Did you choose your first career or did it choose you? Let me tell you about the advertisement which locked down the first half of my career.
It was Manchester, 1997. I was a debt-ridden final-year student, unsure of what work I wanted to do in my career and even less sure of what I might, God forbid, be good at. What I was entirely sure of was that I needed a job which paid a decent salary pronto otherwise I was on a direct plane back to my peach-curtained childhood bedroom in small-town Northern Ireland.
The advertisement on the notice board in the student careers office (yes, pre-email) announced in large font “Earn up to £26,000 in your first year”. I didn’t need to read more. That line was enough to motivate me through a tedious application form, telephone interview, face-to-face interviews and an assessment day to secure an offer with a FTSE 250 on their graduate training scheme.
I remember actually “whooping” with happiness after I received the offer. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that even at that point, I still wasn’t sure what exactly the job entailed. Of course, I didn't start on anything near that salary either.
I didn’t know it at the time but applying to that advertisement locked down the first twenty years of my career.
Many of us stay in our first career happily for our entire career.
Others wake up around the mid-point in our careers and don’t like the smell of the roses. They want to plant different roses for the second half of their career. They want to plant roses that might bloom in a different environment or produce blossoms of a different colour or rake up the flowerbed and plant asparagus. If this resonates with you, you might be experiencing a career rut.
How do you differentiate between a bad month at work and a career rut?
If you are in a career rut:
- You might use the term “ground hog day” to describe your working life rather than a funny 1993 Bill Murray movie? Essentially you feel that you are living your life on a repeating loop.
- You might have been through the same growth and decline cycle in the same industry (or even same company) a few times but you have stopped getting a kick out of knowing all the answers.
- You might be starting to stick out like a sore thumb within your business as one of the mysteriously ever-disappearing ‘more mature’ people.
- You may have built a successful career but can’t fully understand why you have been experiencing Sunday evening blues, EVERY Sunday evening for a very long time.
- Your dissatisfaction with work has begun to seep into your life outside work – to a level that is becoming more unacceptable to you and your family.
- You might have begun to notice that your organisational culture jars with your natural work style and wonder whether it is the company or you who have changed?
- This one is sad but common…often a career rut presents itself very vividly soon after you have experienced a traumatic event in your life (e.g. personal health scare, elderly parent illness, separation or divorce). These types of events force us to think very deeply about how we are spending our time.
Try this: Read the below three points and note your reaction:
If you work for 40 hours each week for the next 10 years = you will have worked for 17,600 hours
If you work for 40 hours each week for the next 20 years = you will have worked for 35,200 hours
If you work for 40 hours each week for the next 30 years = you will have worked for 52,800 hours
a) If you whooped and punched the air, excited about the opportunity to spend more hours getting paid doing something you love – I congratulate you. You are the envy of the nation.
b) If you sighed and thought “I might need to talk to my contacts in the search firms”, do that…today. It always takes much longer than you think. You are definitely ready for a change of scenery but there's no need to overhaul your flowerbed just yet.
c) If you sighed, stopped, shook your head/held your head in your hands and thought anything along the lines of “I have to do something MORE valuable/enjoyable with my time NOW”, there is a very good chance that you are firmly in the grip of a career rut.
More next time on beginning your escape from your career rut.
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