforts, you’ll have greater capacity to level up and deepen in a direction that continues to be authentic.
Busting the mold of career entrapment is not a simple, linear, or one and done process. Expect your comfort zone to be stretched and howling back at you. The difference is that you’re no longer trapped — you won’t be choosing based on fear, you will be choosing based on YOU.