49 steps to career freedom
Updated: Nov 17, 2022
You wake up at 6 am. So that you can sit at your desk at 7.30 - with or without a commute. Six am is - quite frankly - an insane time for anyone to wake up. But at least it's better than the times you woke up at 3 am, tossing and turning, and could never get back to sleep. Which seems to be happening more and more.
It feels as if you're sleepwalking through the day. Eat-work-eat-washing up-sleep-repeat.
That colleague? The little man who's been there for what feels to anyone like a thousand years and is making everyone's life miserable? Yeah him. In your head you've invented a million ways in which you'd tell him straight. But your better self tells you that he probably has a miserable home life. You can just imagine the nagging little wife at home, and the yappy little dog he never wanted. That makes you feel marginally better. Which then makes you feel guilty.
And then the plain nasty one. The one who to your face is all sweetness and light. And as soon as you're off your call starts telling everyone else that you don't know what you're doing and undermining everything you've just agreed with her. You know what you'd do if you had the chance.
And then the management. Oh god, who's put those clowns in charge? Totally out of touch with what's really going on. Out to make your life a misery.
You snap at your partner, you snap at your children, you even snap at the dog. As if that's going to do any good to anyone. You know it isn't right, but you just can't seem to help yourself.
You used to be quite an upbeat person, but somehow the environment you're working in is making you miserable. Maybe you're just a miserable person? Maybe that's what getting older does to you? Maybe that's how it's supposed to be? Deep down you know that's not quite true. Or at least you sincerely HOPE it's not true.
Somehow it feels as if everything is groundhog day. As if you're living and re-living the same things over and over again. Repeating the same patterns. At which point you start to think that it may be you and not them?
OK, so now you've admitted to yourself that things aren't working. Now what? This thought throws you into weeks of despair. To an extent it was better not knowing what was wrong with you, sleepwalking through life. You just want to lie under the duvet and read chick-lit for six months.
You go for the easy solutions. You google. And then you google some more. And then you go on Facebook, see everyone in a hammock in Bali, 'living their best life'. You get even more depressed, shut your laptop, and go and clean your bathroom. You don't even LIKE hammocks.
You start going round and round in your head. You've come to realise that the last 20 years were all wasted. Twenty years of doing the wrong thing. Great.
You're starting to think you don't even know yourself anymore. Let alone what you're meant to be doing with the rest of your life.
Come to think of it you can't remember the last time you laughed. And not the fake-laughing that you do so that you keep everyone from knowing what a miserable wreck you are. But the deep belly-laughing, with snot and tears and hiccups and everything, and an aching jaw and pain in your stomach afterwards.
And then, one day, through the fog of misery, whilst you're scrolling through your social media feed, something sticks. Something stands out. When you come home you try to find it (yes, you could have 'liked' it, thanks for the advice, always best in hindsight). You can't find it. You forget all about it.
Whatever it was that you saw has planted a seed in your subconscious. The next time you walk into the library or the charity bookshop you so happen to come across a book. You get it. You bring it home. It sits on your kitchen table. For the next two weeks. Because, you know, when do you have time to read that?
Meanwhile you have an argument (or two) with your partner. Who is super supportive of you making a change. Which makes you even more irritated. Because you don't-know-what-I-want-to-do-so-don't-put-even-more-pressure-on-me! You immediately feel guilty as your nearest and dearest are on the receiving end of a lot of misery and only want what's best for you.
You're starting to think that it's not you but the menopause. You hear all these horror stories and are of - ahem - a certain age. You start reading all about it. And yes, that makes you feel a little bit better. You go off and buy loads of magnesium tablets and eat grapefruit every morning. You even start doing exercise. You hate exercise but you need all the health you can get. You sit back and wait for happiness to arrive.
Then you realise you're still not happy. That throws you back into despair. Surely it was only a physical thing? Turns out it isn't.
You catch a cold. You're already feeling miserable, so that was only a matter of time. You roll yourself up in your duvet. Somehow it doesn't feel as comforting as you thought it would.
You pick up that book. The book's now three weeks overdue. You start reading.
And there, right there, sitting in your pyjamas, you have your first revelation. You see, the book tells you that 'happiness is a choice'. To be fair it's a bit of a happy-clappy book, and never in a million years would you have picked it up when you were your 39-year old self. But hey, what have you got to lose, sitting there, in your pyjamas, with a dripping nose.
Over the next few weeks you decide that you're going to practise being happy. Those good intentions last all the way from when you get up until you step inside your place of work every morning.
Turns out you need reinforcement. Turns out that you can't just say to yourself that you're going to be happy. Turns out you need something else. You start a journal. You hate journals. You have not ever held a journal. No, not quite true. You had one once, but couldn't think what to write in it. And then your sister found it. And you never wrote again. But you start a journal. And promise yourself to throw it away as soon as it's full. Which you do, four weeks later, in the rubbish bin in front of the station, on the way to work. You're still not sure if this whole journaling-thing works.
Then, one day, your colleague tiptoes over to your desk, and tells you how something that you had worked on with your colleague has gone disastrously wrong. You laugh. You surprise yourself, but you laugh. Because, in the grand scheme of things, it's not really that important.
You reflect. And you notice that - overall - you appear to be happier. You're looking up more. You're seeing more. You're caring less. Somehow not everything seems to be such hard work. You suspiciously look at your journal. It must have some magic powers or something.
You still don't know what you want to do though. Which is a pain. Because you've now spent quite some time getting out of your own head. And whilst that journal seems to have done its magic it somehow hasn't magicked you into a new career.
That's when you decide that you're going to get active about this whole career-change thing.
But not before you're going to make a bit more time for the things that you love doing. So that's what you do. You do something fun. Something creative. Something you always said you didn't have time for. So, yes, that means the bathroom is not as clean. But who cares! You don't, and your family doesn't seem to notice either. Which makes you wonder why you made such a fuss about it all those years.
Meanwhile you're doing what you're always doing. You read. Everything. Social media. Stories about successful career changes (lucky ba****ds). Books. About being happy. About setting up your own business. About changing your career. About everything and anything that grabs your attention.
You now have a pretty clear idea what has been bothering you all this time. What you're less clear on is what you're all about. Because (read step 11) you seemed to have been climbing the wrong ladder all these years. You decide to find out more about yourself.
You do a depressing amount of character, personality, strength and value tests. You find out that you're exactly the person you always thought you were. No surprises there. Great. You're none the wiser. Meanwhile your book shelves are starting to groan with all the books you're collecting.
Then your colleague tells you what she thinks of you. What she believes your strengths are. And they're completely different from what you thought they would be. That's a bit of an eye opener.
By now you've heard rumours that your company is contemplating making redundancies. Not only that, senior managers are starting to disappear never to return. Which sounds a lot more sinister than it actually is. This drags on for months and months.
Meanwhile you're still doing all sorts of things that you find interesting. You haven't got a clue how any of that will ever lead to a new career. But you're in too deep now to turn back. And - quite frankly - you're enjoying yourself, and that's a heck of a better position to be in.
And then the funniest thing happens.
You have (or overhear) a number of conversations, in and of itself of no particular significance. But snippets of those conversations cause a spark in your brain. Not literally, obviously. But they cause you to consider all the things that were set in stone in your brain. It makes you realise things. That you don't always have to have the answer to everything. That sometimes it's actually OK to let go, to not be in control (shock horror!). That you don't have to stay where you are. That you're only as safe as your notice period. This doesn't just open new doors to you, it literally blasts away the front of the entire building! (Not really - metaphorically, obviously).
Slowly, very slowly, things start to 'click' in your brain. You realise that - for you to make your way into a new career - you need to buy yourself time. You start conversations, with people who have done that. You understand how they did it. You understand the advantages. You understand the pitfalls. You understand the practicalities. Now all you need is the courage to make it happen.
You wait. For what? No one knows. You wait for a sign.
You realise there is no sign. That it's up to you.
You get a temporary job. Buying you time to think about your next steps.
You're actually quite enjoying your new job. But you're also sure you don't want to do this for the rest of your life. It literally IS a temporary job.
You start getting serious about the things you want to do. Some of them are great. Some you'd love to do in your career. Some of them are hobbies only.
You do some courses. You make a decision. One of many.
You take a proper qualification. You love it. You meet all sorts of new people. You start to feel at home. It appears you've found your tribe.
Gradually you start to bring more and more of what you love into your career. Gradually it is starting to take over your life. Gradually your temporary job barely plays a role in your head. But you still spend an awfully long time working in it.
You decide that you're going to make the jump. Go fulltime on your new career.
You have one or two false starts.
And finally, you decide that you're never going to go back and that the only way is forward. You've arrived in your new career.
There you have it: 49 steps to career freedom. It's taken you 4 - 6 years to make this entire journey.
Or, you can do what my clients do. Sign up to my Creating Career Freedom programme. Where you can get from frustration to career freedom in five steps, twelve coaching sessions, three to five months.
Four years? Or 3 months? Hmmm...
Do you want to know more? Sign up now to my '5 steps to career freedom' mini-course
Tineke Tammes is an ICF credentialed Career Coach, who supports professional women in making successful transitions to careers of Freedom, Flexibility and Fulfilment! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler. Oh, and she knows a bit about change management too.
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