Will Changing Careers Really Make You Happier?

by | Jan 22, 2013 | Science of Happiness | 21 comments

W henever things get bad at work, whenever your boss pisses you off or you have to sit through another pointless meeting, you allow yourself a little dream.

You dream about meaningful work and the autonomy to do it at your own pace.

You dream about working hard and playing hard and loving every moment of both.

You imagine disconnecting from your caffeine lifeline, because you’ll be so darn happy in your dream career (whatever it is), you’ll be bursting with energy and enthusiasm. The stress will be gone, along with the crankiness and fatigue.

Or will it?

You worry you’re just kidding yourself. Can the grass really be greener in a new career? Or are you destined to be unhappy and unfulfilled no matter where you go?

In my own career change, I found some things almost instantaneously became better. For example, as an introvert, working in a job that required me to attend meetings all day, every day was draining. When I switched to working from home, I instantly had the energy to reengage and enjoy my friends and family again. These days, I average a social get-together about once a week as opposed to once a month (or longer).

Other problems were maddeningly unchanged, or in some cases, got worse. My tendency to over-commit to projects, leading to suffocating feelings of being overwhelmed, were not aided by becoming my own boss. I was a lot less short-tempered than when I worked in a big bureaucracy, but I still experienced more stress than I wanted.

I realized that changing careers isn’t the fast track to outrunning your inner demons. But it can be just what you need to outsmart them. Let me explain …

How stress can set you free

One of my clients, who is studying to get her license as a new financial planner, told me she thought she’d made a terrible mistake.

She’s always been on the anxious side and changing careers had only made it worse. Could she really make it as a financial planner? The stress and worry were driving her crazy and she found herself longing for the easy predicability of her old job, the one she had been so desperate to leave.

And she wanted to know: was the stress a sign that she’d made the wrong choice?

I told her there was no way of knowing without doing. Studying for a licensing exam is in no way representative of the life of a financial planner.

Had she told me she was bored by the material I might have wondered. Had she told me she was shadowing a couple of financial planners and the process made her stomach turn, I would have been concerned.

But in fact, she was just experiencing anxiety while undergoing a major change in her life. I felt pretty comfortable saying that the stress she was experiencing was not only normal, it was exactly what she needed.

When you’re struggling to solve an inner conflict, the more pain you’re in, the closer you are to a solution. Click to tweet

Our instincts tell us to pull away from pain. If something’s hot, stop touching it. If something hurts, stop doing it.

But that doesn’t always work when we’re talking about “first world problems” like stress and a vague sense of unease. Sometimes what we need is a forcing function to figure out how to deal with the issue we’ve been avoiding.

I told my client that I can’t know if financial planning is right for her until she gets in there and gives it a shot.

But I know for certain that finding constructive ways to deal with stress and uncertainty will make her happier no matter what career she’s in.