• Fri, Apr 15 2011

Bullish: When To Make Massive And Ballsy Life Changes For Your Career

Everything is bad, all at the same time

Is everything in your career and life so awful that you pick up motivational books at Barnes and Noble and laugh until you cry at how pathetically inadequate the advice is to your life?

This happened to me. The particular book was Julie Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out. There’s nothing really wrong with this book. It’s simple, general, and uncontroversial. As I remember it, Morgenstern pointed out that there are only so many hours in a day, and that it would be good to see them all at once on a calendar, and that most people greatly underestimate how long it will take to do a task; thus, you should try to estimate honestly the amount of time it will take to do the things you need to do, and then you should put these tasks on a calendar, scheduled for specific times. Well, yes. Few of us do this all the time, but it’s kind of hard to argue that that’s a good idea, right?

My response was to laugh hysterically and then tell Julie Morgenstern’s little cover photo, “That’s really cute for regular people, but IF I DON’T DO 500 THINGS BY TOMORROW, BY WHICH I MEAN SIX MONTHS AGO, MY LIFE WILL BE OVER!” There were also some expletives that Julie Morgenstern did not deserve.

If everything in your life is not working, all at the same time, it is actually fairly unlikely that incremental improvement will give you the results you want. If you have a terrible job in a terrible city where you live with a terrible boyfriend in too-close proximity to your terrible relatives, and you try to fix everything as it stands, it’s pretty likely that you will wear yourself out early on, and you will stop tinkering as soon as things become bearable again – that is, the goal will become relief, not awesomeness.

David Sedaris wrote in one of his books about going to Japan for several months in order to break his smoking habit; he just couldn’t do it at home, where everything is a physical cue to do the things one has always done. Dumping yourself in another country is an excellent way to make clear to yourself that there are many, many lives you could be living, and the one you’re failing at is not necessarily one you need to go back to and tinker with.

Drop everything. Go teach English in Moldova. Seriously, if you don’t have any money, you can still travel, because America is actually really expensive and a lot of other places are much less so. Just Google “vagabonding,” or try this to start.

Or, could you stop failing at something hard, go do something easy – maybe some kind of feel-good temporary job that allows you to pay your bills – while you use your newfound mental space to plot your next move? If you drop everything and take up dogwalking or coffee-serving, it won’t even look like a chink in your career at all if you can come out of it in a couple of years with a book, a new company, an invention, or some other creative enterprise most people aren’t ballsy enough to even attempt.

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  • Lisa M.

    I love reading articles like this. Almost a year ago, I moved away from a very safe (but stressful) job in a town where I had no friends. I moved somewhere where I have a bunch of friends but didn’t have a job. Amazingly, it worked out, even when I was hit with mysterious medical issues and really wanted my mom, who was back in my hometown. Am I a bit in debt now? Yes, and I’m steadily working it off with a job I got. Is it my dream job? Nope. Do I need everything in my life to be my dream whatever? Nope.

  • andrea dunlop

    I had the first big moment like this in my life when I moved to New York after college, the second came when I finally left New York to move to Seattle. It’s tough to switch everything up but so worth it. And naturally I can also vouch for the restorative benefits of spending some time abroad. Good advice as always Jen.

  • Rachel

    Getting ready to make a big life change for myself: applying to the Ph.D program at school rather than just finish my master’s and go find a real job..definitely a life-changing decision since it would tack 4 more years on of schooling, more debt, and would mean me working a crap job, living at home with the parents, and having no life whatsoever for a few more years…but…for some reason it just feels like it is the right time!!! Sometimes you just gotta go for it and make that change!

  • Divya

    I love this. Just simple-pimple love. Here on out, risk taking is my mantra.

    • Divya

      I mean, she expresses such a simple message–if you’re unhappy or even just content in your current place, most of us are lucky enough to have the resources at hand to do something to change that.

  • Danica

    I think the universe is trying to tell me something tonight. I am 3 weeks away from graduating with a BS in biology, and tonight, I finally talked to a friend about how I don’t want a career in biology. I’ve always been more artistically than academically inclined, but I tried to convince myself all throughout college that I should get a science/math degree and have a science/math career. But as graduation approaches and the job search intensifies, I realize that I want to work in something I’m interested in, something I’m passionate about. I haven’t been passionate about anything in ages, not since I gave up my first passion (ballet). I decided to check the gloss before going to bed, and I saw this article. I know my parents will be disappointed and skeptical, but I know I need to be bullish about this and pursue what I want, not what my parents think will be good for me. It’ll all work out in the end. So thank you Jen Dziura, for writing this article. I am sure future me will repeatedly thank you too.

    • Lisa M.

      My mom and dad both have biology degrees. My mom worked as a draftswoman for years and loved that; my dad worked for UPS (first as a delivery guy, and then, by the time he retired, as some type of suit-wearing-person). Currently, my mom is a lunch lady, and she loves that because it’s low stress and leaves her plenty of time to do volunteer work. Neither of them worked in biology.

      My mom did pursue Medical Illustration for a while, so if you’re into that type of art, it’s an option that ties back into the biology aspect.

      (I am not much help since my degree is in English and I now work in sales).

    • Susan

      Danica,
      I graduated with a B.S. in biology. I too decided I wasn’t interested in a career in science or academia. Instead, I pursued a master’s degree and career in Occupational Therapy. With a degree in biology you already have some of the prerequisites for the program – chemistry and physics – and just need a few psychology courses. I found that this career is just the right blend of medicine and social work. I have the human interaction I wanted in a career and can apply the scientific knowledge I learned during my bachelor’s degree.

      You can find something else that will be meaningful to you! Don’t worry if you’re not sure what you want to do right at this moment.

  • Emma

    YOU MUST KNOW ME. Really, this article couldn’t have come out at a better time. Thank you.

  • M

    A family friend of mine got her degree in engineering and had a fantastic, high-paying job with a fantastic, renowned company. She hated it with all her heart and soul. She hadn’t know what she wanted to do in college and she’s Asian and both her siblings and parents went into engineering and loved it so she followed suit. It was incredibly wrong for her. So at the age of 28 she quit her fantastic, high-paying job and moved back in with her parents and went back to college to pursue her Master’s in psychology [which involves her first needing to get a Bachelor's in psychology]. She is incredibly happy. Her parents were kind of disappointed for about two weeks until they saw just how incredibly happy and fulfilled it made her to finally pursue what she wants to do. Sometimes a perfectly legitimate career path just isn’t the right thing for a person and there is no shame in that.

    On the other hand, my aunt is in her mid-60′s and is an accountant with a major company. She has always been an accountant and has been with the same company for a long time, and she also hates her job with a fiery passion. She makes decent money, but since the cost of living is high here in the California bay area and she’s had multiple bouts with cancer in the past, her savings are small enough that she will probably never be able to retire. She is, in all likelihood, stuck in her soul-destroying job for the rest of her life. Before the bottom dropped out of the market I was considering going into real estate [I worked in condo sales for a couple years], but when I looked at her and thought about what it would really mean for my future, I couldn’t imagine doing something that would almost inevitably end up with me facing her situation in forty years. So instead I went to trade school. And it is definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life.

  • Ava

    What a good article to hear. I am getting my social work degree in two weeks and am planning to move to new york to work. People think I’m joking, but the jobs are there and I have just enough money to make the move. If I don’t do it I’ll never forgive myself…

  • isadora

    BRAVO!

    I’m a Chemical Engineer and have been working as such for the last seven years. Although I don’t hate it, I must say I haven’t found the job I love/mostly like. Way much time invested for little to none results.

    I always wanted to be a writer and my only passion as a child was ballet (as Danica, above) and now I’m just trying lear how to play guitar.

    As you can see, I’m all over the place. It’s hard to admit we might not have an inherent talent or latent talent for that matter. Most of the time I just feel I’m very average, very. And it kills me.

    I’m single and childless so the “children abandonment” is not problem, but I’m 29, oh! 29. Too close to the dreadful age on which people imagine you being all mature, settled and procreating non-stop.

    Thanks for writing this. It came in at the right moment.

  • Taylor

    Your column is my favorite part of the week.

  • Hannah Beth

    I wonder if there’s an age limit sometimes. My good friend’s mother thinks she is too old for a divorce because she doesn’t have a lucrative job. She’s only 50. I wonder if the two factors conflict when making career changes.
    For me, I think I’m at an age where my only major career change is changing majors (still in college), but I sometimes have to remind myself that it’s not a big deal that I keep changing my mind because I’m not even out there yet.
    Great article.

  • sarahk

    This was so inspiring to me. I’m about to do this and people think I’m nuts. I started planning a year ago to leave my job and move across the country to California. Just because. I’ve got a good life but I want more. I want adventure. I want to get out of Arkansas. And I kept letting my debt and my anxiety tie me down. It’s been a hard road, but my savings are padded and my debt is being paid down and I got a second job to finance everything. Almost ready to go.

  • Cristal P.

    Thank you so much for posting this. I’m def in the spot of being comfortable and not wanting to give up a decent paycheck. But when it comes down to it, I’m very unhappy and feel like I’m wasting this one life that I have. Time to get ballsy!!!!

  • HT

    Thank you for the great post! I’m battling the blues over career angst at age 40. I landed on this page after googling “being ballsy”. As old as I feel, not too old to make a big change. I really liked your advice about A to B- and if you can’t draw it, then really is a wasted spot to be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rentalartist Felicia S Plumley

    I just have to say that this is terrible. I’ve been following my heart all my stupid life and where has it gotten me? Unemployable. I am flat broke, nobody will hire me for anything, even though I have a lot of skills I’ve developed entirely on my own. In fact, that’s the problem because I’m not “certified” to do anything. I wanted to pursue my artistic goals, so I left a job that offended my soul, but made ends meet. I’m entirely stuck because I followed my heart and not my head. Congratulations to those of you that made it work, but for some of us down here on earth, following your heart is the dumbest thing you’ll ever do.

  • Kate P.

    I live in new york and wish I lived on a working ranch. So your assumptions are correct.