How to tell if you're in the wrong career (Hint: Flight, Fight, Freeze behaviours)

Let’s face it, some of us just need a new job to re-invigorate our relationship with work.

Others feel a deeper level of satisfaction.

We instinctively know that a shiny new office, a different commute and fresh faces won’t touch the sides of our work dissatisfaction, if we are still doing a similar job in a similar industry.

Flight - Fight - Freeze. Common reactions to being in the wrong career.

Flight - Fight - Freeze. Common reactions to being in the wrong career.

The blame game

Close to the end of my first career, I answered a few head-hunting calls of my own and after several great meetings, I went cold on them and couldn’t quite articulate why.

I can now.

I realised the problem wasn’t my company, my boss, my commute, my industry or the culture.

THE PROBLEM WAS ME.

I simply didn’t want to do the job that I’d spent 20 years getting really good at anymore.

I instinctively knew that I’d bring my giant bag of work unhappiness (a weird concoction of boredom, under-challenging work, frustration with them, frustration with me…and the list went on) to any other similar role in the same industry.

I was ever so slowing fading out.

Wearing down.

Losing my mojo.

Off came the blinkers!

That’s when I began to notice things I’d never noticed before. I opened my eyes to my own behaviour and the behaviour of others around me.

Every week of my old career, I had the privilege of talking to c50+ midlifers.

Midlifers who were not as happy as they wanted to be in their work.

Midlifers who would take my head-hunting call.

I’d also had the privilege of talking to lots of work colleagues, some of whom were not as happy as they wanted to be.

I started noticing behavioural patterns in individuals who were in the wrong career.

Not all of these behaviours were being displayed consciously.

You might recognise some of them in you.

3 types of behaviours that demonstrate you might be in the wrong career:

The Flight Response is just one reaction to being in the wrong career.

The Flight Response is just one reaction to being in the wrong career.

Flight:

  • Asking headhunters to “get me out of here”;

  • Resigning without a plan;

  • Frequent unexplained illnesses;

  • Expending a great deal of energy attempting to get signed off on sick leave;

  • Intensive holiday planning (beyond their normal holiday excitement);

  • Unusual impulsive behaviour;

  • More sick leave days than ever before in career;

  • Buying business domain names for future possible businesses;

  • Spending rainy day savings on random business ideas that don’t appear to be well-thought out.

Getting annoyed, showing frustration and being angry are all wrapped up in the Fight Response to being in the wrong career

Getting annoyed, showing frustration and being angry are all wrapped up in the Fight Response to being in the wrong career

Fight:

  • Applying for lots of jobs that seem very similar to your current job;

  • Applying for any job that is not your current job;

  • Bad-mouthing your current boss far and wide in an attempt to let other divisions know that they are open to new opportunities;

  • Making sure the world knows that you used to do great work…when things were different.

  • Displaying pissed-offness in almost every work conversation (more than the usual grumpiness associated with people our age!)

  • Endlessly bad-mouthing work colleagues, bosses, other divisions, your division, the industry, and the list goes on.

The freeze response to being in the wrong career often revolves around self-talk so it’s harder to notice in others.

The freeze response to being in the wrong career often revolves around self-talk so it’s harder to notice in others.

Freeze:

  • Carrying your resignation letter in your lap-top back and constantly day-dreaming of the moment you can hand it in;

  • Waiting until you have a million dollar idea for your future business while getting less and less effective at your day job;

  • Continually convincing yourself that your current career is “not that bad” – but the thought of doing it for another year (never mind decade!) makes you feel ill.

  • Wishing and hoping that someone will email you with a new job via www.linkedin.com tomorrow morning;

  • Ignoring Sunday night blues;

  • Ignoring the fact that your role is physically and mentally draining the life out of you;  

  • Digging deep to work harder in the belief that this tough period will end magically with a happy conclusion.

  • Praying for voluntary redundancy to be offered;

Later, when I learned more about the psychology of work, I discovered that career change is viewed by the brain as DANGEROUS and it prompts these three types of reactions.

You can transform it into a less fear-filled activity by bringing it to the forefront of your mind. Dealing with it consciously, you might find the idea of changing career or maybe just re-designing parts of it ABSOLUTELY EXCITING and FREEING.

How to reduce the Fight-Flight-Freeze reaction so that you can move forward…

  1. Start by researching individuals who’ve already changed career successfully, which tells your brain that career change is possible…without being eaten by wolves. Here’s a fabulous mini-book to get you started.

  2. Read about, chat to or interview more people like you who have changed careers for the better. This allows the brain to get very comfortable with the idea.

  3. That comfort will then give you the freedom and mental space to begin to build a great Plan B that will allow you to do work that you might really enjoy, for a very long time.

How it feels to have moved beyond Fight, Flight or Freeze

Here are a couple of quotes from midlife professionals who faced up to their natural Flight-Fight-Freeze human reaction to change, and so freed themselves to do work that they now love.

“It feels great being creative all day. We feel happy, proud and confident in what we have produced and we are having such a lot of fun along the way.”

Kate Gregory - Ex Aerospace & Defence Career to Gin Distiller
I love my work now. I learned that I am never going to retire. I’m going to be carried out in a box."

Andy Eaton - International FD to small business owner

Then what?

If' you’d like a partner-in-design who has worked with hundreds of midlife professionals to help them design more satisfying and fulfilling work, why not book in for one of my 30min “Light at the end of the tunnel” conversations? These calls are currently free and I guarantee to offer you at least two personalised recommendations to kick-start your career overhaul -whether we work together or not.

Life’s too short to do work that doesn’t make you happy