Take This Job And...

Ready for a new career? Psychologist Judith Sills on how to summon the courage to chart a new course.

By PT Staff, published on September 6, 2005 - last reviewed on January 18, 2012

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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