The secret sorrows of work

I’ve read so many articles about changing careers at any stage of your life, up to three times in their lifetime, they say. Our work mentality has shifted from security and company loyalty, to one of growth, development and career satisfaction. You can find articles on 7 tell-tale signs that you need a change, a 10 step approach to achieve it, and 5 mistakes to avoid. But what happens internally when the decision feels forced upon us?

Say you’ve been working in your chosen field, social work, for over a decade, the field that you chose to spend 4 years studying at university for. You’re well respected in your profession, regularly called for advice, managed difficult situations and educated others in the sector. You’re enjoying your work and all is roses.

Then one day you notice that you can’t feel your fingers, or your toes for that matter, your mouth is perpetually dry despite how much water you drink. And damn it, you keep dreaming about work so you feel like you never actually clock off. You go to the doctor who enlightens you with the fact that you are suffering severe anxiety and burnout.

So you take some action. You take on alternative duties, you start seeing a counselor, your doctor pressures you into taking medication, but you still can’t cope. So you take time off and during that time you come to the heartbreaking realization that you can’t go on this way. You can’t take another abusive client, you can’t deal with with the impossible system, you don’t have enough skin left to deal with another tragedy. You’re emotionally and mentally defeated, and so you quit.

In comes the grief and it’s familiar companion, shame. Dark, hopeless and confusing. A painful downward spiral and when you finally land at the bottom and you don’t recognize the landscape. The pay reduction in your new entry-level job leads to financial difficulty and the daily realization that you don’t know what you’re doing, is humiliating.

But you do the work. You do the extra work in order to do the work well. Find opportunities to learn, sell your other skills, volunteer for everything on offer. Show up and throw everything you’ve got at it. Then it gets easier. Then it starts to make sense and you feel less like you’re just surviving and actually thriving.

Here’s my advice. When you accept the crippling uncertainty and lean in to the change process, a great deal of growth can happen. I had to let go of my ideas about work and purpose being about saving the world. I redefined it with new, helpful ideas that support my resilience every day.

Let go, take courage, lean in and do the work.


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