change career

4 stories you might be telling yourself that keep you stuck - in a career that no longer fits

Feel like your career is stuck in the mud, spinning its wheels? If you’re telling yourself any of these four stories, you’re immensely reducing your potential to do more satisfying and fulfilling work.

To release the wheels of your career, you need to understand which of the stories you’re telling yourself are keeping you stuck. Read about the types of stories we like to repeat…over and over again.

To release the wheels of your career, you need to understand which of the stories you’re telling yourself are keeping you stuck. Read about the types of stories we like to repeat…over and over again.

To stop repeating unhelpful behaviours in our career, we need to make changes. But we humans find change very uncomfortable. Our brains see it as dangerous and coax us to stay with the familiar. Read more about your brain and career change here. 

That’s why years can pass before you get to your tipping point where things either get so bad that you have to change or you get so attracted to a new idea that you feel compelled to make a change. 

To fast-track your journey to your personal tipping point, you first need to recognise the stories that you’re telling yourself. The stories that are keeping you stuck. 

Four types of stories (that keep you stuck)

1. Impossibility stories

Most of the major breakthroughs in science have come about because someone decided that a certain feat was possible. It was a memorable moment watching Kipchoge break the 2hour marathon record live with my family, huddled around the laptop, marvelling at what humans can do when they decide to try.

Telling ourselves stories about the impossibility of an idea is a sure way to tell our brain not to bother trying anything different.

I get to hear lots of these stories.

Here are just a few examples: 

  • I’m 50 and I know I’d have to take a step back in order to make a change. 

  • I can’t afford to change career or doing anything different - I have a mortgage to pay.

  • My boss would never let me try out something new.

  • My company doesn’t allow people to take a sabbatical.

  • I can’t afford to pay for a coach to help me change career, I’d have to do it alone.

  • The work is killing me  but I can’t stop now. 

  • I’d never earn enough if I made changes. 

  • I’m too old to change career.

  • You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

  • I thought about X but it wouldn’t work because…

  • I’ll do it in my 60s. 

  • That’s the kind of thing people only do when they retire. 

  • People like me don’t do things like that…

You don’t need a Psychology degree to know that these people are telling themselves stories that will keep them stuck

…exactly where they are

…for a very long time

because they’ve convinced themselves that any change is impossible.

2. Blame stories - two varieties

There is plenty of finger pointing going on in the blame stories we tell ourselves. Attributing fault is not helpful in designing a way out of a situation. (We all know this if we have a partner - but we still do it so naturally!)

There is plenty of finger pointing going on in the blame stories we tell ourselves. Attributing fault is not helpful in designing a way out of a situation. (We all know this if we have a partner - but we still do it so naturally!)

a) Blame stories about “them”

This type of story-telling barely needs an introduction - these are the stories you hear in the pub and in kitchens all over the country in response to the question “How’s work?”

  • My boss is such a X.

  • They don’t want or value me or my skills.

  • The company culture is wrong for me.

  • This company is trying to run me into the ground.

  • The clients constantly ask for more but I’ve got nothing more to give. 

  • They’re not treating us like humans.

  • They're just not listening.

  • They just want to control me.

  • They don’t appreciate anything we do.

  • I always wanted to be X but my parents...

b) Blame stories about me

This type of story-telling is less public. Only really good friends hear these stories. Mostly we tell them to ourselves, secretly, quietly, in our own heads. But they erode us from the inside out.

  • I’ve lost my mojo.

  • I’ve nothing more left to give.

  • I’m not the same…after the divorce or after the X.

  • I don’t have the skills they want.

  • I don’t fit anymore.

  • I can’t give them what they’re asking for.

  • I’m not very good at X anymore. 

  • I’m just going through the motions but my heart’s not in it. 

Whichever variety of blame stories you might be telling yourself, they keep you stuck in the past. These stories keep you focused on whoever or whatever caused the problems or messed you up

They don’t motivate you or help you make changes - even small ones. 

They simply keep you stuck. 

3. Invalidation stories

Someone is always wrong in these types of stories - sometimes it’s us and sometimes it’s them. These stories often involve the word “should”.

Someone is always wrong in these types of stories - sometimes it’s us and sometimes it’s them. These stories often involve the word “should”.

Sometimes we decide that we are wrong. Or that they are wrong. Or that our feelings are wrong. Or that their feelings are wrong

Here are some examples:

  • They shouldn't ...(any words that come after this are invalidation stories)

  • They shouldn’t treat us this way.

  • They don’t believe I’m the right person to do X. 

  • They wouldn’t support me. 

  • They’re stupid, cruel, uncaring, dictatorial, authoritarian, selfish, profit-over-people etc.

Or

  • I don’t have what it takes. 

  • I should be happy with what I’ve got.

  • I’m not an entrepreneur. 

  • I’m not MD material. 

  • I’m not a X personality - it wouldn’t work. 

  • I don’t come from X background - so it wouldn’t work. 

  • I’m not clever enough. 

  • I’m not good enough. 

  • I’m not X enough. 

4. Zero-accountability stories

I pretty much handed over the responsibility for my career to my employers for so many years - it took quite a while to realise that I needed to take it back into my own hands.

I pretty much handed over the responsibility for my career to my employers for so many years - it took quite a while to realise that I needed to take it back into my own hands.

It’s surprisingly easy for us to avoid taking full responsibility for our own careers (especially if we have handed them over a few decades ago to big corporates). 

I should know, that’s exactly what I did with my own!

But we own the choice

Sometimes we don’t have choices about how we feel and think (although with training, it’s perfectly possible to change our internal thought processes which impact our feelings).

But we have absolute choice over our actions as far as career is concerned

Here are some examples of choices I’ve either taken myself or they’re client stories:

  • Choosing to stay in a company even if the work is deeply unsatisfying (because we need that stable income to pay the mortgage or the school fees or the big holidays).

  • Choosing our daily reactions to work situations.

  • Choosing to keep saying “yes” to extra work requests even though we are drowning. 

  • Choosing to stay with a company whose values don’t match ours long enough to get to our bonus, pay-out. 

  • Choosing not to attend networking events in a new industry that you’re interested in.

  • Choosing to stay where you are, even though you can feel that the toaster is heating up after your 50th birthday. 

  • Choosing to avoid looking around your business and realising that the floor is emptying of people your age and choosing to do nothing about it. 

  • Choosing to do nothing in case X idea doesn’t work. 

  • Choosing not to learn about sleep management techniques - even though you are becoming more and more sleep-deprived. 

  • Choosing not to learn about personal stress management techniques - even though your stress levels are through the roof. 

  • Choosing to dream about a magical future, where you receive a call tomorrow morning with a new job in an industry you love - without even having updated your linkedin profile. 

What stories are you telling yourself most often? 

Once you figure out the kinds of stories that you’re telling yourself about the problem of being stuck in a career/job that no longer fits, you’re ready to take the next big step towards unsticking your career. 

That next step is to Change your Problem stories into Solution stories

Read about that next time. 

Book in for one of my (free) 30 mins Light at the end of the tunnel calls where I promise to give you at least two personalised recommendations to begin your career overhaul -whether you choose to work with me or not.



What’s stopping your career change in your 40s or 50s…How to reduce the risk.

This week a client equated his feelings of being in the wrong career for years to having his soul-sucked out of his body by the “Dementors” from Harry Potter.  We laughed at the time but the image made a big impression on me.  

Wrong job vs wrong career

Being in the wrong job hurts.

It’s like a sharp pain that only disappears when you change jobs.  

It’s short-term.

Being in the wrong career, however, is a whole different kettle of fish.

It’s feels like a great weight is bearing down on your body, endlessly eking the joy out of your work AND often your life. 

Being in the wrong career feels like long-term pain and in my book research, when left unattended, it brought on other symptoms like these in some of the individuals:

  • recurring low-level illness;

  • sleep deprivation;

  • a general lack-lustre feeling;

  • reduced interest in exercise;

  • lowering of libido;

  • depression;

  • anxiety; and

  • sometimes a disconnection with family members.

If that’s true, why do we accept it…for years?  

In one survey, 43% of professionals aged 45-54 wanted to change careers (London School of Business & Finance research).  It’s fairly easy to change careers when you are in your twenties. But once you’ve invested 15+ years in a career, it’s much more difficult.    

Midlife is a natural time to reflect and evaluate what exactly we want from a career.

Midlife is the time to decide if we’re prepared to do what is required to get what we want.  

I know midlifers who are not at happy enough with their work but think career change is impossible for them. If that’s you, it might be useful to know you’re not alone in thinking.

Top 10 reasons successful midlifers give to stay in careers that don’t fit anymore:

1.      “I’ll never be able to earn the same salary again.”

2.      “I’ll have to take a low-paying job to begin with and I’m too old to start at the bottom.”

3.      “I’ve only ever done X.” (insert current career)

4.      “My partner/friends/colleagues would think I was having a midlife crisis.”

5.      “No-one would employ me to do something different.”

6.      “I don’t know what I’d do, if I didn’t do this.”

7.      “I enjoy a great deal of flexibility and autonomy. I doubt I’d get that in another job.”

8.      “It’ll take me another 20 years to become good at something.”

9.      “I work part-time and no other employer will let me.”

10.   “If I changed now, I would waste the huge investment in my current career.”

I’d like to add a final one which no one has ever said to me directly but it is a very common reason to stay in a career which is wrong – “It’s easier to stay where I am.” 

But that is a whole different story for another time. 

Even just thinking about career change can make some of us feel like we’re standing on shaky ground.

Even just thinking about career change can make some of us feel like we’re standing on shaky ground.

Let’s be honest…we’re talking about FEAR

All of the above reasons to stay in a career that no longer fits have their basis in fear.   Fear has a particularly negative impact on the brain.

Psychologists and biologists believe that the primitive “flight-fight-freeze” response to danger is alive in us all and is not limited to dangerous physical situations but to situations where there is perceived risk.  

To the human brain, changing careers when you have life responsibilities such as a mortgage to pay or a family to support feels risky (at best) and dangerous (at worst). 

brain sees career change as dangerous..png

What happens to the brain when it thinks you’re in physical danger or at risk? 

The brain shuts down some of its operations to allow the critical ones to continue.  This results in a paired-down version of you:

  • where optimism disappears;

  • the risk of something awful happening is intensified; and

  • the creative, problem-solving you is turned off (or at least turned down).  

In other words, you dive into risk-scanning mode where you constantly scan the environment for anything that could be dangerous or risky – thereby highlighting only the risks and pitfalls of changing career (see the above list).

I’d bet money that you know at least one midlifer who seems unhappy in their career and even though they talk about doing “something about it” regularly, they can’t seem to figure out what to do firstThese “flight-fight-freeze” response to danger might be apparent in their behaviour.

Behaviours (conscious and unconscious) which often indicate that you’re in the wrong career.

Our brains view career change as dangerous which forces us into three different types of natural reactions - Flight, fight or freeze. Sometimes we don’t even recognise our reactions but our behaviour will make it obvious to those around us.

Our brains view career change as dangerous which forces us into three different types of natural reactions - Flight, fight or freeze. Sometimes we don’t even recognise our reactions but our behaviour will make it obvious to those around us.

Flight behaviours:

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

  • Resigning without a plan;

  • Unexplained, frequent, low-level illnesses;

  • More sick leave days than ever before in career;

  • Trying to get signed off work…for any reason;

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

  • Impulsive behaviour;

  • Buying business domain names for future businesses;

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

Fight behaviours:

  • 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 the current boss, or team or company to show that you are “open to new opportunities”;

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

Freeze behaviours:

  • Day-dreaming of handing in a resignation letter;

  • Writing and carrying a resignation letter in your laptop bag - every day;

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

  • Wishing and hoping that someone will email your with a new job via Linkedin tomorrow morning;

  • Ignoring Sunday night, Sunday afternoon or Sunday morning blues;

  • Praying for redundancy;

  • Obsessive Netflix watching to block out the reality of a career that doesn’t fit anymore;

  • Emotional eating or drinking to forget.

  • Ignoring the reality 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.

  • Attempting to convince 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.

If you are experiencing these Fight, flight or freeze feelings, there are so many ways to reduce the sense of danger around re-designing your work. Here are some ideas.

If you are experiencing these Fight, flight or freeze feelings, there are so many ways to reduce the sense of danger around re-designing your work. Here are some ideas.

How to reduce the “flight-fight-freeze” reactions in your brain?

1.      Stop trying to focus on the elusive end point. 

Instead focus on the start point by asking yourself “which specific bits of my current career do I really enjoy doing?”

Write a list.

Imagine doing lots more of those tasks on a daily basis.  

2.      Start some easy but real research.

Do you know anyone who has changed careers successfully – even if they haven’t made a radical change?  Talk to them.  Talk to friends, friends of friends, family members or even look up celebrities who have changed careers.  How did they do it? 

If you really can’t find anyone, contact me and I’ll connect you to someone who loves their new career or better still, I’ve done the hard work for you in my book X Change: How to torch your work treadmill where you’ll read the stories of professionals like you who designed more satisfaction and fun into their careers.

3.      Don’t assume you need a total and utter career change to feel more fulfilled. 

Remember your last good day at work and write down why it was better than recent days, weeks, months or years.  

4.      Open your mind to possibility that you could earn AT LEAST the same salary doing something you LOVE.

After you've read X Change: How to torch your work treadmill you can see that some of the individuals retained the same salary or higher after the early transition period.

Why not have a detailed look at your finances to understand the minimum viable income you would require in the short-term to give you freedom in the early days? It amazes me who infrequently individuals do this when thinking about changing careers. Read this story from one of the midlife unstuck community members of how she found freedom after understanding her detailed financial situation here.

5.      Read real case studies or autobiographies of individuals who have changed careers. 

It couldn’t be easier. Check out my “Jam-makers” career change stories for an ever-growing list of midlifers who are making their 40s, 50s and 60s the jam years of their careers.

Once you’ve demonstrated to your brain that changing career has not been at all dangerous for a whole range of people throughout the globe (and has even enabled them to live much more fulfilling and satisfying lives), your brain will begin to allow you the optimism (and realism) to imagine how changing career might not be actually dangerous for you

It might actually liberate you!

Are you ready to torch your work treadmill? Book a call with me now.

C

Other related articles:

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Considering a career change after 40? Worked in big company all your life? Are you self-driving your career or are you possibly snoozing at the wheel?

Steering wheel

One of my old clients SAB Miller (then owners of beer brands Peroni & Fosters) would openly inform interviewees that under no circumstances did they manage the careers of their employees.  They were only interested in individuals who would take charge of their own career progression. 

This candour scared off many individuals who had grown up in an era where career progression was offered by companies, not owned by individuals.  The degree of career progression offered by a company would define its level of attraction in the market.

How antiquated does this appear today?   

Historically, this outsourcing of career progression was totally acceptable if you were in the baby years of your career when you didn’t know your bottom from your elbow.   Upon entry into your teen career years (early management), the responsibility would begin to shift slowly towards more of a 50:50 split between company and you.  When you reached midlife and the heady heights of senior management, you were very firmly on your own.

I specifically remember not being able to keep up with the influx of phone calls around 2008 when big companies began to eject senior leaders by the hundreds.  So many of these talented leaders had not spent any time in the preceding 5 years of their career doing the dreaded “networking” to ensure that competitors/suppliers/strategic alliances/head hunters knew them as 3D humans with personalities as opposed to business people.  

Those who had participated in real networking (often through personality style rather than tactical design) were positioned firmly on short-lists for the ever-decreasing supply of senior leadership positions which actually made it to the market.  Many positions never actually were announced to the open market as the perfect individual was offered the position after a couple of informal "meetings".   The realisation that individuals who were being selected for new positions had been STEERING THEIR OWN CAREERS FOR YEARS (if not potentially since their career was a baby) came as a shock to many.  Despite very successful careers, these individuals were left feeling behind the curve.         

SAB Miller at the time were leagues ahead of the average “blue chip” company in demonstrating its total lack of interest in steering the careers of employees from the get-go.  They didn’t appear to care a jot whether you were in the infancy or the midlife of your career. 

Admit it, many of us whose careers matured in big companies, joined cultures where we expected the company to at least help our career, if not perhaps engineer our personal career plans.  

Even as senior leaders in big businesses in the networking enlightened age of today, are we still in danger of "outsourcing" our career planning by not making it a major personal focus? 

I am embarrassed to say that as a senior leader in my final few years in my last corporate job, it was made clear to me by my MD that if I wanted training of any sort all I had to do was to ask, tell him why and the cost would be covered.   Nothing embarrassing about that I hear you say?  

EXCEPT that I couldn’t think of ONE area of training that I wanted or needed.    Looking back, I think that should have been the very obvious sign that I was in a career rut.   

 

warning sign career rut

I failed to recognise that I had steered my own career into a mid-career rut.

.

You see, one of my superpowers in my home life is that I LOVE the process of trying to learn something new - it makes my brain feel awake.   I feel energised when I am learning new stuff that I am, even on the surface, interested in.  I am constantly planning what I might learn next.  Here are the first 8 items on my current list: 

  •       public speaking for natural introverts;
  •       unicycle riding;
  •       cartoon drawing;
  •       tumble turns in the pool;
  •       20 second hand stands;
  •       high-diving;   
  •       clever iphone photography;
  •       how to work twitter – Claim to fame: I’ve never tweeted – my social media experts' (www.socialthyme.co.uk) eyebrows reached her hairline as I mentioned this to her.  What can I say?  I am “midlife stuck” on this one at the moment!   

My “things-I’d-like-to-know-how-to-do” list usually contains about 20 weird and wonderful items.  Depending on life, available funds and time I will pick one, research it and then crack on with it.

BUT during those last two years of my corporate life, I honestly didn't learn a thing.  Not because my company were unsupportive or wouldn’t pay for training - they clearly wanted to.   BECAUSE I HAD ZERO IDEA IN WHAT DIRECTION I WANTED TAKE MY CAREER.  No surprise, then, that I didn’t know what skills or knowledge I needed to get there.

This was an odd period of my life, one that doesn't fill me with pride.  That said, I feel sure I won’t be repeating it any time soon.   But, even if a career rut rears its ugly head again, I now know how to recognise it (https://www.midlifeunstuck.com/new-blog-1/2017/4/25/career-rut-or-just-a-bad-month-your-reaction-to-these-numbers-will-tell-you-for-sure) and understand what I’d do to escape it.  

I would re-trace the searching and transformation process which I led myself through a few years ago. 

I spent two years interviewing people with successful AND happy careers, interviewing people with successful and unhappy careers, completing a masters in Psychology, researching work & life happiness across the globe, learning how to support individuals in grief, training in solutions-focussed coaching, listening to 100s of podcasts and ted talks from people with very “successful” parts of their lives and listening to a couple of ancient recordings of my secret guilty pleasure (Desert Island Discs) every week. 

This intensive learning process culminated in the design the transformation projects (which can be found at www.midlifeunstuck.com) so that others might find changing careers an easier and speedier process.  

If you’d like to hear about my short-cuts to designing fulfilling work feel free to drop me an email to lucia@midlifeunstuck to tee up a time to speak confidentially.  

If you are not quite ready or feel up to leading yourself through the processes, sign up to my newsletter for free resources, articles and career transformation stories at www.midlifeunstuck.com.