7 Things You Can Do When None of Your Career Options Feel Right

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I’ve always found decisions stressful, probably because I’m usually trying to find the right answer.  That’s how I know that having options can feel just as stressful as not having any if none of them feel right.

I meet people all the time who are incredibly discouraged because they feel stuck—they desperately want to find a new job but none of the alternatives they come up with feel good enough to pursue. It’s easy to become frustrated, self-critical, or even hopeless and depressed.

Is it the options, or is it you?

It may be that you haven’t yet found the right idea. But it’s equally possible, if not more likely, that something is blocking your ability to recognize what feels really right.

Even if you have a block, you’re perfectly capable of finding your path (and keep in mind that there’s probably more than one that lead to what you’re wanting).  Following are 7 things you can do to find your way when none of your career options feel right:

1. Get more information.

Lots of times nothing feels right because we don’t know enough about what it would look, sound, taste, or feel like. It’s like we’re trying to make a decision about which house to buy when all we know about it is the color and number of rooms.

Take time to do research. Read. Talk to people. Go and visit.  Sometimes we resist doing this because we’re afraid we’ll be disappointed and stranded without options if we don’t like what we find.  But disappointment is inevitable if you’re truly living your life, and you’ll never be without options. At worst, what you find will prompt you to generate better ones.

2. Try it out.

This is really an extension of the last idea. Sometimes you can’t know until you try. If I asked you if you like walking on the moon, you’d probably have a hard time answering without trying it.  Fortunately, trying jobs out is often easier than space travel. Shadow someone for a day. Get an assignment in a different department. Volunteer. Do a freelancing project on the side. Make something. Sell something. See what it feels like.

3. Get clear about what you want most.

Often we want multiple things, and each option offers part but not all of what we want.  If this is the case, try to prioritize your desires.  What’s a must-have and what’s a nice-to-have?  What’s most important to you? What’s been key to your sense of well-being or fulfillment in the past?

4. Look for the should.

Nothing can scramble your internal GPS more than the belief that you ought to be doing something. When you feel you should be doing something—say, making more money, doing the “practical” thing, or pursuing what others think you should—you tend to become deaf to your actual desires. Hence, nothing feels right.

Make a list of all the things you think you should do. (Think: “Fathers should…”  “Mothers should…”  “Responsible people should…”) Now ask yourself: where might you be shoulding on yourself when considering your career options?

5. Distinguish between what feels scary and what feels wrong.

Sometimes we get a negative response from our bodies because an option is clearly wrong for us.  Other times we get a negative response simply because we’re scared.  The anxiety of a wrong choice feels different in the body than the fear of doing something desirable but outside of our comfort zone. For most of us, distinguishing between the two sensations is a subtle discernment we have to learn how to make over time, but it’s a worthwhile effort nonetheless.

6. Brainstorm more options.

It is possible you haven’t yet found the right idea for you.  Once you’re clear on what you really want, take time to brainstorm possibilities.  Allow yourself time to generate wild and improbable ideas without judgment (you’ll have time to get practical later).  Ask others to help you.  And play around with tweaking your existing options.  How might you combine them?  Could you do them sequentially?  What would you need to add to or take away from each one to make it feel right?

7. Wait.

If all else fails, wait. It might just be that the timing isn’t yet right. I had a client who felt stuck in a corporate job because none of her ideas for leaving felt justifiable. She was unduly hard on herself for not taking the leap. Then, after having some time to get her ducks in a row, someone offered her a job to work on an upcoming political campaign. Suddenly, what before felt wrong now felt right. She jumped at the chance and never regretted it. Timing really can be everything.

Over to You

What’s helped you move forward when none of your options felt right?  Please share in the comments below so we can learn from your experience and/or insight.

Find the Right Path for You

Right now I offer a free, 60-minute Clarity Call to anyone who wants to find out how coaching can help them find clarity about their calling and how to pursue it. I won’t be offering this session for free for very much longer. I’ve gotten such good feedback on the calls and have had so many requests for them that once my new website goes live, I’m going to start charging for these in-depth sessions. If you’re interested in coaching and would like to experience it for free while you still can, click here to request a Clarity Call.

How to Make Hard Decisions Easier

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A reader recently asked a great question in response to a piece I wrote about how to make impossible decisions.

That’s all fine and good, she said, but what about permanent, irreversible decisions, like whether to have another child? You can’t just try it out and you can’t choose another path later.

It’s a good point, and she’s not alone in struggling with such a choice. I know from experience how stressful, terrifying, and even paralyzing big decisions can be. It can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, and if you mess it up, you (and perhaps the people you love) will pay a huge price.

The thing is, most of our stress in making choices comes from a misunderstanding of what’s at stake. Here are 3 ways to make hard decisions—even permanent or irreversible ones—easier:

Embrace your lack of control.

When we face a hard decision, we usually want something.

Consider a decision you’re in the process of making and ask yourself what you want out of it.  Now think about all of the factors that influence these results. How many of these factors are under your total control?

The truth is that almost all outcomes depend in large part on the actions of others, genes, timing, circumstances, luck, and a whole host of other things that have nothing to do with anything you can change. Yes, you have influence and power, but you’re not even close to being in control.

And that’s okay.

I mean, you’ve made it this far, and without knowing you, I’m quite sure that you’ve accomplished a lot in your life even though you’re not in control. In fact, things often turn out far better on their own than they would have if we had been in charge of everything.

Flawless decisions won’t guarantee ideal outcomes. But we don’t have to control things for them to turn out just fine. Our best efforts and imperfect influence are enough.

Know that you’ll always have options.

Even if your decision is irreversible, you’ll always have options.

Example #1:

The other morning I was feeling overcommitted and desperately tired. I couldn’t think of a way to get out of my upcoming commitment and still feel good about myself, but I could find a way to make time for a nap later that afternoon.

Example #2:

I had a client who was fed up with her job but felt like she needed it for now for the income. So while she worked to get clear on her next steps, she also chose to advocate for projects she wanted and assert herself with her boss more. This took the sharpest edge off her work and allowed her to enjoy it more. She still had the same job, but her choices made her experience of it better, while opening up new possibilities for the future.

Example #3:

I had a friend who decided to go to Stanford’s law school. Three years and over $100,000+ later, she decided she didn’t want to be a lawyer after all—and there was nothing she could do to undo the debt she had taken on. So she made a choice. She took a corporate job that she really didn’t want and worked for a couple of years. She did everything she could to make her life as enjoyable as possible while she paid off her debts. When it was over, she made another choice to move to Europe with her family and make a fresh start as a teacher, writer, and speaker. Her choices may have been imperfect and irreversible, but they didn’t stop her from finding what she was looking for.

Don’t believe in heaven or hell.

There’s a story about a Zen master who’s visited by a samurai warrior. “I want to learn about heaven and hell,” says the samurai. “Do they exist?”

“Tell me,” answers the master, “why would I waste my breath explaining that to an ignorant brute like you? Don’t waste my time with your stupid questions.”

The enraged samurai lifts his sword and prepares to kill the man. Just before his sword descends, the master says calmly, “This is hell.”

Understanding dawns on the samurai as he realizes that he has just created his own hell of hatred and resentment. Realizing this, he is freed from it; his eyes fill with tears and he bows to the master in gratitude. “And this,” responds the master, “is heaven.”

Heaven and hell are internal states.  The best decision cannot guarantee joy, and the worst decision does not doom you to misery. You can find good in just about any path you take.

And if nothing else helps, remember this one thing: nothing—neither heaven nor hell—lasts forever.

The best thing you can do is make the best decision you can—and then breathe, try to relax, and enjoy the ride.

Over to You

What helps you make difficult decisions?  Please let us know by sharing your experience in the comments.

Make the Best Decisions Possible

If you’re struggling with a decision that feels impossible to make, come find help.  The next Pathfinders: Group Hike and Conversation to Find Your Calling is coming up.  You’ll meet other people facing difficult decisions, have the chance to talk through your dilemma, and learn techniques to get in touch with your intuition, all while going on a beautiful walk through the woods.  To find out more or to register, click here.


Photo credit: Bill Ohl//CC

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