The role of dissatisfaction is critical to reinventing your career. Here are three key insights based on my award-winning research and coaching practice.
Firstly, people who reinvent their work need to sufficiently dissatisfied – with their past or current position – to have the momentum needed.
For some, dissatisfaction builds slowly over time, often years. For others, a spike in dissatisfaction is triggered by an event – the death of a loved one, a looming big birthday, being passed over for promotion, forced redundancy.
One way or another, you need to be sufficiently dissatisfied with your current situation to be able to let go of the past / present and be able to think openly about a different future.
Humans have a natural bias to the status quo. If the dissatisfaction is insufficient or doesn’t take hold, wanting to make a change will probably be a vague notion or the topic of circular conversations with friends and family. A possibility that fades and disappears, maybe re-emerging at a later date.
If you aren’t sufficiently dissatisfied, you are probably not ready
Secondly, dissatisfaction can be tricky – often masquerading as something else, or something bigger. People imagine they need to leave their organisation, when actually they need to address the relationship with their boss.
Dissatisfaction is a swirling and confusing dance of frustrations, fears, issues, voices. The experience is often very physical. A tightening of the chest, a churning gut, a dropping of the shoulders.
To understand the true nature of your dissatisfaction, you need to find a way to pause, breathe and pay close attention. Be able to quieten your inner voice, listen to what you body is telling you, attend to what really matters to you – now as well as in the future.
Take time to understand the nature of your dissatisfaction
Thirdly, dissatisfaction skews your thoughts and feelings. When dissatisfaction is peaking, people are so focused on the dissatisfaction, they find it really hard to switch to thinking about what they want instead.
They can wax lyrical about what they don’t like, what is missing, or what isn’t working – but really struggle to create a compelling vision for what they do want and need instead.
In Psychology literature, the concept of confirmation bias is well established – where individuals look for or interpret events in a ways that support their already held assumptions or prejudices. Until people process and understand their dissatisfaction, it can cloud and colour their thinking – making it hard to think clearly and differently.
Dealing with the dissatisfaction is even more pertinent in forced change situations – such as being made redundant or unfair dismissal. There is often a real work be done with the dissatisfaction, fears and confidence before you can look forward in a resourceful and open-minded way.
Some forms of coaching emphasise defining a goal / solution / outcome very early in the coaching process. In reality, goals need to evolve as your understanding grows. By paying attention to your dissatisfaction, you gain invaluable clues about what really matters to you – and what doesn’t. You can deal with issues that are holding you back or thrusting you in the wrong direction.
Don’t be tempted to rush past the dissatisfaction – it doesn’t work
It can be seductive to believe you need a big change in what you do, but you might need more of an adjustment than a wholesale change. My research suggests only 10% of people who say they want to reinvent their careers actually go onto make a radical change. By dealing with their dissatisfaction, many are able to evolve how they work more naturally instead – gradually and more plan-fully.
Some do pivot their careers into a very different direction. Interestingly though, they also come to realise their reinvention was not really about the change they made in what they do. The shift is actually more about how they relate to their work – how they feel about it, how they engage with it, how it fits into their life, how committed they are. More about the how than the what.
So, if you are thinking you need a change in your career – take time, ideally with a trusted thought partner to get to know your dissatisfaction deeply. I promise it will be worth it.
If you’d like to learn more about career reinventing in midlife, you can order Dancing with Fear and Confidence: How to reinvent your life and career in midlife from major book retailers.