giving up on your career

I’ve had this conversation a few times with friends and family:  when do you give up on your career? It’s a terrifying thing.  You’ve invested years of your life and made countless sacrifices to get to a certain point, and suddenly one day you realize that you can’t keep going because:

  1. the job market in your career field has dried up or
  2. you need to move to a different town where your career isn’t in high demand or
  3. you just don’t want to stay in your current career path anymore.

I’ve been dealing with all three, and I have realized that the real issue may not be the economy or the state of my profession but just the fact that I don’t want to work in my field anymore. I’m energized by the idea of doing something different, and so I started sending off inquiries through my network and through company sites inquiring about the possibility of doing other kinds of work.

I’m sure the statistics that show that people will change careers at least three times (or whatever) during their working lives are common knowledge by now. I don’t think it’s strictly accurate.  My sister-in-law – a doctor – will probably not change her career, nor will my other sister-in-law, a nurse.  But I think it’s almost inevitable at this point that I’ll do something else between now and the day when I stop working.  Bubelah will almost certainly do something different when she returns to work.  I think even lifelong adherents to a single career path will dabble in other areas.

But the question is really this:  is switching your career giving up? Or is it simply moving on?  If you’ve devoted so much time and effort into obtaining the education and training and credentials and network and experience required for Job X, is dumping it in order to move on to Job Y part of the plan, or just an admission that the career path was hitting a dead end?

I don’t think of humans as static creatures. I am, in no small way, a completely different person today than I was 5, 10, 20, 30 years ago.  The choices 20-year-old Steve made to study accounting seem like sepia-toned photos to 40-year-old Steve.  They echo dimly in my memory, and I remember why I made those choices, but they are not my choices today.  I have changed, and either because of the choices I made 20 years ago or despite them I am ready to move on.

It’s an odd feeling to hit middle age with no real direction professionally. If you’re good at what you do, but hate doing it, the idea of starting over is scary for only one reason – money.  I am enough of an egoist to think that I’ll be successful at a new career, even at this (relatively) late stage in my life.  Check back in a few years and you’ll see if I was or not, but one thing I’ve learned over the years is that I’ll regret not having tried far more than trying and failing.

27 Replies to “giving up on your career”

  1. It's really tough, isn't it. I've been having similar concerns as I graduate college (no longer really wanting to do graduate school and the whole math research track). I'd say switching careers is not giving up at all. Besides, you'll be unique in your new field (few people are likely to have the skill set you'll bring from the previous career). This, by itself, can be invigorating for you and your employer. Good luck with everything!

  2. I've never seen changing career paths as giving up. The saying “there is no failure, only feedback” came to mind while I read your post. Personally, I started in public accounting like you, but changed industries 4 times in 10 years. I've got friends who have gone from non-profit director to teacher, accountant to baby food entrepreneur, etc. I've got side projects rights now that have nothing to do with my career field.

    Giving up would be STAYING In the same industry just because you've got experience and it pays well. That's where I've seen people become miserable — when they feel they've got too much invested in their career to make a change.

    Good luck and continue to keep us posted!

  3. My only concern about changing careers would be the money because I still have student loans from training for my first career.

    I am an attorney by trade, but I currently a consultant in the same industry – telecommunications. I have been pretty fortunate because I can be paid in my current field as much or more than I was as an attorney.

    At any rate, however, I don't want to be a consultant forever either so I am now dabbling in other things in the hopes that, when the time is right, I can migrate over into a more satisfying endeavor.

    I certainly would not look at a career change as a failure. If I had to do it over again, I would certain still go to law school. I think it has trained me to be whatever in the world I want to be and that is worth the $$$ I spent getting that education.

    1. I am an attorney too and was interested in opportunities as a consultant. My most recent job wa with a telecommunications law firm, any tips Su Prieta?

  4. The days of graduating from school, getting a job with a “good company” and staying for the next forty years are gone. A career is merely a method of generating an income stream to support you in doing the things you enjoy doing. You might as well find things you enjoy doing that generate revenue, and forget about feeling guilty about “giving up” on a career.

  5. Interest post. I am in the beginning stages of trying to figure out “What next?” I made a career change about 9 years ago and have had mixed success with it. My instinct says to it's time to make a change, the logic in me says “And what would you do?” I agree with others, the mistake would be to stay and be static. And as you have pointed out in your post. I am a very different person than I was 9 years ago. I can't see staying in my current field, don't want to go back to the field I left 9 years ago, and the biggest hurdle that I face is to figure out what I want to do and then go from there!

    Good luck!

  6. I don't think people should limit themselves to one career. It's just natural to become bored or disillusioned in your work. A career change might be just what the doctor ordered to reinvigorate yourself. Obviously, if your industry is drying up, the decision might not be yours to make. People are slotted into career paths as far back as high school. How can you stick with a decision that you made at 17 or 18 without revisiting it after you enter the workforce?

  7. I don't think it' giving up, also depends on the type of switch. People change jobs and careers more often now than ever before and it's not uncommon to see it happen. People want different things, and they should go for it if they can.

  8. Changing careers once you've put so much time and money into your education, and starting up in a career from the bottom rung and going up, there's some serious investment. Leaving all that behind is not an easy decision, no matter what people say.

  9. Using the amount of time and so on invested in a career as a reason to stick with it sounds like sunk cost fallacy to me. There are of course issues about the cost of retraining and the loss of salary that might happen, but the fact that you have been doing something for ages is kind of irrelevant to the question of whether you want to continue doing it in the future.

  10. I began blogging this year. While it's been time consuming it's allowed me an outlet on a topic that's interested me for years. I do think we aspire for something different after a while. While I still enjoy my day job I have enjoyed something different. You may want to start part time and work up into something full time.

  11. I don't think it's giving up. Giving up is when you try to succeed in a career path and you don't and end up doing something else – which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    Changing careers….is just changing careers.

  12. These thought go through my mind daily!
    I've tried other careers like bartending (which I hated – never worked so hard in my life!) but just ended up hating them.
    I always seem to come back to accounting because I'm good at it.
    I'm wondering if we go through the 'grass is greener' syndrome if we're stuck in a career for a long time?
    Anyways, I think I'm going to try and sell cars next. Just to see if I can do it.

  13. This is tough man…not an easy decision at all. Some people will tell you that money isn't important, blah blah blah. But seriously, you can't do if you aren't making a living.

    Could you still get a job in your field and try to set something else up on the side? Or are you ready to jump in headfirst all the way into something new?

    Maybe a job in your field that has a unique angle or spin that would allow you to do different stuff?

    Good luck with this one Steve…

  14. Steve, you seem slightly obsessed with failure (or giving up). I have pursued about five fairly different careers in the last 25 years (military officer, software developer, college professor, journalist, and product manager), and have failed at some level at all of them. I like to think that failing means that it's time to try something different.

    Perhaps it is the unknown that troubles you; you wish that your means of earning an income were settled so that you can better handle other uncertain aspects of your life (like moving). Or like many family men, you feel a strong need to have a steady income to provide for your family. Neither are bad reasons to be troubled about your career prospects, but life is about the journey, not the reward. And it's better to make a decision, any decision, than to dwell upon the directions available.

  15. OH MAN! I don't want to give up!!!…but, the way things are going, it looks like I will have to fold. e-Commerce is in a state of suspended animation it seems.

    My series of health diaries are very useful and nice…Little Black Book~Daily Food Diary, DiabetesDailyDiary, Little Black Book~Fitness and Food Diary, Skin Tracker…a skin cancer and mole mapping diary.

    My business is not lucrative, but it is really helping people of all walks of life.

    I won't have the energy to run this one and a full or even part time job…takes more energy to work for someone else and help them build a business and be comfortable. Been there done that…

    Hmmmm, what to do…

  16. A very timely post. I think your last paragraph summarizes the dilemma for a lot of mid-life career changers. It is a very odd feeling when you are good at what you do, everyone around you thinks you are doing a good job, yet you are either bored and/or hate your job. And yes, money is a very big factor, especially if you were brought up with a belief that a good education and a good job will solve the life's problems for you. Guess what, it may bring the much needed money but it just can not bring satisfaction.

  17. Steve, that's a great post. I have made a few career detours myself, some of them major, and it's only in the last 5 years that I believe I have finally found a career that I can stick with for the long term. In fact, I have written a series of posts about this just this week.

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  19. I don't think that changing careers or deciding to be flexible in your life's master plan is a negative thing.

    What IS negative, is if you're stuck where you are, you can't brainstorm how to get out or deal with the new situation you are thrown into, and then you whine incessantly about what you're dealing with.

    Shift happens. I did a whole post on change and being flexible, disguised as a rant about a woman who felt trapped in her own life, when she had plenty of riches around her.


    Came via LAL. Am liking the blog so far.

  20. I am an attorney too and was interested in opportunities as a consultant. My most recent job wa with a telecommunications law firm, any tips Su Prieta?

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