Everything You Need to Know About Your Impending Career Crisis
“So typical right?! I’m 26 and having a quarter-life crisis! I hate my job but have no idea what I want to do with my life. I’m such a cliché.” These words have probably been uttered by every single twenty-something that has walked through my door.
Sometimes she is 28 and says work is “meh” and sometimes she is 23 and has worked incredibly hard to get a position at a top company only to find one year in, she is burned-out. Regardless of age or job, she always feels she is the only person in the world that experiences the dreaded quarter-life career crisis.
Well I’m here to say, “Hi, my name is Tess and I too had a quarter-life career crisis. I’m here to tell you I survived and you will too.” When I was 27 years old I worked for one of the top Talent Managers in the entertainment business. I worked with celebrity clients, I went to fancy parties and screening and I was on the verge of “making it” in Hollywood. From the outside looking in… I seemed to have it all. But I was miserable.
If you are struggling with your own quarter-life career crisis I am here to tell you two very important things:
1) You aren’t alone and;
2) This crisis may be one of the best things that could happen to you.
That knot in your stomach, that feeling of dread you have when the alarm goes off every Monday morning is a good thing. This is how your body, your mind, your unconscious is trying to tell you to stop feeling afraid and to start doing what you need to do to get the life you want.
So whether you are in the midst of an all out crisis or maybe just feeling like there is “something else out there for me” you can begin to explore how you view work, define for yourself what kind of career hits your “sweet spot” so you start to take action today to become…the person you want to be.
I want you to take a few steps back for a moment so you can begin to explore what work and career mean to you. The reality is that we are all living longer which means we are all going to be working for a long, long time. I want you to take some time to really figure out what place work is going to hold for you in your life. You don’t have to figure out what you are going to be doing 20 years from now. Just look at the next 2 or 3 years.
When you are thinking about this big question, keep in mind that there are a lot of misconceptions about what role work should play in your life. There was a time when you were supposed to ask yourself, “what’s my passion” when you were trying to determine your next job.
The key to finding the right career for you is not identifying and following your passion. What you need to do is find work that is engaging and meaningful for you. Not for your parents or best friend, for you. How engaged you are at work has nothing to do with how prestigious your job is or how much money you make. It has more to do with having control over your time, and feeling like you are helping people.
So what is this “sweet spot” I was referring to? It’s when you are able to combine what you love to do with what you are good at. If you are struggling with what to do with your life, you need to figure what you love to do and then determine what you’re good at. Once you figure these two things out, you can start getting focused on defining your career.
Here’s how you are going to start that process. I am going to give you two exercises you really have to do. Yes really.
The first exercise is will focus on your personal strengths. I want you to email 5 of good friends that you trust and you know will be honest with you. Ask them to tell you what are your top 3 most unique qualities.
I know it’s never easy to put yourself out there. I have done this exercise myself and it was hard but so helpful and it will open up your eyes to things that you know about yourself and things you had never thought before.
The next thing I want you to do is grab a journal and start to brainstorm about your current and past jobs. Ask yourself the following questions:
1) What do I like about your current job?
2) What do I hate?
3) What have previous bosses liked about me?
4) Where have I excelled in my work life?
5) During my last job review, what did my boss identify as my strengths?
6) What were my weaknesses?
Put the journal and then go back to it a day later and ask yourself what patterns are emerging? What commonalities do you see over and over again?
After I left my “big-time” Hollywood life, I moved back home and I asked myself these exact same questions over and over again. What did I enjoy about the entertainment business? What did I like about working with actors? What parts of the job made me happy or made me feel good about the work I was doing?
Ultimately, I realized that I liked talking to the actors we represented and helping them work through whatever problems they were experiencing. I had been told for years that I was intuitive and could “see” things other people couldn’t see. I didn’t quite understand what that meant at the time but as I studied psychology I started to see how these skills were going to help me as a therapist.
It’s time to put everything you just learned into practice. Let’s take action.
Right now you may be hearing that voice in your head that says, “I don’t want to do anything. It’s too hard to look for a new job, maybe I’m not that miserable.”
There will be some discomfort involved in making a career transition. Keep your eye on the prize, which is your new career.
Don’t get overwhelmed by the task at hand. Take it step by step:
Step 1: Identify the exact position you want at the exact company, for example I want to be a “Junior Data Analyst at Schwab.” If you are unclear about the job or company, work on narrowing it down - do you want to work at a for-profit, non-profit or for the city? Do you want to work 9-5 or would you prefer a schedule that is more flexible? Remember the more specific the better.
Step 2: Now that you know more about the position you are looking for, you need to start determining what skills you need in order to be considered for this position. The best way to do this is to find a listing for the job you want and write down all the skills that are required and recommended for the position.
Step 3: Find the gaps. Look for the gaps between the skills you have now and the skills that are required for your dream position. What do you need to learn or focus on to be considered for this job? Make a “Gap” list of each skill you need to learn before you can apply for this job.
Step 4: For each gap – create a plan. For each gap (aka skill you need to learn) write an action plan. For example let’s say you need to learn Photoshop for your ideal job. Create a plan for yourself. Make a list of the steps you need to take to learn this skill. Set deadlines for yourself because that is the only way to keep you accountable.
When I decided that I was going to be a therapist, I had never taken a psychology class before. Once I did some research of local graduate schools, I realized I needed to take a few introductory psychology courses to be considered for admission.
I made a plan just like this one. I figured out the “gaps” that I needed to fill before I applied to graduate school. The process took me two years and I worked a bunch of so-so jobs to pay the bills but I was prepared and ready to go when I started graduate school.
One of my favorite comments I get when I make these kinds of suggestions to a client who is going through the quarter-life career crisis is, “but if I go through all of this and figure out what I really want to do, I won’t be doing it until I’m 30!” I always say, “Yes that’s true but you know what…you will be 30 regardless of what you do.”
This crisis is a good thing. This is your wake up call to find the life and work that you love and will provide meaning to you. Don’t worry, you will figure it out. I did and you will too.