how can i think outside the box in a cubicle?

Career Transitioning: From Corporate Cubicle Job to Idealist Endeavor

I recall being one of only a few students in my graduate career counseling course who was genuinely excited about career counseling theory. Perhaps it was because career counseling is more similar to coaching (a direction I was already headed in) than many forms of traditional counseling/therapy.* Perhaps it was because I myself had struggled through a few career transitions and extended job searches, and thus hold a special place in my heart for others who are going through them.

I’ve received several coaching inquiries from people who are looking to “make the leap” from jobs that provide them with comfortable pay and other perks, but just don’t quite fit them. All were not corporate settings, but some of the themes overlapped. A few complained of long work hours that left little time to work on what they really enjoyed. Another talked about a hostile and stressful work environment. Yet another was looking forward to retirement even though it was still nearly a decade away. In each case, their ideal work life sounded very little like their current one.

If you’re considering a career or job change, a few questions you might ask yourself include the following:

Does the work I’m doing align with my sense of life purpose? For example, my purpose is “To innovatively catalyze and create for a healthy and sustainable world.” If I were working for a company as a marketer of highly unhealthy products, in an environment that didn’t allow me to be very creative, I would probably not be very happy. I might want to consider a job or career shift. If you have not defined your sense of life purpose, now may be a good time to start doing so.

Does my current career align with my values? You probably have a sense of what some of your core values are, but really sitting down to define them and determine how your prioritize them in relation to each other takes a little more work. Until we do this, we may “teeter totter” back and forth between different values. For example, suppose you place a high value on having autonomy and receiving social recognition. You might feel suffocated by an environment where you’re being micromanaged a great deal, but you fear giving up the frequent praise you also receive from others in that workplace. For the last three years, you’ve alternated between loving and hating your job on an almost weekly basis. This is likely to continue until you’ve determined what’s really most important to you.

Does my current line of work allow me to share my gifts or strengths with the world? For example, my strengths include thinking about the future and strategizing; thus coaching suits me well. Authoring a book has enabled me to utilize my creativity to a great extent. I also have musical composition skills that I’ve “set aside” for years and will soon be bringing back into my life. Do you know what your strengths are, and are you capitalizing upon them? My hunch is that you have several strengths just waiting to be more fully utilized.

Does my work reflect any of my childhood dreams? Career psychology theorist Linda Gottfredson notes that we often give up on our childhood dreams, instead settling for what’s “good enough.” Even if you didn’t pursue your exact dreams, you may still have the satisfaction of doing something that has many similarities – for example, perhaps you wanted to become an astronaut and later became an airline pilot. If that career gives you many of the same rewards that attracted you to the idea of being an astronaut (perhaps adventure and status), then you may feel relatively fulfilled. However, what if you wanted to become an astronaut and you now work as a telephone customer service representative? While many people would find the latter job very rewarding, it’s incredibly different from what you originally envisioned. You may be ready for a major change.

These areas are vital to consider because we otherwise have the tendency to make a “quick escape,” jumping into something else that may not fit us. We want to make sure we clearly define what we do want and move toward that, rather than simply running away from what we don’t want. If we don’t take time to look at ourselves, we’ll only obtain temporary relief from our problems, rather than creating a sustainable life and world. We may hop into a school program with relatively little thought, or we may enter another environment with a different set of characteristics that don’t really fit us.

I also write more extensively about the above areas in Naked Idealism, which includes exercises related to each. Feel free to check it out!

*Thanks to Karen Litzinger for catalyzing additional thinking on the overlaps between these areas.

Photo by Flickr user Katy Warner, size adjusted. License.

Dave welcomes phone-based life, career, and transition coaching clients from around the world.

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