I need to preface this by saying that I am not here to convince everyone to quit their job. Rather, this article is for those who find themselves miserable in careers that they worked hard to obtain. I know there are quite a few of you because the most recent Gallup poll found that 66% of workers are not engaged in their jobs.
I also know because I was one of you. I am the quintessential risk-averse, type-A personality. I decided at the ripe old age of eleven that I wanted to be a lawyer, put my head down, and followed the predictable path to law school, never once questioning what being a lawyer actually meant.
I checked all of the boxes, got good grades, and was cheered on by well-meaning friends and family. I was a “success.” Yet when I finally reached the finish line, I was miserable. For the first time, I stopped to evaluate what it meant to work as a lawyer. And I didn’t like it.
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Of course, there were glaring signs along the way that I wouldn’t like a career as a lawyer. I probably shouldn’t have ignored the fact that every lawyer I met tried to talk me out of going to law school – a discussion I would find myself repeating once I became a lawyer and happened upon an unsuspecting pre-law student. But here is the thing about our dreams, they’re rarely based in reality.
Most of us choose a dream job for nebulous reasons: Our family or teachers point us in that direction, we excel in certain tasks that are related to that field, the media glamorizes the profession, etc.
We jump in without understanding the stresses related to the job. We choose a career based on how we think it will make us feel. The power, admiration, creative freedom; All of these characteristics overshadow the reality. Not surprisingly, that dream job often turns out not to be all it was cracked up to be.
The reality is that the dream job is just a figment of your imagination. Sure, it may have some of the features that you always envisioned. Maybe you get to help people some of the time, or you have some powerful moments. But the real day-to-day of the job is almost always vastly different.
For me, I went to law school to help underserved communities. I always knew the law was a vehicle to help the voiceless. While that is true, there is almost an unbearable amount of stress and drudgery that goes along with helping people in that capacity. I found that I would have to do things I hated 90% of the time in order to get to do the things I love 10% of the time. It wasn’t a sustainable model.
None of this would be a problem if we lived in a culture that encouraged following our curiosities, taking risks, prioritizing our mental wellbeing, and pursuing fulfillment. One can imagine a world where we are expected to evolve as we age and pivot accordingly. Clearly, that’s not how we approach work.
Rather, we’re raised in a society that drills in us that work is not fun but you do it anyway. We look down on the woo-woo hippy culture of “following your dreams” as something for children (and Instagram influencers). In the real world, we have to work to pay bills and support our family. It is just the way it is. Or so we’re told.
We also don’t want to “waste” all the time, energy, and money we put into getting to this level. The idea of starting over is overwhelming. Add in the fact that so many of us are burdened with debt and that we are technically “successful” in society’s eyes, it is no wonder we genuinely feel stuck.
But the hard truth is that we are spending 60-70% of our lives doing something we actually hate because we believe that’s what we have to do. Our health suffers, our families suffer, our friendships suffer and, yet, we push on because the fear of the unknown keeps us in the miserable.
I get it. I was there too. I nearly flipped over the table when my husband casually suggested that I should find a job in a different field if I was unhappy. What?! The nerve.
But he was right. And I did.
It didn’t happen quickly. It took me almost a year to admit, mostly to myself, that I wanted to walk away from the one thing that I had worked for my whole life. I worried about what people would say, the opportunities I was giving up, and whether I’d end up living in a van down by the river. I fretted about it all. Until I realized that working for the next 30-40 years in a profession that was making me miserable in order to have “security” was insane. So I quit.
The most liberating and terrifying thing you can learn is that you have agency. You can leave anytime you want. You choose to stay. And once you accept that, you can either choose to make your career into something that you don’t despise every day or you can leave.
I interview people weekly (with no shortage of guests in sight) on my podcast who’ve all had those same concerns but were able to figure out a way to quit and start over.
Is it hard? Yes. Does it require sacrifice? Sure. But what is more of a sacrifice than giving up 30+ years of your life to a career you hate?
Goli Kalkhoran is a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur and the host of the Lessons from a Quitter podcast, where she interviews inspiring guests about how they quit lucrative careers to forge their own path and create a life that they love.
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