Should I stay or should I go?
When things become difficult at work or we’re not enjoying it anymore the first question we often ask ourselves is, “Should I carry on doing this?”. Wouldn’t it just be easier to leave this challenging place and do something completely different, something that’s more me? Wouldn’t it just be easier to get a job that fits around the children more easily and take this crazy pressure off me, trying to build a career and raise a family?
At the moment many women, especially those who are career-focused parents, are asking themselves these questions because of what is happening with the world. The current world-wide pandemic has turned many of our worlds upside down. For some of us our workloads and our stress levels have significantly increased to meet the demands of continuing with “business as usual” with the added responsibility of looking after our small children full time. Others have been taken away from work and are instead finding space to reflect on what they really want from their careers and their life, especially as they can see a new way of working emerging, one that might give more opportunities for shared parental responsibility and flexible working. So with all this in the mix, I am seeing, more than ever, many women asking the bigger question, “Should I stay or should I go?”, or the even bigger question, “Should I change career and do something completely different?”
Apart from the noise of the Clash guitar riff ringing in your ear, the question of staying where you are, in your job or career, or leaving it behind is likely to churn up a whole load of emotion and confusion. It’s a big question, so how do you even start to deal with such a complex issue, that could have such an impact not only on the on the shape of your life but on the life of your family too?
I have been a career coach for 14 years but in a previous life I was a solicitor so I have dealt with a full career change and I know what’s its like to be deeply unhappy in the work that you do. After making a successful and very happy change as an employed career coach in a university I came across bigger issues with my working life when I had children 7 years ago that weren’t related to my fit or love of my career, but nevertheless put me in a position to ask the very same question again, at a time when I hadn’t expected to be asking it.
When you are faced with something that is no longer working for you it’s really important that you examine the reasons why. Sometimes the easy answer is to just leave and do something else but if you don’t fully reflect and take the time to make clear and conscious decisions based not only on your immediate circumstances but the future implications, it may only serve you for a short time and you could find yourself asking the same question further down the line, sooner than you think. Our careers are such a big part of our lives and can make us feel so unhappy if they’re not working for us but equally they can bring us so much joy and sense of purpose if we can get it right and make them fit in to our worlds.
So, what to do?
Before you make any big, life changing decisions, it’s important to get clear and understand what is driving you. When I help clients go through this process, we always look at where they are, where they’ve been, their values and then we start to look at their wants, skills and action plans. So I’ll take you through 5 things which I consider to be fundamental to dealing with this major dilemma.
- What’s brought you here?
Before you move forward you need to look back. What has led you to where you are today? When you made your earlier career decisions were they conscious or were you just following a path that was expected of you, because it was easy? Or perhaps you really didn’t know what to do so you took the first thing that seemed ok and made you decent money? It could be that you used to love your career but lately due to circumstances bigger than you, it just doesn’t feel the same anymore? All these themes (and more) need to be explored to check to see if what has been relevant before is still relevant now.
This is a biggy. I always look at values, in some form, with my clients. Often when we feel the need for a career change or transition it is because our values are out of alignment with our job. When we delve deeper into what drives us and what is important to us then we can start to see what values are needed in the work that we do in order to make us feel fulfilled. Sometimes when we look into our values, they really do fit with what we are doing and its just the other circumstances around us that are fuelling the unhappiness, in which case it’s more about managing the external factors to increase fulfilment. Once you are clear with your values you can then work out why you either do what you do or what you want to do. You discover your Why.
- Your Why
This is bandied around a lot at the moment and for good reason. Once you know why you are doing something it makes it a lot easier to deal with the good times and the bad. Even if we manage to land our dream job or build a dream business that gives us everything we want out of life, it won’t always be easy. Challenges will still come our way and when the going gets tough knowing why you are doing what you are doing keeps you grounded and focused so that you know what needs to happen to make things better. So for example, sometimes you need to earn money. You’ve made a financial commitment that needs paying off, or you are going through a period in your life where the outgoings are necessarily high. If you are clear with yourself that that is your priority for the short-term then sticking with a job that doesn’t completely fulfil you may be your reason, your why, for sticking with it for now. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t be working towards building a more fulfilling future, it just means that when you come to the end of a day’s work and it hasn’t completely lit you up, you know the reason you are doing it and you can reconcile those feelings quickly. Equally, if you are doing something that you know deep down that you love and your Why for doing it is all based on your values and alignment with who you are, if you hit a challenging period or a bad patch based on other life circumstances you can ride the rough patch with a clearer head and sense of purpose. Your Why anchors you in stormy waters and is a constant base from which to make your decisions around your career more easily
4. Your skill set
Often when we talk about career decisions we want to jump straight to the skills, and one of the reasons why we can often feel like we’re not in the right job or career is based on the feeling that we’re not utilising our best skills. This is an important part of career decision making but as you can see it’s not always the first point of call. We can be good at lots of things, but not everything that we are good at or like doing will turn into a good career for us. I believe that skills are something that we add to the mix once we know what drives us and that then fits in with everything else that is important to us. But yes you need to be able to identify what you are good at and what you like to spend your time doing. If you can’t quite work it out for yourself, start by asking yourself what other people say you’re good at and examine whether that might be true or not. Often people find it harder to look at themselves purely from within and looking at it externally first can help get that process going.
- Your career plan
So once you have been through a process of reflection, soul searching and decision making, the thing that often gets neglected is making a workable plan to make things actually happen. When I do this with my clients, we don’t just look at the next step, we plan – together, the trajectory and clear time points when things may need to be in place. So for example if someone is looking to make a big career change and lots of ducks need to be lined up such as additional training or money to be made to pay for the training, or other life events that are also happening that will factor in, this all goes into the mix. Why? So that making the change doesn’t become overwhelming and a result something that doesn’t happen. By seeing what needs to happen mapped out it can help to chunk things down and make them manageable. This is especially important when you are already so busy from managing a career and family life already. In my experience, change needs to be realistic and doable and something that feels entirely possible to the person making it.
So some food for thought. In this day and age, where we as women have been brought up to believe that we can have it all, the career, the family, an abundant life…so often the crux of why that isn’t happening for you starts with career as it can be the thing that can best define us and provides the fuel for becoming the person we know we can be. If you can get the career bit right and then make it fit with the family bit, by way of career change or by making tweaks to how you currently work, you will be well on your way to creating the abundant life you want.
Jo Oogarah – Women’s Career Development Coach
I help career-focused mothers lose the overwhelm, avoid burnout and build a fulfilling career that works around their family and helps them to achieve greater work-life balance.
I also run a coaching based group on Facebook for career-focused mothers looking for greater work-life balance in the day to day. Come and join us at: