Take This Job And...

Many people are simply afraid to look for another job in a bad economy. Doesn't it make sense to wait for the market to pick up?

When anyone considers a job change, there will be reasons to stay put—the economy, your pension, being vested. Reasons always have a real element and an anxiety-avoiding element. Your strategy is to test reality by facing the anxiety (are there really no new jobs?). As you take action—write the resume, network—you will begin to assess your realistic limitations. You will also whittle down your anxiety.

What if the anxiety is crippling?

Try to separate your anxiety from your ambition. Picture your fear sitting on your right shoulder. Now look left. Desire and its accompanying vision have an energy—it's a counterpoint to anxiety. Reassure yourself that if you are allowed to dream, you may never decide to act.

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Dreaming, thinking—and then acting—will strengthen the vision and make you cower less behind anxiety. Thinking costs nothing. Don't impulsively decide to quit and become a carpenter. Just register for one woodworking course. You're moving to the left but keeping the right in place.

How do I find my focus and vision?

Start by formulating positive statements from general to specific: "I will have a job that interests me" to "I would be good in my own business." Once you've formed the statements, write them, repeat them and visualize yourself in a setting where you might live them. Visions grow in this kind of mental soil. Creative activity—journal keeping, a return to the violin—has a way of stirring vision. We lose parts of ourselves as we grow older. Reclaiming them can renew possibilities. So can giving. When you don't know what to change, volunteering can be rewarding. At the least, it will take you out of yourself, and at the most, it will return you to yourself.

So we need to turn on the vision and turn down the anxiety.

Break job change down to bite-size steps and never look past the next task. If you need to call three scary people for an interview, put all your energy into that first call.

Also, volunteer for new tasks at your job and give yourself an opportunity to test your range in a safe environment. Try on a new identity at a volunteer job: You will feel less pressure because pay is not involved. Request a transfer at your current job or offer to train a new employee—you might get a larger vision of yourself.

What can we learn from the divas, explorers and entrepreneurs who embrace change? What do they have that the majority of us lack?

Juice, life force, X-factor—we are all born with it. Then, it's tampered with because life is hard, we have to be civilized or your mother told you you were stupid. Shyness and fear overwhelm this force, depression submerges it, rejection scars it and competition makes us uncertain about it. But the person who acts with courage—to face down anxiety—has the great reward of knowing it can be done. And that person is more likely to do it again. And even when these risk takers fail—which they do plenty—they don't die. This is true whether you're batting your eyes at someone in a singles bar or going to the bank for a loan. You went in, they said you were stupid and you lived to tell the tale.

What if I have the desire and talent to design clothes but must hold down a desk job because I have four kids and am up to my neck in bills?

If your reason for doing nothing is that life got in the way—that's a trap. We're all living in the same economy, but while some people change jobs, most don't.

Nobody can write a book when she has a job, bills and kids. Except for the person who wrote the book while she had the job, bills and kids. Except Danielle Steele, who had nine kids.

Maybe you have to take the design course on Saturdays and get up at 4:30 a.m. to do your sketches. Either you have that creative outlet or you have reasons.

You say "reasons" but you mean "excuses."

We don't call them excuses; we call them reasons. So I call them reasons. People have reasons until they start having plans.

You say "plan," but you also mean "vision."

Yes, but I emphasize that vision can be just a whiff. Do you have any idea how you're going to design clothes and make money? No. Do you need to make a complete career change? Not yet. Maybe you'll sell T-shirts on the boardwalk and make a fortune. It doesn't have to begin with a five-year plan. A long-term plan is nice; it's just not required.

What if I have a good, creative job, say, making commercials, but I am driven to direct a meaningful film?

Well, isn't all of adulthood the narrowing of options? No matter who you are there are only 24 hours in a day, and time is finite. So you have a choice to make.

Often we say, "You can have the job and make your film on the side." That's nonsense. You may have to abandon the vision: "It's going to require too much sacrifice of my career, and I'm not going down that path." Making these decisions is a requirement of adulthood. There are others who say, "I've been taking care of my kids for a long time, and if I don't make this film now, I never will. I'm going to have to let go of this satisfying job, and that will be tough—maybe I'll semi-retire for a year; maybe I'm going to cash in my 401(k)." The third path: "Is there another creative outlet that will satisfy me?" For example, your hobby is filming important events in your friends' lives. These mini-films are gifts of love for your friends.

As a culture, we don't expect to derive as much satisfaction from work as we do from personal relationships. Is that why so many of us are stuck in professional ruts?

We stay in jobs we don't like, and we stay in relationships we don't like. But we anticipate much more passionate excitement and bliss from a romantic relationship, while we are much more realistic about work. The myth that work should exalt the soul is far less rooted in our culture. In a job you know there is measurable reward: You know what you're working for extrinsically; who knows why you're still in the relationship.

What about those who say, "I make a decent living, I'm just not on fire at my job"?

You don't have to be on fire to find intrinsic satisfaction at work. A job that offers social, intellectual or even physical satisfaction is one you may want to stay with. We don't define a comfort trap by the degree of excitement in your work life but by the degree of satisfaction. Professional change is not something I recommend for its own sake. Rather, your job is a dead horse when it offers little or no satisfaction, when you're only working for the money, or you are enduring mind-numbing days or acute distress solely for that paycheck.

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