Sometimes a good, stable career isn't what you really need.
I was happy to have landed my first professional job in 1989. I remember it well — fresh out of grad school and ready to move to the big city of Toronto to start my grown-up life, I packed up my 1980 Honda Prelude with all of my worldly possessions and my ornery orange tabby cat, Hundleby. The job I was going to was a one year contract at a health unit as a tobacco use prevention health educator, and this was the first of four contract positions I would come to have. I never thought about a contract job being less than ideal until one of my employees at the third contract position started talking about how thankful she was that she finally landed a full time, permanent job.
Interesting. I guess because I was only in my mid-20s, I didn’t fully appreciate why a permanent position was so desirable. Two jobs later I finally found my full-time (and permanent) position. It was then that I finally understood why permanent jobs were a big deal — I started to feel a different sense of relief and security. I got engaged and my kids came quickly — three babies in three-and-a-half years. I was thankful to have a permanent job with benefits for three maternity leaves, that was for sure. My babies soon after grew into adolescents and the braces soon followed. Again, thankful to have the wonderful benefits package that accompanied my permanent position.
But something started to shift about 15 years on the job.
Maybe it was a combination of dealing with some large and difficult life events — a huge house flood to the tune of $40,000 damage (thanks Hurricane Katrina), my best friend’s sister's death leaving her to care for her young niece, moving to another house. I started to feel different and I couldn't figure out why, so I saw my doctor about it and she said that it wasn't depression, but rather, stress. I needed some time off and with her support, was granted a year off unpaid leave.
The leave from work was just what the doctor ordered. I needed to regroup and slow down — to use the time to reduce chaos in my life and get back to basics. I didn’t “do lunch” with my girlfriends or take on any large projects during that year off.
I just reduced my life to pure simplicity.
I started to feel better, but I also started to question how content I was at my job — I didn't want to go back. Several reorganizations at work, several job description changes made my job start to look very different from the one I accepted way back in 1989. In turn, I started to explore my options. I looked at different courses and careers online, spoke to people about courses, and wondered how I could capitalize and leverage my education, degrees and experience. I knew I needed change but was fearful and I was unable to clue into what I really, truly wanted. I was stuck.
Then I got laid off. So much for permanence and security! Suddenly my fear of leaving my "good", long-term job was gone, and I was forced to move on. My (now non-existent) job had been both a blessing and a curse. It provided me with what I needed while held the position, but it made me fearful and insecure about leaving; I lost my sense of self because I had, for so long, defined myself by my job instead of doing something I really wanted to do.
I had forgotten how to dream.
The experience of taking a break then leaving my job entirely was invaluable. Why hadn't I just chosen to leave a long time ago? I had talked myself into thinking I "needed" this job instead of growing within myself.
Suzy Rosenstein is a midlife coach who understands long-term employment is a common issue clients need to talk about. She's offering The Dream Igniter as a free download to help nurture your ability to dream again. She also offers a FREE 20 minute Mini Session as a great way to get started!
This article was originally published at Midlife Unplugged Blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.