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It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

You know there’s something better for you out there. Work that allows you to shine, to make a difference. Work for which you are appreciated, and if you dare to admit it, admired.

But what kind of work is it?

You’ve been asking yourself that question a long time. You thought the answer would eventually come if you just waited patiently enough, but it hasn’t. When you feel brave (or desperate), you ask your friends, family, mentors, and role models for their advice. The avalanche of opinions is enough to make your head spin. Everyone has a different idea and you feel more confused than ever.

One day you decide you can’t take the indecision any longer and make the leap.

You’ve always had an interest in helping people, so you go back to school for your MBA and transition to Human Resources. You invest tens of thousands of dollars earning your degree. Getting your foot in the door as an older worker takes some patience, but one day, all that hard work finally pays off. You have officially changed careers.

The problem? The job just isn’t what you thought it would be.

You still look forward to the weekends. You still feel that vague ache that something is missing. You’re helping people some of the time, but the hoops you have to jump through to do it are killing you. And when you’re not helping people, you’re firing them.

Worst of all, you feel like you can’t tell anyone what you’re feeling, because of the time and sacrifice it took to get there. You feel stuck and don’t know how to recover. Should you just suck it up and wait it out until retirement? Or should you try your luck again?

Good news. You don’t have to do either. It turns out there’s a much better way to choose a career.

You have to question everything.

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“You decided to do what?!” he asked incredulously.

I had just signed up for a “walking with wolves” experience. When my husband started quizzing me on the details (Are they in cages? Do you actually touch them?), I realized I didn’t know much more than the vague information on the hotel lobby flyer. Even the directions were hazy:

Travel into the village. After passing a couple of houses take a left turn into a small lane marked by a no through road sign and a red post box. Look for a barn on the right hand side of the road next to a Cherry Tree set into a small grass island. Turn right at the Cherry Tree and drive down the track to the very end.

This was England, however, where houses often have names instead of numbers and directions lean towards the archaic. “I’m sure this is going be great,” I reassured my friend as we bumped along the dirt track.

But I was nervous.

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I’m not as successful as you think I am.

I am, however, as successful as I need to be.

That feels wonderful to say because few things are as exhausting as trying to maintain a facade about your life and what happens inside it. Likewise, few things are as satisfying as knowing you have and are enough.

A while back, a reader took me to task because she realized from one of my posts that my business is not the primary source of income for my family. Here’s what she said (edited for privacy):

I have been reading your advice about leaving well-paying jobs for work you love [for a long time] and was seriously considering jumping ship to “make my dreams come true.” I used you as my career-changing role model, believing in all you wrote and assuming you were now making enough money to support yourself (and anyone else who was part of your life).

What I see now is that you are relying on your spouse for income. This is a HUGE caveat that I don’t see mentioned anywhere else on your blog. Perhaps you don’t think it’s relevant to your message — but I’m wondering how many other readers might be assuming what I did and falsely reassuring themselves about their own futures?!?

I don’t take offense to these questions. I know how important it is to have a sense of hope that what you want to do is possible.

Unfortunately, no role model can really provide that for you.

That doesn’t mean role models aren’t useful. Knowing that other smart, talented people are making big changes in their lives and coming out okay should be a big relief. It’s a good indicator that if you’re reasonably smart and plucky, you’ll figure things out too. That’s what I call hope!

There’s a huge difference between “career change is possible” and “this idea I have for a new life is feasible.” Too many people try to mimic someone else’s success (probably because that’s exactly what a lot of people advise you to do).

The goal is not to replicate someone’s exact strategy, but to understand the parameters and trade-offs you have to work with.

Here are 3 questions you can use to drill down on someone else’s experience in order to evaluate the feasibility of your own dreams.