"I can't stand my work!" "I'm sick of this job!" "I'm ready for a career change!"

As a career counselor, and workplace coach, I often get calls from folks wanting to quit their job.  Last month I got a frantic call from a lawyer.  Exhausted, she wanted out of law altogether.  The hours were killing her.  And the pressure to get new clients, and increase her billable hours, felt overwhelming.

"I'm not doing a good job as a lawyer", she confided.  "How am I ever going to manage when I start a family?  What if I made a big mistake going into law in the first place?  I'm so upset.  I'm ready to quit.  Maybe I should start a brand new career!"

Don't make dramatic exits

No doubt we've all been tempted at some time to quit our job.  We can picture how great it would be to stomp out of the office saying:  "That's it.  I've had it with this job!"  In today's economy, most of us don't have the luxury of making dramatic exits.  Don't quit in haste.  Try to be realistic.  In the case of the young lawyer, her husband was worried about his own job.  As a new VP with a large manufacturing company--going through a big reorganization with lots of layoffs--he was just hoping to hang onto his job.  And, as young professionals with a mortgage, and looking to start a family, they weren't in a financial situation to quit or be laid off.

Ask what's really driving you crazy

Not surprisingly, after lots of venting the young lawyer finally admitted her job wasn't a complete write-off.  In fact, she liked lots of things about her work--and got along well with her colleagues.  Some of her new cases were interesting--and she was looking forward to an upcoming conference.  Her passion for the legal profession remained strong.  And, at this point in her career, she couldn't see herself as being anything other than a lawyer.

She admitted to wondering how some colleagues seemed to have a better handle on managing their time and workload. What was really driving her crazy was the fear of not being able to balance her demanding job with starting a family:

"RIght now I can't keep up-to-date on all the changes in everything from civil litigation, pension and trade union labour and employment law!  How am I ever going to stay on top of everything when I start having children?"

Think of making a career shift

Before running off to look for another job,  or making a big career change, she agreed to slow down. What were her options other than quitting?  If she held onto her current job, what could she change so that she would feel less stressed-out?  If she changed jobs, but stayed within the legal profession, were there any other types of jobs related to law that might be a better fit? And, were there any new and growing businesses that might be looking for someone with her combination of knowledge, skills and experience?

She knew some lawyers who had young children.  So she set up interviews to learn about their first-hand experience of managing work and family.  And, she met with professionals who had worked as lawyers early on in their careers --and were doing something different now.  She sat down over coffee with a specialist in alternative dispute resolution, a writer on employment law and labour issues, a marketing professional working with law firms, and an independent consultant specializing in pension and benefits. Each one had successfully transferred their skills, knowledge and experience to something different--yet still related to law.

Invest in both professional and personal development

Everyone she spoke with agreed on one thing: professional--and personal-- development was key to success. They encouraged her to take advantage of opportunities in her current job for ongoing training and development. Learning new ways to manage her time, stress level and workload would help her feel more on top of things--at work and at home. Improving her skills in communication and project management could lead to everything from greater self-awareness to getting a promotion. And getting more educational credentials in specific practice areas, such as alternative dispute resolution, would be a good way of exploring her interests-- and options for a future career shift.

Build your unique career portfolio

Don't get caught up in a traditional career path.  Be proactive.  Like many popular book titles, there is something to "taking control of your own career".  Think of building a unique career portfolio--rather than writing a resume listing a series of jobs.  She was still thinking of herself as "one more lawyer".  As the marketing experts ask us, how could she "stand out from the crowd"?  She was beginning to see that she could develop her own career--something that would reflect her unique combination of strengths, personality style and individual values.  In the midst of her "job crisis", she had started working as a volunteer member on a Board of Directors at a local community centre. Not only did she feel good about "giving back", she was meeting interesting professionals beyond her current job. Moreover she knew these relationships might play an important role in developing her unique career portfolio.


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