You were once so happy together…
What do you do when fall out of love with the career you once adored? Can you get the magic back?
There have been many posts around recently about toxic relationships and how we need to rid them from our lives – this toxicity can be applied to relationships with things and situations as well as people. I want to focus on when the partnership you spend most of your time with goes sour – your job.
When you start to fall out of love, you feel sick, guilty, worried and lost. Its like an avalanche you want to stop from sliding away.
Does this sound familiar? You used to be in love with your work. It felt great. Every day you woke up and felt thankful. You sacrificed and compromised for it. People said you were a great match so you built up credibility as a couple as you thought it was your forever.
But now, you find yourself staring at a career that you’re fundamentally done with. It’s a horrible realisation, and one that’s likely been a long time in the brewing.
It’s a bit like realising that the person you’ve loved and lived with for many years is no longer the person you want to be with.
You don’t want to feel this way. You want to go back to the early years, when you and your career were the perfect couple. You remember how alive it made you feel, how excited you were to go to the office and hang out with it.
But you can’t find a way back. It’s gone too far. It feels like you’re going to have to divorce your career.
My divorce story
I worked at the same company for 12 years. When I started in our relationship, they supported me to succeed and invested time in me. I felt important and loved and in return I made sacrifices. I spent all my time with them. I cancelled holidays and engagements so they knew I could be relied on, to make them fall completely in love with me.
We had some wonderful years together. I was eventually running a department and making big decisions about our future together, but then things changed. Maybe it was a midlife crisis but they started treating me badly and looking at younger models with the same adoration and intrigue that they used to reserve for me.
They started to give me no support, took me for granted and made unreasonable demands. They started to bully me and make me feel worthless. I was so depressed and anxious that I had time out of the relationship to build myself up again.
Despite the abuse I wanted to give it another go. After all, I’d given this company twelve years of my life; it was all I knew and we were great together once so we could get that back right? When I went back into their no so loving arms I tried to spice things up. I took a different role, changed the way I worked and bit my tongue daily at the treatment I received, but it was too little too late.
I was demoted as my mental illness was seen as a weakness. I was viewed as no longer being capable or reliable. A new younger model was put in my place and I was put into to a junior positon ‘for my own good’. I felt devalued, sad and angry.
For a while I allowed myself to be treated like this but it became unbearable. I was doing a job that took 5% of my brain power and nobody cared if I spoke up. I lost my self worth and respect. We went to marriage counselling (HR) but I was at the end of the road. After a few weeks into another new role I applied for divorce (redundancy).
Why this can happen
You could find yourself in this position for many reasons.
People and businesses change. In an evolving world, industries are under constant pressure to adjust in order to stay ahead of the game and make money. Sometimes those changes will be something you want to get behind but other times they might jar with your values. In todays economy the job-for-life is virtually extinct, so even if you find a job you love, chances are it won’t be the same job in a few years time.
You will change. Like me you might get to a point where you feel you need a better work:life balance or a new challenge. As people that you work with are replaced, you may feel your tribe is elsewhere and you want to find them.
Whatever the reason, knowing your relationship with your job is breaking down is scary and you might be viewing your future with a mixture of dismay, despair and confusion: not a pleasant cocktail.
So what on earth next? Do you carry on in a loveless work marriage or make a change?
There are no neat answers to this difficult predicament, so I’m not going to trot out a list of trite solutions. However, there are a few things you can do to change your relationship with your job and give yourself a chance of getting some of the magic back.
Take your foot off the gas
Can you take some time off?
Take a career break or sabbatical? Or take on less high profile or demanding projects? Achieve rather than overachieve? Cruise for a while? Earn a little less? Rest a little more?
Easy to say and harder to put into practice, I know.
In the face of a career crisis we can become so exhausted and blocked that the day-to-day is hard enough, let alone being able to see an alternative future. It’s an impossible place to navigate from, so you need to create some calm headspace.
Let go of thinking about where you can go or what you can do about the problem. Cool off for a while, and then allow the dust to settle. It helps clear the air, and allows you to come out of crisis mode. From there, you can start to look at the situation clearly and objectively.
My time off was enforced as I had a breakdown but it still gave me thinking space once I started my recovery. I chose to go away for a week to a yoga retreat, giving myself space from work, home and relationships to think about what really inspired me.
Ask some deep questions
When you do find yourself thinking about what on earth you’re going to do, first ask yourself what’s actually wrong.
Get specific, and dig down to the key reason for your feelings.
Is your whole career really wrong for you, or do you just need to address a couple of key issues?
When you’re frustrated, it can seem as though everything is over and the only way to relieve your tension is to jump ship altogether. Instead think about what the solutions might be and take them to your boss or HR if they are things they could help you solve. Be honest with how you are feeling with both yourself and your boss as they might help rather than lose you.
With my situation, the reason I became ill was I was being bullied and had no support. My team were all made redundant except for me and I had a new director that expected me alone to deliver the same amount of work that four used to do. I told my boss what I needed but he wouldn’t change things. Change may have saved our relationship and inevitable divorce.
Get clear on whether you want to learn or adapt.
Allow yourself to imagine the life you really want for yourself.
When you’re feeling so entrenched in your current profession that you can’t envision anything else, considering a new future is a huge leap, but the more you try the easier it will become. You may not be able to put definition around it yet, but that’s OK. You may even feel a sense of panic or shame, and that’s ok too. The important thing is to permit the possibility of another future, however vague, into your consciousness.
Ask yourself if you want to formally learn something new or if you want to do something different with the skills you’ve got. It’s a simple question that changes your focus and approach significantly. It also changes where on the ladder you may potentially stand.
Look first at tweaking rather than jumping ship
Going freelance or starting a consultancy, teaching within your profession, going part-time or flexi-time, changing your daily working routine: these are all new spins on a familiar yarn..
These mild tweaks change your day-to-day experience of your career without dumping it altogether, allowing you to keep a sense of security.
They allow you to decide if it’s really your career you want to break up with, or just the company you’re doing it for.
I started my blog when I had a depressive episode in 2012 and started to build it over the last few years. When I found myself off work in 2016 again, I asked myself whether I hated being a marketing/content expert. The answer was no. I loved content. I loved helping brands succeed and I was great at it. My company just wasn’t prepared to listen, to try new things and be daring so it was frustrating and I was letting their treatment of me and what I loved sully my overall view of my profession.
Dare to dream
I started to imagine my ideal future which consisted of me sitting in a beautiful country house writing a novel. On the bookcase behind me were my other bestsellers along with a picture of my happy family. Outside my children (that I haven’t found time to have yet) played with our future pug dog and my husband is cooking bread in the kitched, filling the house with a delicious smell of baking.
Finally, don’t be scared to be the dumper
You might be one of the lucky ones that finds the magic again but if you don’t its fine. There are plenty more fish in the sea, ones that would kill to be in a relationship with someone as talented and wonderful as you.
With me, as soon as I announced my divorce not only did I feel relief and excitement, but lots of new suitors started to approach me. These new opportunities complimented me on my skills, making me feel attractive again. Right now I’m working towards the happy ending my previous job was standing in the way of. I’m freelancing and enjoying being job single for a while with short term work relationships (I think of freelancing via LinkedIn as the Tinder of jobs). Sure its not secure or routine and currently I’m earning less but I’m happy, relaxed and confident.
Divorce isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning,