DEAR CAROLYN: I have a very well-paying job that I don’t hate, but I’m so bored and unmotivated. I’ve built a life around this salary (mortgage, car, vacation, etc.), but I keep wondering if I settled too quickly to find a career I’m passionate about. I’m in my early 30s. Is it too late? How do I start over exploring new opportunities without losing some of what I built? I would happily take a pay cut to be more fulfilled, but what if I lose the salary and I’m still not happy?
Finding a “Passion”
DEAR ‘PASSION’: Why don’t you give yourself a deadline – a year, say – to find more rewarding work, even if it’s just in a new department. In that year, you will:
▪ Save every penny you can. Dispatch bad debt (car), trim luxury expenses, stay local during your time off. Restructure your lifestyle both to recapture some of that money and to get accustomed to living on less, so that you’re ready if and when a career change comes with a pay cut.
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▪ Do your homework. Talk with a career expert (start by calling your school’s career office) to get new ideas, and think both macro – “What have I always enjoyed and been good at?” – and micro – “What changes can I make right now to improve my workday?” Sometimes small tweaks can make a big difference.
So can adjusting the ways you spend time outside of work. Not everyone has a passion-centered work life. Hardly. More often, people derive enough meaning from the life around their work that they’re fine with what they have to do to support it.
I have my doubts, I should say in the interest of full disclosure, that passions can be found during a methodical search for them. Instead I think it’s a matter of just making the best choices for you at any given opportunity, and being open to where these take you.
Re: Bored: I totally second the notion to look at things outside of work that stir your passions. I think a lot of us were sold a bill of goods when we were young that our careers had to be something that we were passionate about. My parents certainly sang that line! And the guidance counselor in high school. And the career people at college. Hell, it came up at the graduation speech. Well, all the things I love to do wouldn’t pay! Seriously – how many motorcycle travelogues can the market support? So I do a job I’m not passionate about (but don’t hate, that’s critical) so I can pay for all those things I love to do.
Re: Bored: Baby steps. A few years ago, I was in a similar situation. I adopted a mantra that I would do one thing every day to find a new job and one thing every day to make my current job better. The “thing” could be tiny – sending an email for the job search or chatting up a colleague to get a better sense of what he/she was working on.
It took 18 months, but I eventually found a job that was a much better fit: same field and skill set, but public service-oriented.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.