Job Satisfaction – Unpacking All of the Reasons Why You Are Unhappy (or Happy at work) 

Are you happy with your job and career? Or unhappy? 

There are many reasons why we are happy or unhappy at or jobs, which I want to unpack here.

Why should we care to understand more about this? 

By being able to pinpoint exactly why we are happy or unhappy at our jobs and careers, we can, hopefully, make better decisions in the future.  

So instead of just saying ‘I hate it’, ‘I’m so tired’, ‘I don’t like it’, we can do something concrete about it. Change something about the situation at work, our perception about it, or leave the job altogether. 

It’ useful to understand well what exactly bothers you, so you can try to avoid certain kinds of jobs in the future. 

It is like going into a relationship. If you don’t know what specifically bothers you about a person, you can change relationships but it will still be the kind of relationship over and over again. 

Many people who make a change, end up being happier in their new job or career. 

Then, some people keep changing jobs but still don’t feel happy at work. 

The reason might be because they haven’t identified the root cause of their unhappiness at work.

Another reason to pay attention to job satisfaction is that it is related to mental health, especially burnout. If you are experiencing burnout, or feel like you’re close to it, then it’s time to unpack your baggage.

Job satisfaction also influences self-esteem. 

If you stay in a job you hate, won’t your regard for yourself diminish? It is one thing to get into a bad situation by accident. But after you realize the situation you are in, why are accept it?

Everyone wants to be happier at work. 

Some people say that happiness is a choice. And I subscribe to that school of thought, at least I try to believe it. But I have a more differentiated view on this.

In situations which we cannot change, yes, by all means, try to be happy. 

Accept the things you can’t change, make the best out of it. Bring happiness into life and contribute to other people’s happiness.

But if you are unhappy in a situation that you can change, why not do something about it? Adjust it, change it, get out of it? 

Some might have been dealt a worse hand in life, but the majority of people do have the option to change something about their situation. I dare to say that most people in the developed world are in a position where they can do something about the situation. 

So what is it that makes us happy or unhappy at work?

Tons of research has been done on the topic of job satisfaction that can give some surprising insights. 

Strictly speaking, ‘satisfaction’ and ‘happiness’ are not exactly the same. Satisfaction is the absence of want, while happiness has many more meanings, which may be philosophically, artistically, or religiously tinged. 

Like Charles Schulz, the creator of Snoopy said: “Happiness is a warm puppy”

However, it’s safe to say that satisfaction contributes to happiness, and whatever definition of happiness you subscribe to, by increasing job satisfaction, we come closer to being (truly) happy at work.  

Simply defined, job satisfaction is an individual’s positive emotional reactions and attitudes towards their job. 

Julia Yates in her book ‘The Career Coaching handbook” summarized 4 things that influence our job satisfaction, as well as an estimation of how much they influence it. I found this to provide a very good and useful research-based overview.

While most of us are aware of the different factors, we might overemphasize the meaning of some factors. After reading this, I experienced a bit of a paradigm shift in how I see job satisfaction, and why I think I am (was) happy in this or that job.

There are 2 stronger and 2 weaker factors that explain job satisfaction or a lack of it. Some might be surprising and perhaps controversial. I’ll also add on a 4th and 5th factor that I believe plays a role in job satisfaction for some people.

1. Work Factors 

Work factors are things that relate directly to a job. These include:

  1.  Task variety
  2. Colleagues
  3. Working conditions
  4. Workload
  5. Autonomy, and
  6. Educational opportunities

A study by Roelen, Koopmans, Groothoff (2008) concluded that these work factors account for 54% of our work satisfaction. 

A post on job satisfaction by hr.toolbox lists these 10 work factors. The difference is that these are more directed towards the company and are levers that companies can use to improve job satisfaction levels.

  • Does your company care about its employees?
  • Does the workplace encourage its employees to pursue their hobbies?
  • What is the average interval between promotions?
  • Do employees feel respected by their peers?
  • Is there a culture of two-way feedback?
  • Where do you stand on the issue of work-life balance? 
  • How do employees rate their relationship with their reporting heads?
  • Does your organization follow fair and inclusive policies?
  • Can employees nurture their creative instincts in their job?
  • Do employees feel secure about their role?

These can also provide some insights for individuals in figuring out what plays a big role in creating positive emotions towards their work.

Certainly, for every person, the weight placed on each factor will be different. The interpretation and how a person experiences a specific work factor may also be different. 

What represents a high workload for one may feel light to another. What seems a good colleague to one may be annoying to the other.

But going through the list of all these work factors, I come to realize why I liked certain jobs I had in the past, more or less.

Which of these work factors matter most to you? What has bothered you in your past jobs? 

Understanding what is important to you can help you land a job that is at a bit better, if not much better, the next time.

2. Individual factors 

Interestingly, individual factors explain 45% of job satisfaction, as explained in a study by Judge, Heller, Mount (2002) in the “5-factor model of personality and job satisfaction”. These include personality traits, age, and gender. 

According to this study, there are certain traits that predispose you to be content at work, personalities that are more likely to experience higher job satisfaction.

What this means is that there are people who regardless of job, can be happy (or happier than other people in the same job). Or are more easily satisfied, in a sense.

Yates summarizes that “The personality type most likely to enjoy their work lives, regardless of job, is that which scores low on neuroticism and high on extraversion, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. Neuroticism is negatively correlated with job satisfaction (by which I mean that people who score high on neuroticism are more likely to score low on job satisfaction).”

These might be the people who in life in general, are more easily satisfied, in a sense. 

You surely know people like these. Regardless of what they eat, where they go on vacation, these people can always find more reasons to be happy than unhappy. I count myself lucky to have a friend like this.

On the other hand, some people are more difficult to satisfy and easily upset about everything. 

The study also says that men and women may find different aspects more or less important at different times in their life. For example that women become more satisfied with their careers as they get older. 

In addition to this, some researchers have even linked genetics to job satisfaction.

On the one hand, it might seem that we are partially ‘pre-set’ to be easier satisfied and happy in our jobs.

On the other hand, is it possible that the knowledge of this leads towards more acceptance towards ourselves, which in turn can increase our job satisfaction indirectly?

Then there are 2 other factors that are even more difficult to quantify.

3. Life satisfaction

It’s hard to quantify, but safe to say that any major event or incident in someone’s life can have a huge impact on work. 

The third factor that Yates mentions in the chapter ‘Job Satisfaction’, in her book ‘Career Coaching Handbook’ is Life satisfaction.

There’s interdependence, a feedback loop between work and life. According to a study by researchers Georgellis, Lange, Tabvuma, (2012) “The impact of life events on job satisfaction” the direction of the effect goes especially from life events to work.

Everyone who had to deal with serious illness in their family, experiencing the death of a family member, serious family problems knows the toll it takes on life overall, negatively impacting job satisfaction. 

On the other hand, happy events, such as anticipation of an upcoming wedding or birth, can have a positive spillover effect and increase job satisfaction.

4. Match (Congruence)

Another factor addressed by Yates, gave me some surprising insights. 

The degree to which the individual and the job match is called ‘congruence’. The belief that there is an ideal job for everyone. 

That job satisfaction is not about work factors or individual factors, but that it depends on the right interaction between both.

Until recently I was mainly focused on this aspect when thinking about job satisfaction. I realize now that while for some people this might be crucial, on average, congruence is not the biggest determinant of job satisfaction.

Many theories and job matching methods are based on the theory of congruence though. And they are indeed highly interesting.

The idea that there is a perfect job for every person.

One of these is Holland’s theory that measures subjective interests. Here people are measured with a 3-letter code based on an individual’s top 3 interest areas. Thee includes the options of realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional (RIASEC). 

Then in a database of jobs, for each code, there is a list of suitable jobs.

This is quite commonsense. Of course, we should be happy with a job where the work factors match our personality! Of course, having a job that matches your interests, skills, and values is going to make you more fulfilled at work.

But surprisingly, based on empirical studies, this only makes up for a small difference in job satisfaction. 

I think that an explanation to this might be, that so many assumptions go into determining a person’s personality and what a certain job comprises.

The usefulness of personality tests, in general, depends on how well they are built and how they are interpreted by people taking it. 

On the other hand, job A at company X might be different than at company Z.

Let’s take for example a person whose 3-letter code turns out to be RIE or realistic, investigative, and enterprising. 

According to the corresponding job database, this person would be suited to be a commercial pilot. And it is highly possible that the person will experience higher job satisfaction as a commercial pilot compared to being a second-grade teacher. 

However, other factors explained earlier will also come into play. Being a commercial pilot at airline X versus airline Z might be dramatically different. 

That being said, I believe that these kinds of tests are very useful (and especially fun!) but that’s not all there is to achieving job satisfaction.

Let’s move on to another interesting insight related to this.

Let’s just assume that there are useful and correct methods, tests, and results to determine ‘congruence’ or job-personality match. 

Yates points to an insightful study by Dik, Strife, Hansen (2010) “The flipside of Holland types congruence: Incongruence and job satisfaction” which shows that what’s more important is moving away from incongruence to congruence. 

The idea is similar to the law of diminishing returns. Many things can be done to increase job satisfaction until you reach a certain level of happiness.

But once that point is reached, adding more things, increasing factors will only lead to marginally more happiness. 

What about salary and benefit? 

So now where in this whole discussion are salary and benefits? Doesn’t salary increase job satisfaction, at least to a certain point? Here the above rule applies

The often-cited study by Princeton in 2010 found that there is a correlation between happiness and wealth (and even here I stress correlation which is no causation!) to a point of about $75,000 a year. Any increase up to this point contributes to a person being happier (and in reverse the lower the income from this point, unhappier), but beyond this, their happiness doesn’t increase as a result of the salary increase. If at all, only marginally.

There are so many factors that influence job satisfaction, and it’s hard to understand how all of these different factors come into play. 

But at least it gives some perspective about job satisfaction, especially for companies and their HR department, that to increase job satisfaction it’s not as easy as increasing the salary or adding vacation days.  

On a practical level, for job seekers, this overview of different factors might be useful to kick-start a self-evaluation.

There are two other factors that I can think of, that aren’t prominently discussed in these studies.

A person’s expectation about how the job should be like and also a person’s self-image.

I haven’t found research on these aspects yet, but I believe that these play a certain role, even if minor, for at least some people. 

5. Expectations

Similar to happiness in general, a person’s positive emotions toward a situation will depend on their expectations. 

We could term this expectation vs. reality.

Let’s take for example dining out. Your friend takes you to an Italian restaurant you’ve never been to. He says that they have the best ravioli he’s ever tasted. Your expectations are instantly super high. You taste the ravioli – and it’s quite yummy – but it’s not as good as you expected. In fact, you find that it’s similar to the supermarket-packaged ravioli you usually by. That can mess with your satisfaction with the ravioli.

If you expect a job to be awful, because many people pointed towards it, you might be positively surprised. You expected that retail job to be much worse. Experiencing it, you find it not to be as bad as your expectations, and hence you are slightly more satisfied than if you had higher expectations.

6. Self-image

Another thing is a person’s self-image. Who they think they should be in their career at a certain point in time. If most people become managers between the ages of 25 and 30, but you became a manager at only 23, you might feel more satisfied with the job. 

Reversely, if you think you should’ve been a manager by 28, but you’ve only reached that level at 35, you might end up not being as satisfied with your job because you think you are behind. 

Back to the central question: Why am I unhappy in my current job and career? 

Go through each of these factors and asking yourself whether and in how far a specific factor is important to you. 

Combine them into a list and you have a good starting point for your future job search and career development.

A Multi-Stage Life – A New Way of Looking at Your Career and Life

Are you feeling lost in your career, life, or even both? 

Feeling lost in your career may stem from believing or feeling that you are not where you are supposed to be.

That you are behind, both compared to other people, and compared to where you think you should be by now. Oftentimes, we are a more cruel judge of ourselves than other people.

A part of this is rooted in the belief that there is such a thing as the perfect life and the perfect career path. Emphasis on perfect. 

The belief that we need to have everything in our life, or at least in our career figured out by a certain age, let’s just say 30. 

There is a general expectation that by the time you are 30 (or replace this with whatever age applies in your culture), at the latest, you should be established in life and have zoomed in on a certain career.

And this is not at all a bad thing! 

On the contrary, some people have extreme clarity of what they want in life, at a very young age, and it worked well for them. 

By 25 they knew exactly what kind of life they wanted to live. What career they wanted to have for the rest of their lives. They had all their beliefs sorted out, identified their purpose, and knew who they wanted to marry.

They journeyed through their life without a single regret. 

Perhaps you know people like this. But I bet that you can count them on the fingers of one hand.

I wish there was a study on this – please do drop me a note if you know of such a study! – as I would really want to have proof that this group of people who have everything figured out in their early twenties only represents a small minority. 

Luckily at least, nowadays people, even prominent people are becoming more open about their failures in life, the challenges, and setbacks they faced before they became successful. 

I can say from my own life experiences, by observing and talking to my family and extended family members, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, that at least 99% of people (young and old) don’t have this figured out yet.

We can certainly debate how accurate this percentage is. 

But try to take a look at the people around you. The people you deal with every day. Your boss, your professor, your co-workers. Do you think that they have everything figured out?

Very likely, the answer is no.

And that may provide a sense of relief.

Realizing that almost everyone has not figured it out yet can make you feel a bit more normal. 

But still, even though you see that your co-worker’s life is a mess, or that your friend is still waitressing at 42, you tell yourself “They might be losers, but not me. Why am I still here? I should be successful by now” – whatever your definition of success may be.

The second reason for relief might be this: 

It’s great that you’re feeling lost in your career and life now.

The sooner someone is aware that they feel lost, the faster they can do something about it. 

You can roughly divide people into two groups.

The first group consists of people who never ask themselves the question of ‘Am I on the right track or not?’. It might be that because asking that question is simply too painful or too scary for them.

Two things could happen as a consequence of this: 

– They live their lives in peace happily ever after, with no regrets or 

– At some point in their life they finally ‘wake up’ and are shocked to see where they ended up.

It’s better to have that realization and that sinking feeling now – at 25, 37, 46, 55 – rather than at 92.

It would be really unfortunate to only realize at your deathbed that you’ve been ‘lost’ your whole life, asking yourself ‘what the hell have I been doing my whole life’ and be filled with regret at a time when there’s nothing you can do about the situation anymore.

The second group consists of people who recognize that they feel (or are) lost, and want to do something about it. 

So the good news is that you, reading this blog post, at least care and want change. 

Yes, you might feel lost (at least at times), like 99% or so of the population.

But at least you are willing to acknowledge that to yourself.

And by doing that you open up yourself to self-introspection, experimentation, and asking lots of questions.

There is one mindset change that I want to introduce to you that may change your whole perspective on ‘feeling lost in life and career’.

As I said earlier, the reason why you’re feeling lost is that you have a feeling, a hunch that you are not where you’re supposed to be.

Some of you simply can’t exactly pinpoint it. It’s just a feeling.

Some of you firmly believe that you are not where you’re supposed to be. And you can even pinpoint it exactly on a chart or timeline.

A, B, C, D, are the milestones you’re supposed to hit in your career, but until now you’re not there.

To stop feeling lost, let’s start by taking a look at mindset A about career and life (a more traditional view), and then move to mindset B (a view that is more relevant nowadays).

Mindset A

3-Stage Life Model

According to this, life consists of 3 major stages in this chronological order: 

– Getting an education: until age 22-28

– Working on a career: age 23-65

– Retirement: age 60-70 and up

Of course, due to many developments in the economy, demographics, this age pattern has shifted over time. 

This is a typical life-stage model, that is not only subscribed to by baby boomers and generation x but also millennials and generation y.

Why? Because there hasn’t been an influential enough of a model to replace this life-stage model.

Until I discovered the book ‘The 100-Year Life’ by Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott, I haven’t come across a convincing concept, a model of life and career that provided an alternative to the traditional concept. But more about that later.

Going back to the traditional life-stage model. Following this, it means that your career should be built and optimize within the ages of 23-65.

Perhaps in an even narrower time frame of 25-60, as it takes time to develop one’s first career, while at 60+ many people begin winding down, preparing for retirement.

What is characteristic of this 3-stage life model, as Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott say in their book is that ‘…age is a straightforward indicator of stage…’

In the 3-stage life model each age or age range corresponds and is associated with a certain life-stage.

This following example makes it clearer: 

If you break up that typical 35-40 year time frame during which someone pursues their career, this is what typical milestones could look like:

Age 23-30: You should be working for a company in a junior or middle-management position. Your salary allows you a mortgage for a house and a car loan.

Age 30-40: By this time you should be in mid-management, or otherwise you’re screwed. You should be earning at least 60k by now, or else you’re a failure. 

Age: 41-50: Here you should be a senior manager, otherwise you can bury your head in the sand. You should be able to afford a mortgage on a 3-bedroom house in the wealthy suburbs by now.

Age 51-65: This is your last chance to prove yourself before retirement. You should be the CEO of some company by now or at least head of a big department. You should not earn less than 100k. 

There is certainly nothing wrong with this path. It is also not wrong to want to follow this standard path and aim for these milestones.

On the contrary, it can be the best thing to do for some people.

Especially if you like predictability, stability, and are more risk-averse, then this is the way to go.

But for some or many people, this just doesn’t work.

And the good news is, that it doesn’t have to be this way either.

If you want a bit more adventure and variety, then truly, nowadays the world is your oyster in terms of career development. 

You can do so many different things in so many different ways. 

In the traditional model, we see that each stage is associated with a certain age range, position, or level in a hierarchy, a specific income level, and status symbols such as number and brand of cars (or handbags) the neighborhood your house is situated in, the restaurants you can dine at, etc. 

A defining marker is especially the increase in salary, or overall compensation, which should steadily increase from one year to another.

The goal is to accumulate financial assets, sometimes at the cost of other important things in life, such as physical and mental health, and relationships. 

I can understand this perspective to some degree. Especially if we are risk-averse, we would want to put in all the work upfront, earn, save, and only then, relax, explore our other interests, take on some risk by starting a business, etc. 

Now be honest, do you see your life and career in terms of these stages?

Do you think that unconsciously everyone subscribes to this frame of thought when thinking about an ideal life, career, and success?

Do you feel a sense of doom because you have not reached the ‘typical’ milestones in each category?

It is a nice path to follow if it makes you happy. But many of variations from this work as well, that I’m going to talk about in a bit.

Mindset B

Multi-stage life model

The 3-stage life model was relevant to past generations. It made sense to our grandparents and maybe our parents. 

But several things have made this model not become as relevant anymore.  

One very important one is longevity.

Our great-grandparents lived until about 60, our grandparents to around 70 on average. In their context, these life stages made the most sense.

They had to concentrate, maximize their career effort within a certain timeframe.

But now, many people will live to become 90 or even 100+ years old. Not only is life getting longer, but the quality of life has also increased (although, this one is debatable if we count ‘loneliness’ during old age as a negative factor).

Many people will still be healthy and mentally alert in their 80s and 90s and want to continue having a fulfilled and productive life.

They may not work a 40-hour or even 30-hour week anymore, but many will still want to contribute to society, with their expertise and life experiences.

Instead of stopping to work at 65, we continue to work until we are 80.

And here work is not defined narrowly as in having a 5-days a week, 9 to 5 job in a corporation. Rather, work at the age of 70, for example, can be a combination of freelance work, charity work, etc. 

You’ll be able to work longer on your career.

But you might also need to work longer. 

Everyone has hopefully realized that millennials and gen z cannot rely on surviving off their pension payments. 

It will be necessary for everyone to get creative and find new ways of generating other income streams, saving up more, to finance their old age. 

In the new model and new mindset, that is relevant to today’s age, there are multiple life stages, from which different possibilities for a career path flow.

According to Linda Gratton & Andrew Scott, In addition to the stages of education – working – retirement, which largely correspond to an age range, there are stages such as independent producer, explorer, and portfolio, which are decoupled from age. 

This means, that while there might be more or less ideal times to adopt a stage, any stage can theoretically be implemented at any age if the person wants it and plans for it. 

In short, the 3 additional stages are:

  1. Explorer:

During this time, one journeys to discover something about the world and also about oneself. It is different from just being a tourist, sightseeing and enjoying the local cuisine.

It’s focusing on engaging rather than just observing.

During this time, one is not focused on earning money, but investing in experiences. E.g. living in Southeastasia for 2 years, learning about their way of living, gaining new insights that open up new paths.

2. Independent Producer: 

As an Independent Producer, a person starts up their entrepreneurial activities. This can include making a product, creating a service, or building an idea. This stage can provide a platform for failing, as Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott say in their book. On the other hand, during this phase, a person curates a reputation. 

 

3. Portfolio: 

In this stage, usually, a person would build on a well-established platform of skills and networks.

The portfolio is balanced in three ways:

1) Earning enough money to match expenses and add to savings

2) A part-time role that links to the past and maintains reputation, skills, and mental stimulation, and

3) Developing additional and new roles that broaden learning and provide a sense of purpose.

Instead of just following the 3-stage life, you can add these stages to your life.

Look at where you are now.

Plan strategically, review frequently, and adjust your course to achieve what is important to you.

Don’t just let it go and let it flow.

There is so much that you can do with just a minor course correction. Altering your course be 2 degrees can make a big difference over 5, 10 years.

Perhaps you are not lost after all.

Maybe you are just in one of these unconventional life stages right now, which are a necessary part of your bigger plan?

Maybe you’re 30 and you’ve just spent a year in France, learning the language and are asking yourself ‘What in the world have I done in the past year?’

The easy answer is: You’re lost and have wasted your time. You’re nowhere where you should be.

The more useful approach is:

Spending that one year in France, getting to a good conversational level in French was an exploration phase and investment in a productive asset – language.

It is a specific building block in your life, which in future you’ll be able to leverage in your career.

There may have been activities that seemed to have happened rather randomly, e.g. a spontaneous decision of taking a 1-year sabbatical because you couldn’t stand your corporate job any longer.

But realize that you can plan such activities strategically, is empowering.

E.g. taking a 1-year sabbatical after working for 3 years in digital marketing. You spend 1-2 years living in Japan and Korea to learn more about the Asian market and the culture. After your exploration phase, you have experiences and knowledge that you will use to build your own small business, consulting on how to market products to East Asians. 

The point is, that you might feel lost now because you feel that some choices you made in your career in the past were random. 

But use this realization to your advantage. Realize that if you can ‘feel lost’, it is likely because you belong to the group of people who have the luxury of having options.

In the future, you can consciously choose to embark on a different path, to be an explorer, independent producer, or have a portfolio career for a certain time. 

It is an art to be able to put these building blocks together in a way that makes sense.

You need to be able to balance out times of earning (ideally high earnings) and being focused on financial asset accumulation and those times during which you invest in other assets.

For every person, a different combination and order may work best. 

Many people are already doing this.

If you know people who started a business in their 40s, or went on a sabbatical in their 30s or reinvented their career in their 60s – these are the kind of people who are no longer following the 3-stage life model. 

The problem is, that while some people believe in this path and follow it wholeheartedly, others are still stuck in the old world.

They second-guess themselves, doubt themselves, look down on their achievement, measure their accomplishments and position by the old yardstick, thereby holding them back from focusing on what they are doing.

Instead of adopting a new paradigm and embracing the new model, every other second they’re asking themselves ‘what the hell am I doing?’ ‘I’m 30 years old and taking a language course in Japan?’ ‘I’m 40 years old and trying to make movies’, or I’m 25 years old and making a drastic career change.

There is this feeling of guilt and dread. Thinking about whether this is a big mistake and even worse, what others will think.

This is where the mindset of the multi-stage life will give you a useful frame of mind.

A 30-year-old exploring the world for a year, going off to Africa is not a nut job or wasting their time.

Unless, perhaps, just perhaps, he or she was just traveling for years in a way that depletes their entire financial resources without adding to their skills and knowledge in any way. 

On the other hand, it may be immensely valuable, if this is a specific, intentional stage or period within their life, where they are exploring, learning something new and important about themselves. Acquiring life skills, experiences, that will set them off to a new path.

Here is an important note in regards to finances in this multi-stage model. 

From a financial perspective, continually growing your financial assets is a worthy goal. Ideally, it should continually increase and never decrease.

But note the rate at which it increases may not have to be constant. This means that your financial assets might grow by 6% in the years 2017-2020 (or fill in any number that applies to you), but then grows slower at 4.5% per year in the years 2021-2022, because you are investing in other areas of your life. 

Financial assets are not the only assets to grow.

As Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott explain in their book, there is something called productive assets, which include knowledge. This is also important to invest in, as these, in turn, can general financial assets. But this is a topic for another time. 

This means that there are times when you could work hard on earning income directly and growing your financial assets, while there are times where you focus more on growing your productive assets.

And of course, one thing does not necessarily exclude the other, as you can grow your financial assets through other means than working and earning an income.  

For example, there could be times where you consciously accept a lower income (e.g. $30,000 a year instead of $70,000 a year, to invest in a second education, skills. You earn less now, but invest in yourself and may enable a higher future earning potential.

In no way do I mean that we should forget our financial goals – not save and just spend. 

This is not about earning less and spending more, it’s about balancing carefully between the times when you earn income directly from your work and times when you reinvest in your productive assets. 

The faster you start subscribing to the multi-stage life model, the sooner you can get out of your rut, stop feeling lost, and start living.  

10 Career Change Mistakes to Avoid

So you’ve made up your mind to change careers. From banker to graphic designer, doctor to photographer, teacher to software engineer, violinist to psychotherapist – and so on.

You feel excited that your life is finally going to change, but also feel wary about how everything is going to roll out.

The reason might be that as for most important things in life, there is no fixed path for a career change. 

There may be recommended steps to start a certain new career. But in reality, it is not always possible to carry out these exact steps in the exact order. 

If career change were the only thing on your mind, you might be able to change careers swiftly without many obstacles. 

But if you are like most people, then there are things in life that you need to juggle at the same time. Your finances, health, family, and other responsibilities. 

So the career change process needs to happen in a way that respects these other areas of your life as well. 

This thing that might be the most important thing to you at the moment, may at the same seem so uncertain.

Will it work out? Will I get a job in this new field? How am I going to tell my friends? Will I be able to make a living? Will I need to take a pay cut?

It is a long and winding road. The process is strenuous and challenging. The more drastic the career change, the more it will seem like a black box.

The good news is that you have a good chance that you’ll make it. As long as you have the patience, endurance, and avoid some common pitfalls.

But what if you’ve already made one of these mistakes? Don’t worry. The first step toward improvement is recognizing the problem. In most cases, it is not too late to undo or rectify it.

Here are 10 career change mistakes to avoid:

1. Quitting your job or career cold 

While some people are methodical in everything they do and carefully plan out their steps, others decide rashly and are more hotheaded.

While this might be okay when changing vacation plans, it can be disastrous for your career and life. 

You may not achieve your new career goals as fast as planned. You might run out of money if you don’t have a new income source lined up.

But the biggest risk relates to your self-confidence.

Leaving your old career behind without having anything new to replace it may create a vacuum.

Let’s say you were a teacher and want to change careers to become a full-time musician. But you’re not there yet. 

You’ve left your teaching career, and you’re no longer a teacher. You’ve started to spend more time making music, but you can’t call yourself a professional musician yet. This leaves you somewhere in between – which may work fine for some people.

However,  for many people, this can create negative mental space and mess with their self-confidence. 

And for many people it is an unbearable pressure of being in a sort of limbo, not being able to clearly state their job or profession. 

 

2. Expecting career change to happen in a single move

Ideally, we’d like to move from career A to career B in one move, in a single straight clean step.

This is how it would look like: Lucy had a banking career for 5 years. Then, she applied for a job as a web designer at a University and immediately got accepted. She smoothly transitioned from banking to web design.

This rarely happens.

What is more likely is the following: Lucy worked in banking for 5 years. She initially worked in product development. She made a horizontal move into Marketing where she oversaw the e-banking area. In the evenings after work, she took web design courses. She dialed down her banking job to part-time and started getting freelance design job. Then she applied for a job as a web designer at a University and got accepted.

Career changers who expect a drastic career change to happen with a single move will likely feel disillusioned.

It may seem as though some people managed to pull this off.

But if we were to peek behind the curtains, we would see that usually the career change involved multiple steps.

Instead of happening suddenly, the person likely pivoted within their career and made small shifts over the course of several years.

Oftentimes, a person starts working on his or her second career while still in the first career.

They may even end up keeping both careers! But that’s a different topic. 

Minor career changes can certainly be made within a short time frame.

However changing to a totally different career is usually a long game.

Expecting anything else is likely to leave you frustrated and impatient. When will I get there? Why can I  still not get the job that I want yet? Why is it so hard to break into that career?

Treat career change like a marathon, rather than a sprint. 

By realizing that career change is a long game, you will be able to pace yourself. Plan your career change over the course of several years instead of just a few months. Monitor your progress quarterly, instead of daily or weekly.

3. Not testing enough

Some people have 100% clarity on their career goals. They know without a doubt what they want.

For example, Mike used to be a surgeon, but now he knows for sure that he wants to be an architect.

But for most people it’s looking more like this: Jane is a high school teacher. She wants to become a psychotherapist. Or perhaps a chemist. But she’s not that sure. She’s also interested in art and might want to be a children’s book illustrator instead.

This confusion is the result of not having done enough probing, testing and self-evaluation.

Testing means to get hands-on and try out activities that come close to the activities in the target career.

Of course, you can’t practice therapy without a degree. But what you can do is to explore how serious you are about wanting to be a psychotherapist. Try reading several scientific papers. Spend some time talking about issues with a friend. If you can’t even spend an hour doing that, then it might not be for you.

Take some time to do a self-evaluation. What is your purpose in life, at least within the next 10 years? What kind of skills do you want to develop and apply? What is the working environment in which you thrive?

Not having clarity about these questions might lead you to the wrong path.

If you’re anything like Jane, then you need to take one step back. Review your plan, your intentions. Look at it from a birds-eye view.

4.  Rushing into getting a second degree (and not exploring enough options)

Some people hate their job or their career overall so much that they want to get out of it and starting something new as soon as possible.

Don’t end up taking a second degree for the wrong reason.

If you know you want to become a doctor but have a Bachelor’s degree in journalism, then, by all means, study medicine.

With other career choices and changes, it may not be that obvious.

Careers and jobs that are not regulated don’t always require you to get a second Bachelor’s degree. 

If you are intending to change to an unregulated career – e.g. life coaching, graphic design, acting, then discern carefully whether or not you need a Bachelor’s degree.

In many cases, a diploma, a postgraduate degree, or even just a course will suffice.

In many areas, having practical experience and a portfolio to show, may prove even more valuable than a degree.

Jumping into a 4-year study program for the wrong reasons or when it’s unnecessary is a waste of time and resources.

Did you know, that to start working as an accountant, you don’t necessarily need a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting?

At some level, to get to a certain position, you’ll need an Accounting degree or become a certified CPA. But to merely start working as an accountant, there are other possibilities. 

Exceptions might also apply to other careers. 

5. Not having enough funds saved up

Career change is a long process. 

If you want to make a drastic career change, make the move to become an entrepreneur or freelancer, then don’t expect that you’ll be able to generate a comparable income in a short time.

Although we want to be optimistic, it’s wise to err on the side of caution. 

If you haven’t built up a second income stream while you were in your first career, chances are it will take you a while until you earn as much as you did before.

It could be 6 months, 1 year, but it could also be 2 years, depending on how difficult it is to break into your new career. 

If you haven’t prepared sufficient savings to fuel your career change process, then it could be game over soon.

Meaning that you might be forced to go back to your old job. And I guess that’s the last thing that you would want.

Or,  once you run out of cash, you might need to take any job available at that moment just to earn an income.

You might be in the middle of running your new business, and in the 13th month run out of money to pay your bills. At that point, it will be a bummer to leave your business to work an unwanted day job. 

Alternatively, consider the option of intentionally working in a part-time job of your choice or freelancing on the side. This is part of your plan to get through the years of pursuing your new career.

An even better option: Start developing your career while you’re still in your first career. 

6. Expecting to start at the same level in the next career as your last one

People who change careers need to manage their expectations. Unrealistic expectations will leave you disappointed and depressed.

Usually, when changing careers, a person will have to start from a relatively junior level. Why do I say relatively junior?

It may not necessarily an entry-level position, but the level you start at will likely be lower than the level at which you worked in your last career.

Let’s say right now you’re an HR manager with 10 years of experience, and you want to become an actor. It may happen in 0.0001% of cases that you immediately get a role on broadway.

But what’s more realistic is, that you will need to start by taking small roles. You might get a supporting role at a smaller theatre, or work as an extra. Or act in a student film. 

Changing careers will require some form of starting over.

Perhaps not necessarily from the very bottom. But you’ll need to learn a lot of new things and gather experiences, which will make you feel like a beginner.

And that’s fine. That’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s a price worth paying if you’ve really set your mind on something. 

It’s just important to manage your expectations.

Don’t aim to achieve your end goal in it’s most perfect form, all at once.

If you were a VP in Marketing in a consumer goods company, don’t expect to immediately continue as VP when you move over to product development in an insurance company.

Of course, there are always possibilities that may happen, depending on your experiences, skills, and knowledge. But you may need to accept the fact that you need to start at a lower level, e.g. as manager.

Don’t be disheartened by this.

It will only be transitional. If you learn fast and perform well, in a matter of 1-2 years you might be able to move up the ladder once more.

At least you are moving up the right ladder.

7. Not discussing options with experienced people

You definitely can do it on your own. I tried to do it on my own, but I wish I hadn’t.

You can google your way through a career change. By listening to videos. Reading blog posts, like this one.

By doing that, you might come up with a good enough plan. Information on what your new career would require and how to get there.

But you might get to the wrong conclusion. Go into the wrong direction and going back and forth. Wasting time and money doing things inefficiently. 

Nothing can replace the input and information that you can get first-hand from people who have experienced it.

If you know anyone who is already working in your target field and career, try to reach out to them.

Ask them questions about their career. What do they like and not like about it?

What did they do to get there? How long did it take and how much did it cost them? What would they have done differently? What to pay attention to, and what are the pitfalls.

Share with them your rough plan, how you intend to go about your career change.

Ask them for their honest opinion.

They might give you ideas and present options for getting into your desired career, that you would have not thought about. 

The feedback that you will get from these people will be invaluable.

You can save yourself a lot of headaches, frustration, but also time, by retracing the path that other people already successfully walked on. 

You don’t have to do it the same way. But at least you’ll have some insights that you can use to modify and optimize your strategy. 

8. Not communicating well with your spouse/family

A career change will most like affect your spouse and family.

These are the ways your career change process will intersect with the people close to you:

  • You might spend more time away from your family to take a course or simply work on your second career
  • There’s a chance that you might need to take a pay cut for some time, to maintain the same income level, need to work more hours
  • It’s also possible that you’ll need to use some of your savings during the time you transition to your new career
  • You might need to draw on your savings to finance a one-year study program or course
  • You’re likely to spend a lot of time absorbed in your new interest

All these things will affect your time spent together and apart, and your financial situation. If your new career involves working from home, it will also change your home environment.

If you fail to keep your spouse and family up to date on your plans and intentions, this can lead to a lot of misunderstandings. 

Some family member(s) might not even be on board with your plan, and not communicating it will make things worse.

As soon as you are serious about your career change, communicate your intention openly and clearly the people close to you.

They may or may not agree with you, but in any case, you will need to get over with it and talk to them about it someday.

The earlier you address the subject, the faster you can get your spouse or family on board and focus on carrying out your plan.

You’ll be able to hash out any issues that arise. You may even get their understanding and support.

And I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have a spouse and family members who understand where you’re coming from, why you do what you’re doing, and cheering you on. 

9. Giving up too fast

If you happen to be in the middle of a career change and about to give up, hold on, and give it another chance.

Retrace your steps and think about all the reasons why this career change was important to you. What bothered you about your first career.

Why do you want to change your career so badly? There must be important and valid reasons why your started changing your career in the first place.

Sometimes when we’ve worked on something for too long, working on a career change for 3, 5, or more years without seeing any concrete results (yet), it’s easy to get disheartened.

It’s easy to start thinking things like ‘this is no use’, ‘this will never work’, ‘I’m so tired, I can’t do this anymore’, and so on. 

That’s a reliable sign that you need a break.

Take a step back from your efforts and regroup.

Draw a timeline. When and from what position and situation did you start. Where are you currently? What steps have you taken and what little successes have you made?

Every single success no matter how small is immensely valuable because those small successes are which will get you to your goal.

Continue to draw a timeline to your next career goal. Plot out the steps and the time you think you need. Get a new fresh perspective on it. Manage your expectations, especially in regard to time and results.

In the beginning, perhaps you thought that you could become a successful entrepreneur within 2 years and make a profit. But maybe, it turned out that even after 2 years you weren’t able to launch your product yet and your cash ran out.

Take a time-out and assess your plan in light of your current goals and situation. If possible, discuss it with someone else and get a second opinion. 

Of course, quitting is always an option. In some cases it makes sense.

But don’t give up for the wrong reasons.

Quitting because it’s no longer relevant to your overarching vision and goals – that makes sense. 

But don’t give up just because you’re frustrated and tired. Don’t give up because you’re bored.

Instead, try to reroute. Perhaps there is another way?

Patience and persistence are what will pay off in the long term. 

10. Expecting your Career Goals to remain the same throughout your entire life

It puzzles me when I find people who think that they need to have one career goal and one clearly defined career path that they want to and must pursue their entire working life.

And currently, if you’re a millennial, the time during which you’ll be working can be anywhere between 40-70 years.

With lifespans becoming longer and the quality of life increasing, people can (and in some cases must) work longer. 

There is a group of people, and I am in awe of these, who at the young age of 18 already know what exact career they want to pursue for the rest of their lives.

For example, to become a Japanese archeologist and continue on a closely related path until the age of 70.

Or, to be a professional pianist, and dedicate one’s whole life to nothing else besides that. 

We’re fortunate to have those types of people, who focus so intensely on one thing for 50-60 years so that they become highly specialized, and a master in their area.

But for the many of people, that’s just not how it works.

The least people have their lives and all their goals figured out and set by the age of 18. Or even 30!

Most people will go through ups and downs and turns, getting to know themselves better, exploring their interests, experimenting and trying out new things, questioning their decisions, until at one point perhaps they find ‘it’ and settle into something. 

Or even several things. 

It makes sense that one’s career goals may change throughout their life. At 18 people may have a totally different set of experiences, knowledge, interests compared to when they are 35.

Some people spend their 20s working in Finance only to find out in their 40s that they need to develop a second career in the arts.

For other people, it’s can be the other way around. 

A career is like a tree. Branches grow into different directions, shapes, and sizes. But all these parts are attached to one main trunk, originate from the same roots. They find different expressions at different points in its life, but ultimately, are one unity. A leaf cannot grow without the branch developing first.

It’s the same with careers. You must go through a process.

Remain open to the idea that the career that you wanted when you were 20 may not be the same as the one that you want now in your 30s. And the ideal career in your 50s might look different altogether. 

Having this kind of mindset will save yourself a lot of frustration.

 

Why You Need to Future-Proof Your Career (Part 1)

Your job, your career might seem secure at the moment, or even for the next few years. 

But what about the longer term, the next 5, 10 years? Is your job, and your career future-proof? Will your career as it exists now, still be relevant in the future? 

Most people hate to think that far into the future. That’s a problem to worry about later, in 10 years, some would say. 

But by then, it might be too late. 

If in 10 years your job doesn’t exist anymore, and your career has become obsolete, how can you come up with a new career at the eleventh hour?

A better way is to have some foresight. 

No one will be able to predict the future. But we can think of possibilities and scenarios and anticipate some of these.

In any case, future-proofing our careers just a bit will be better than nothing at all. 

Adding a skill, gaining certain experiences, brushing up on knowledge that is becoming increasingly more important, will give you an edge.

 

Many people, especially who work for large corporations see their job as relatively secure. 

After all the company is making profits year after year, the industry is solid, and so my career should be safe here.

But is that the case? 

A company might be profitable and developing fast.

But whether you have a positive outlook within that company will all depend on what you will have to offer in the future. 

In today’s world, changes are happening rapidly. Changes in the economy, the job market, technology, and AI. Hence, career prospects also change over time. 

What used to be a bullet-proof career in the past, might not be in the future.

There is a lot of debate about the ways in which AI and automation will affect the job market. ‘The Robots are coming – The future of jobs in the age of automation’ by Andrés Oppenheimer, provides a lot of insights into this.

But what’s certain is that things will change.

One scenario, the very optimistic one would be that automation and AI will get us to a point of productivity where humans will need to work less for the same pay and can afford to spend more time on leisure activities. In this case, there is no threat of competition.

Another scenario would be, that although automation and AI produce efficiencies for companies and their profits, these are not passed on to their employees. 

What could also happen is, that AI and automation replace certain jobs and make it necessary for employees to shift into higher-skilled jobs. Or jobs that basically cannot be performed by robots.

They either lose their jobs or have to quickly adapt to be able to perform a new role that is in demand, that cannot be performed by a robot (yet).

A major development in AI and automation can have much more far-reaching consequences than a recession. 

During a recession, there may be temporary lay-offs. An accountant who can no longer work at company A because it became bankrupt can move to company B and work there with the exact same skills and experience. 

But what if the job itself no longer exists?

Or what if it continues to exist, but many tasks are performed automatically so that the original job becomes reduced in its scope?

Then in this example, for the accountant, the options are to either accept the job in its new reduced form or move beyond this job. 

This can only be possible if at that time he/she has skills and capabilities that a robot does not have.

And this is what makes the person indispensable. 

As no one knows for sure what will happen, it is prudent to prepare if just a bit. By making efforts to future-proof your career in small ways.

Let’s look at it this way. If you have a mortgage you hope that you will be able to keep paying it until the end. But still, just in case anything happens, you take a mortgage disability insurance.

Is one harness enough?
Is one harness enough?

Future-proofing your career is the same. You don’t know how things will turn out in the future.

But as a precaution, you would want to take out an insurance policy – which is your process of future-proofing. 

Future-proofing your career means keeping your intangible, or productive assets relevant not only to today’s world but also in the future. 

By future-proofing your career, you anticipate the future and minimize the effects of shocks and stresses of future events. 

In ‘The 100-Year Life’, productive assets are defined as ‘those intangibles that support productivity at work and boost income and career prospects’. 

These include the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired over time. 

Ideally, you not only acquire knowledge and a skillset at one point in the past when you last studied in university but constantly expanded and upgraded it. 

If you continue to develop your skills to remain relevant, in line with the changes happening in the world, then you’ll never be stuck. You’ll always be in a competitive position. 

In summary, here are 3 reasons for future-proofing your career

Reason 1: No Jobs are secure

During the time of parents, grandparents, someone could reasonably expect to work for one company for their entire life. 

Job market in the good old times

Coming from such a background, many parents told their children to get a good education and get a ‘stable’ job. 

But nowadays the job market is volatile, there is no such thing as a truly secure job.

A lot of jobs may disappear in the next 10, 20 years. But a lot of new job types will also be created. And these developments might surprise us. 

Of course, there are companies that keep their employees for the long-term. But who wants to be at the mercy of that one company?

Many things related to your job can change. The job might even still exist, but the management, the industry, the way things are done may change.

If things develop in a way you don’t like or you don’t connect with, you’ll be without a choice. You can easily become stuck in a dead-end job.

Except if you have diversified your career. 

Reason 2: Career path outside of the company

You never want to be stuck with the career path provided by your company. 

Granted, companies nowadays offer a lot of interesting and inspiring career paths, and they put a lot of effort and thought into it. And many companies genuinely want the best for their employees’ careers.

However, as long as you are working for a for-profit company, then the company’s primary goal in the majority of cases would still be to achieve their goals, profit goals, shareholder value goals.

Rightfully, because that is the job of the company. 

The problem is only, the career path will be set up in such a way that is oriented toward the company’s goal.

Which is great for the company – but not always great for you.

Corporation's goals and career path to maximize shareholder value and profit

Let’s say you work in Marketing. You started as Assistant Marketing Manager, worked your way up to Marketing Manager and VP of Marketing. 

With this career path, the company ensures that they have adequate roles filled to meet their goals. But this might not match your goals.

Perhaps the reason why you went into marketing in the first place was that you wanted to do something creative. 

But at one point you realized that you can’t exercise your creativity in the way you’ve imagined.

Companies’ career paths are mostly designed for people to move up.

And most people want to move up as fast as possible, at least that is my assumption.

The company will provide all the necessary resources, training, learning tools, mentors to help you move up. If you meet their expectations, then up you go and you get your next promotion.

However, ‘up’ is not the only way.

Perhaps not everyone wants to rapidly move further up within a company?

Perhaps you want to explore a different kind of career path. 

Some people are more interested in developing specialized skills, or varied skills.

Going further up is not the only way.

There is also such a thing as horizontal career mobility.   

Future-proofing your career will open up doors for you to explore different, non-traditional career paths.

Reason 3: To have the flexibility to change careers and build a customized career

This is the continuation of reason 2. For many people, the traditional career path is suitable. But not for all. 

There are certain kinds of people who have multiple interests, which they want to pursue in a professional setting.

They want to have the freedom and flexibility to pursue a different combination of things. Perhaps even define their own niche.

Specific career path and niche

If you want to build a career that is intentional, aligned with your vision, purpose for life, suited to your lifestyle, then you have to consciously invest in yourself.

Invest in yourself by acquiring skills and knowledge, gathering specific experiences that prepare you for the future you want.

Don’t leave your career development to the HR department. 

Don’t make your career progression dependent on that one-hour performance review or development talk that you have quarterly/bi-annually with your line manager and HR manager.

I’m sure they are determined to help and support you in your career. 

But they may not know what your goals are. They might not be able to accommodate your goals within the framework of their company. They might not even possess adequate knowledge. 

And ask yourself at this point: Do you know what your career goals are? 

In any case, career development and getting you the best career is not the company’s, the HR manager’s responsibility – at all. So don’t say ‘That company doesn’t have career development opportunities’

Career development is what you make out of your career beyond the confines of a company. It is supposed to be an overarching concept.

If you want to have a purposeful, fulfilling career, you need to future-proof it. 

Have a strategy, develop your skill and brand.

What kind of career do you want long-term? What future events or developments do you think are likely to happen in your industry or target industry? How might it affect your job and your career? Are there specific developments in the country you live in?

How would you need to invest in yourself so you can pursue the kind of carer that you want?

This way you will never be stuck.

Stay tuned for Part 2: How to Future-Proof Your Career