Onward & Upward

The Real Direction You Need to Take Your Career

Running away from something is not a bad choice – an ill-fitting career, a toxic relationship, a belittling and denigrating boss – but it can’t be the only choice. 

You should always be running toward something.

Not just because it sounds like something Brené Brown would say either, though if she has said it then I feel even better about this train of thought.

You should be running toward something because it’s the rational thing to do.

As boring as “rational” sounds, it’s also a lot more conducive to your mental health. 

A huge roadblock we experience when we find ourselves in difficult life situations is the fear of the unknown that lies ahead should we take action. That black hole in the timeline after we end a relationship or put in our two weeks notice looks daunting when we haven’t pulled the trigger yet. That’s why the more clarity we give to these decisions the easier the action will be.

Tony Robbins has a spiel he goes on (see also: inspi-rant… I’m gonna see if I can get that ™’d) about people who have stayed in relationships WAY too long because we value predictable agony over possible joy. He actually yells when he says “WAY” so just read that in your best T-Robby voice and we can move on.

We’re terrified of what’s ahead because we can only guess at it, not plan it. 

I once stayed in a relationship nearly six months too long because I couldn’t face my own fear of the unknown. Six months doesn’t sound like the forever that it felt like in the moment, and I’m guessing many of you have gone through worse, but if so then you know the feelings of anxiety weren’t a once-in-a-while thing. They were constant – the kind that makes you sick to your stomach from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed.

That feeling for most hours on most days for six straight months should have been a sign I needed a change of scenery. But I stayed. Why? Because I was only looking backward, not forward (I’m doing my best not to plagiarize Luke Cage here). In all of that time I was so focused on the way that I felt and the horrible decisions that got me there, that in six months I didn’t sit down for ten minutes (that’s 0.004% of the overall time for those of you counting at home) to plan out the next steps I would take after ending the relationship. I spent no more than a few fleeting thoughts in that entire time on what it would actually practically look like to be out.

Who do I have on standby to talk me down from the ledge when I get lonely and want to text her? What activities can I pick up so that I keep myself busy and distracted most evenings for a few weeks right after the breakup when emotions are still high and I’m mentally detoxing? 

Just think if I spent the time and actually had answers to those questions.

Think if I had spent just a moment planning instead of complaining to myself about how messed up everything was. I spent all of my time wishing I could run away, never stopping to think that I should choose where I’m running to. It would have made getting the courage to end the relationship much easier. Not easy, but easier.

Non-relationship application: it’s no secret that many of us are dissatisfied with at least one major area of our lives. That’s not an earth-shattering insight – it’s a fairly standard part of the human experience. It doesn’t mean our life is falling apart, it’s just not what it could be.

The main thing for me was my job.

I’ve spent more than half a decade as an engineer dreaming about the day I wouldn’t have to be an engineer anymore. I had ideas about what I’d like to do instead – teaching, farming, coaching, counseling . But never once in those five years did I sit down and sort through the actual logistics of pursuing any of those things. I just sat around wishing and complaining and telling my friends of all of my big plans – and not actually doing shit.

Until the day I did.

This didn’t happen overnight. I’m here because of countless hours of research, development, and writing. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t any fun. It’s hard work though. Good hard work. Fulfilling hard work.

Talking about getting there is easy. Talking about all of the things holding you back is even easier. Taking the first step is harder.

So let’s move from complaining to planning and from daydreaming to deliberating. I’ve had enough of all this hesitation. Every time you tell yourself “someday” what you’re really saying is “any day that is today will not be the day, so as long as there is a tomorrow then that is the day I will act.”

Put simply:

You will never move forward as long as you keep convincing yourself of “someday”.

This doesn’t mean we need to put in our two weeks notice right now. There is boldness and then there is recklessness. You know which camp that falls into.

I want you to be where you want to go, but until teleportation is a thing we’re still going to have to cross all of the distance between that dream and where we are now. That takes time. It takes effort. It takes work. 

If you’re looking for a good time to start that work, my suggestion is now.

Onward & Upward,

Get to work: Action Items

1. Start asking questions. 

If you don’t have all the answers yet, join the club. Right now is the time to take stock of where you’re at and what that’s doing to you. What’s making you dissatisfied with your career? Is it the work? Or is it that your boss is an ass? Do you hate sitting at dual monitors in your cubicle occasionally glancing out the windows at the sunshine trying to remember what it feels like on your face? 

A bit dramatic, but you get the point. There’s a lot more to not liking work than just not liking the work. Ask yourself questions until you have a grasp of what it is that’s causing you to feel so much dissonance about where you’re at in life and career. Then we can move on to correcting those issues.

2. Analyze the trajectory you’d take 

if you were to stay in your current job or career. Do a pros/cons list, a cons/worse cons list, whatever you want. Just rationally and practically spell out where a natural progression from this point will put you in 1, 5, 10, 20 years. Are you interested enough in this work to become excellent at it? Do you want to become vested in the company when the option arrives? Is the money you will be earning enough to sustain an excellent home life which will make the monotonous work worth it? 

Picture yourself in the future being slightly more successful than you practically think you will be, and then slightly less. What is different about the lives of those versions of you? Do you like what you see?

3. Do something today.

It doesn’t have to be big, but it has to be something. If you completed the action items above you have my permission to give yourself a high-five and call it a day.

4. Do something again tomorrow.

This is the Rickroll equivalent of calls to action. You just can’t seem to get it to go away. And you know what, part of you doesn’t want it to go away. Part of you enjoys it. Part of you realizes you’re never gonna give it up. You’re never gonna let it down. You’re never gonna run around and desert it.

That’s about enough of that. Seriously though, a small action every day is significantly more effective than one manic weekend of trying to figure your life out. Consistency beats intensity ten times out of ten in my experience.

Ask for someone’s advice. Google another industry that interests you. Take a personality test. Write a few ideas down for skills to build or books to read. Just do something which puts you further along the path than you were when you woke up that morning.

And when life happens and you don’t – quit beating yourself up about it.

You need to give yourself a pass for the days you forget instead of mentally punishing yourself. Often when we “fail” at a discipline for a day it isn’t that failure that sets us back. It’s actually the guilt and shame we put on ourselves because of it that takes us from being a day behind to being in a massive and prolonged rut. 

So here’s the answer: don’t feel guilty. And if you do feel guilty, fight those feelings by reminding yourself of the reality of the situation. You haven’t backtracked. You just didn’t go forward in the time you missed. So when you realize you missed yesterday just keep moving forward from where you find yourself today. It’s better that way. And more effective. And less stressful.