This letter was written for FENG (Financial Executive Networking Group) and is reprinted here with the author's permission. Connie did SUCH a marvelous job discussing the concerns of so many people I come in contact with everyday that I wanted to share this with you. I hope that it might help you pinpoint issues you may find yourself troubled by, show you that you are not alone in this struggle and remind you that support is available if you want help getting the ground back beneath your feet.
It seems that most people you talk to today are so unhappy and if you ask them why you get an array of reasons like work, job stability, spouse, aging parents, kids, etc. But most of these same people are living in big houses, have more clothes and jewelry than they need, take many vacations, send their kids to private schools and drive expensive cars. Many of us have reached a point of material saturation and have found it has not brought happiness.
So now the focus is on change.
We think change will fix it. So now we are changing marriage partners (divorce), changing our looks (plastic surgery), changing our homes by moving (several times) and so on. But those are only short term, quick fixes. It still does not solve the underlying problem. We are just not happy. Our morals and values are out of balance with the human condition.
Then to compound problems, our jobs are so stressful now. Companies are struggling, employees are over worked, being asked to push ethical limits and the big black cloud of lay off, losing our jobs, retirement and the future of our economy is hanging over our heads. In many cases, we keep working these terrible jobs to maintain the lifestyle that we think makes us happy which actually results in more unhappiness.
The underlying problem is VALUES.
What we really need to learn to do is change our values. And a change in values will ultimately lead to a change in career and hence, the upward spiral toward REAL happiness. If you look at other cultures around the world it is easy to see this. They have more vacation time, more family time, they enjoy the simple things in life, they move through life at a slower pace, the expect less out of life, have less material things and they are much healthier, happier and less stressed out. If you talk to our elders who offer us words of wisdom, they look back on their lives and say they wish they had more time and more happy experiences with friends and family. Barbara Walters, who is now semi-retired looks back and wishes she made less money, worked less and spent more time with her daughter. She commented that although she traveled all over the world, she saw nothing. She was so busy working she had no time to enjoy the country or the culture.
To get to the root of our career issues, what we need to know is how to make a change in values. But to change our values is very hard. This is at the core of our culture. And we live in this culture, so it takes impeccable strength to adjust your values and set of beliefs to differ from the culture in which you live. Nonetheless, we hear these great stories of career change or life transition on Oprah or in books, etc., but what we do not hear about is the pain, agony, triumphs and success that occurred in the middle, in DETAIL, with EXAMPLES.
By "the stuff in the middle" I mean: Values.
What it takes to do the internal work to make the change: Taking time off for reflection. A LOT of time off. Maybe weeks or months. Maybe away from home. It's the equivalent of an adult time out. Go on a retreat that will guide your thinking. Read books that will help. Decide what activities you need to do while off. Let go of that ego. Get over the "I have worked so hard to get here" mindset. Yes you have, but you are not happy. Get over the"I have worked so hard for the degrees and made such an investment in my education" trap. Yes you have, but things have changed, so use your education to propel you to something new. Build on it. Don't think of it as throwing it away.
You are at a new stage of wisdom. Use your wisdom and your education and experience. Let go of the control. Let the other guy have the high position and stress. You are wiser now. But you'll have to go through some pain to do this. Each day will be a struggle for a while until you break through.
Delegate more. Go home on time. Spread the work load around. Honestly assess your circle of friends. If you have the right friends, they will not care what you drive, what you wear or where you live. You should not have pressure from your friends to compete in material things. Perhaps you will need to change your friends, or educate them, or set the trend yourself. You may need to change your activities. Choose reading over shopping. Exchange taking walks for going to dinner. Limit travel. Do some road trips. Explore locally. Take piano lessons. We can learn a lot from the activities of the people from the 18th century!
Change your spending habits. Just because you can afford it does not mean you should. Buy one good quality thing that will last a very long time instead of buying lots of cheap things. This is the epitome of European living. Buy something used if you can instead of new. Buy only a couple of things for your wardrobe each season and make sure they are classic. That way they will never go out of style and you can build buy mixing and matching each year. Just make sure you stay the same weight!
Drive a less expensive car. And the biggest challenge of all, Go to WalMart! How to learn to live without debt. Get used to the change. You will feel nervous, of out of control. You feel like you are not needed, neglecting your responsibilities. What you are is an adrenaline junky coming down off your drug. You just don't realize it until you get to the other side.
You will need to have a very strong support system to help you through this. Once you have gone through detox, the big question is what to do with all that extra money or free time and not to mention ENERGY.
In terms of career, once you have decided you want a happier more fulfilling life, some people will most likely need to change jobs. How do you know what to change to in the first place? How do you do that self-assessment or go through that discovery period? What if you aren't sure you are good at doing anything? How do you pick? How do you prevent yourself from wasting time doing things that are not a good fit? Do you take time off and volunteer at some jobs you are interested in? How do you restructure your finances to support a 3-5 year period of time with little or no income while you are starting a business or figuring out your path?
This last point is a big one since most people have trapped themselves into their current earning level. Is it wise to make a career change now, when our economy is so shakey? Maybe we need to suck it up and do what is best for our finances in the long run? Will you really make more money if you are doing something that makes you happy? Is that reality? What about all the people who failed and look back with regret?
And when is it the right time? Should we plan for years and years and retire first or do it now? What if you make a change and you fail? Do you have enough time to make up the loss financially? What will the economy be like then if you need to go back into something you have been out of for a long time and now your are older?
The big question is how, how, how do you make a change that is realistic and balanced? What are all the details in the steps?
I think the WHY will come clear with an assessment of your values. The what may come to you upon proper reflection and research. It's the ever elusive HOW and WHEN!