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Career Search Ė Quest or Curse

If youíre in the midst of a career search, undecided about the next direction for your work life, you may be struggling to keep your self-esteem strong at the same time that youíre trying to answer the all-important question about what you want to do. People often seem to be aching for a sympathetic outlook on their stories of career dissatisfaction. They tend to be their own harshest critics, often riddled with self-doubt and embarrassment about not getting this "career thing" right. Maintaining a constructive attitude is challenging. In spite of contrary statistics - such as, the average American changes jobs eight times over the course of his/her lifetime - we still tend to harbor the expectation that we "should" decide by our late 20ís/early 30ís what we want to do and follow that path for the remainder of our working lives. As T. puts it, "My search for work Iím passionate about is regarded by my friends like a childís drawing thatís put up on the refrigerator...isnít that cute!" In this context, career dissatisfaction can feel like a curse.

Itís often the case, when facing a challenging transition, that thereís some subtle Ė or not so subtle Ė finger-pointing at yourself going on. Does any of these sound familiar?

Whether youíre considering moving from one industry to another or into self-employment, youíll probably agree that support systems for people in career transition are lagging woefully behind the sea changes that are occurring in the way we do work. As evidence of this, ask yourself the following:

Chances are, your answers to these questions point out how poorly youíve been prepared for the transition youíre engaged in. Imagine how different it would be if we lived in a culture in which the longing to work well Ė to have work that fulfills and stretches us Ė was recognized as one of adulthoodís quests, as human and dignified as the longing to love well or parent well. As the poet David Whyte tells us so eloquently, creating meaningful work is how we forge our place in the world, how we create belonging. Many of us find belonging where personal meets personal, in friendship or intimacy; in work, where personal meets public, a larger sense of belonging can be claimed. To forge our place we must be fully engaged both with who we are and who we want to become. Through working we express our unique natures Ė our values, our skills, our creativity - and we challenge ourselves to become even more fully what weíre capable of. Given this perspective on working well, not only should it take exactly as long as it takes Ė with no self-reproach Ė to do the necessary inner and outer research, but it may be an on-going, lifelong process. Just as personal change and growth distinguish aliveness from death, so must we require our work to keep pace with those changes.

The next important question to address, for those of you committed to the quest for good work, is how to sustain yourself during the process, both practically and emotionally. Meeting the daily ups and downs of a career search can be a formidable challenge. Here are some suggestions:

Prepare financially.

Consider either reducing debt to cut monthly payments or borrowing, to repay when youíre reemployed. Also consider making a temporary job move, to give yourself more time with less financial pressure. This can be a good opportunity to explore some career ideas.

Fortify a positive attitude.

The territory between your ears can be a bad neighborhood to hang out in alone at times, specially if thereís excessive worry, confusion or self-criticism. Make a point to talk with someone, a friend or a professional, on a regular basis. That person is likely to be more objective about you and your abilities than you are.

If you havenít already, read Po Bronsonís What Should I Do With My Life? And check out his chatroom: Youíll realize with relief that youíre not alone.

Maintain perspective.

Find a hero or heroine, in your personal life or in the media, someone who has drawn on courage and persistence to continue the search until finding his or her right work.

Donít overlook the value of intuition for this process. Trying to "figure out" what to do may not be the best way. Let some insights/hunches/visions come to you.

Remember: Youíre learning career development skills here. These are skills that will serve you over the long haul.

When you need inspiration to stay in the quest, try this quote from William Blake: "In good work that is a heartfelt expression of ourselves, we necessarily put our very identities at risk. Perhaps it is because we know, in the end, we are our gift to others and the world."

You ARE your gift to the world. Finding where and how to give that gift isnít always easy, but surely devoting yourself to the endeavor is one of the most important investments you can make. Good luck!

-Nina Ham
Nina Ham, principal of Success from the Inside Out, is a certified coach and a licensed psychotherapist. Her 6-week Career Quest program helps people gain the insights and tools to create work thatís right for them. Visit her website: for details or to sign up for her free monthly e-zine; or email her at