Five situations when you shouldn’t change careers


In many respects, changing careers is like dumping your significant other. It’s a lot easier to do than solving the problems you’re facing. But in so many cases, hard work and self-knowledge could solve most of the problems. And I have found — in both careers and relationships — that if I get through a tough spot, I learn way more about myself and the world than if I had left and started over. I already know the starting over routine very well. But I don’t know so much about the sticking with it routine.

Each of us is probably better at one or the other. If you are great at starting over, but not so great at sticking with it, I can’t help you with your significant other, but I can help you with your career. Here are five situations when you should not change careers.

1. You hate your boss. This is not a problem with your career. Change jobs instead of changing careers. Or, get better at managing your boss to get the treatment you want.

2. You want more prestige. Get a therapist – you’re having a confidence crisis, not a career crisis. Prestige is a hollow goal when it comes to careers. The quest for interesting, fun, rewarding work is one thing, but the quest for fame is, in fact, bad for you emotionally.

3. You want to meet new people. Try going to a bar, or Club Med. Is the problem that you are not able to make friends in your industry? It would have to be a pretty small industry for this to not be your own, social problem as opposed to an industry-wide problem. Be honest with yourself: Maybe what you really want is to get a life. Pick up a hobby.

4. You want more meaning in life. A job does not give life meaning. And anyway, people have been searching for the meaning of life forever. It’s a highly disputed topic, and probably too charged an issue to lay on your career.

5. You want more happiness. I have said many times that your job does not control your happiness, your mind does. Here’s good news, though: You can give your mind a happier disposition by meditating. I like that there is science behind this (thanks, Dylan). But I was a meditation convert as a volleyball player, before I knew the science.

One of the best ways to teach your body how to do something, by the way, is to watch yourself doing it perfectly, in your mind. I taught myself to jump serve by imagining the serve in my head. I divided the serve into twenty motions. And I imagined them all. Thousands of times. (Wait, look: I am so pleased to have found this video of jump serving.)

But you can’t jump serve if you’re tense. So I had to learn to calm my body through meditation while I imagined the jump serves. Each night I meditated, and instead of focusing on the traditional “om” chant, I focused on the ball.

That was my favorite part of my whole volleyball career. This is how I know that you can make yourself like your career better — any career — by meditating: another reason you don’t have to change careers.

60 replies
  1. Prashant
    Prashant says:

    There are a lot of correct reasons for changing jobs.. However, what I feel is that as far as possible, you should change your job only when you are at the top in your current job – i.e. when you are happy and enjoying yourself. In such a situation, you don’t cling to anything that comes your way, and you usually are able to negotiate a good offer (job profile + money) – or are able to wait until you get that good offer.

  2. Rahul
    Rahul says:

    “In many respects, changing careers is like dumping your significant other. It's a lot easier to do than solving the problems you're facing.”

    It’s also why having to choose between the two is both the greatest blessing and the most horrible curse. :-(

  3. oldguy
    oldguy says:

    I don’t think a new job can make you happy, but I do think putting 40 or 60 hours a week into a job that you consider meaningless, or even hurtful to society, can be a pretty big obstacle to happiness. I can’t imagine, for example, a committed PETA member being happy holding down a job as a PR person for one of those companies that breeds chickens in airless cages, no matter how much meditation they do. The conflict between actions and principles is going to be too great. The same corrosive impact can arise from a merely meaningless job, if you are afflicted with the notion that your life ought to have some purpose or provide some benefit to the rest of the world. In a well lived life, you really need to start with what you want your life to be about, and fit your job, as well as everything else, into a coherent plan to get to that place.

  4. Lea
    Lea says:

    I understand the point that you’re making regarding happiness and changing careers, but I do believe that it’s valid to change careers if the career you are in does not allow time for you to pursue the things that make you happy. While your job or career should not be counted on to make you happy, it is undeniable that having a job that fits into the type of life you want to have will make you happier.

    I knew that it was time to change my career when I woke up with a knot in my stomach every day that I had to go to work. This went on for more than a year before I was able to identify that my job was the cause. It took me two more years to make my career change, but my stomach helped me make the best choices for that change — if a potential job made my stomach clench when I thought about doing it, I knew that it wasn’t going to be the right fit for me.

  5. Rambler
    Rambler says:

    I totally agree with all 5 of them. If possible please do write about times when you can be sure you need a change in job

  6. Brian Johnson
    Brian Johnson says:

    You’re right on with the meditation reference in this post, Penelope. The man behind this research is Professor Richard Davidson, here at UW-Madison. He does a presentation called “Be Happy Like a Monk” that’s based on his his research on the brain’s neuroplasticity and ability to be “trained” for a positive outlook. Much of this reasearch comes from his one-on-one sessions with the Dalai Lama and a number of enlightened monks. I’ve been fortunate to see this presentation a couple of times and it’s incredibly relevant to #5 in this post.

    On a much smaller scale I’ve experienced the same phenomena using mental preparation/meditation as a musician. It’s possible to not only perfect but learn entire pieces of music without even having an instrument in front of you purely through the power of mental exercise. It’s a bit off-topic, but goes to the point of the power we all have intellectually to alter our daily actions and outlooks.

  7. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    As a life/career/relationship coach, I’ve yet to meet someone who made a successful change (work or relationship) by “moving away” from their present unhappy experience. Without deep reflection on what is causing one upset, unhappiness, stress, overwhelm, resentment, dissatisfaction, conflict, etc., and then crafting a sense of what wants (mission, vision, purpose, etc.), the energy of “moving away usually results in more of the same. The job or partner changes, but, in the short- or long-term, not the root causes of the frustration or upset…thus creating an endless loop of unhappy, meaningless career moves or relationships. That’s why we spend lots of time on the notion of “moving toward”…a conscious exploration of one’s life purpose and how that plays out in careering or relationships. The energy of “moving away” is negative, harsh, and usually self-defeating; the energy of “moving towards” is positive, exciting, alive, juicy, uplifting, and motivating.

  8. mark
    mark says:

    I don’t agree that a change in job or career can never affect happiness. I changed careers and improved my happiness. I also meditate, and my meditation helped me to realize that the job I had was fundamentally inconsistent with my deeply held beliefs. I now teach teenagers… every day I feel I’ve helped other people, and that makes one happy. Previously my greatest stress related to money, and that stress is completely gone. I don’t chase it, I don’t have it (well, I have enough for the essentials… don’t worry, you won’t have to support me), and I don’t think about it. I’m truly happy, focused and relaxed.

  9. The Wolfman
    The Wolfman says:

    well, =when you spend 35-40% of your waking life somewhere, I think that can definitely affect your happiness, especially if you are not in an environment that stimulates you mentally or creatively. I understand what you are saying about your job not being your life and that you need to first be able to be happy in general, but your job is a large part of your life and you must make sure that you are getting the most out of it.
    my 2 cents…

  10. 1000 Tony Romo DJs
    1000 Tony Romo DJs says:

    No. Why shouldn’t you change careers, if you want to? What is wrong with change? How about changing to admit you don’t know everything?

    There are too many people on the Internet writing rules.

  11. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    I’m having trouble finding the article now, but an ivy league study done a few years back found that the number one determinant of general happiness for Americans was fulfillment at work. Whether or not you agree with the underlying cultural premise there, the correlation between job satisfaction and life satisfaction is strong.

    Your article seems to be caught up in the notion that a job is “just a job,” as they say, but I work with people who are so passionate about what they do and how they do it that it becomes more of a lifestyle than a place to go from nine to five. You don’t seem to give your readers enough credit.

    By the way, in response to the last commenter’s quip that “There are too many people on the internet writing rules” — you’re absolutely right! One documented reason is that these lists of “rules” on blogs do really well for search engine optimization and seem to get a lot of play on digg and other social networking sites. What I think we’ve found here is an attempt to boost traffic… all form, lacking substance.

    * * * * * *

    Hi, Jeff. A large portion of this blog is dedicated to translating the positive pschology reserach that’s coming out right now, into real world action. So I am pretty knowledgeable about the current research about happiness — I read it every day. And I would challenge you to find anyone who is still saying that work is what makes people happy. It just doesn’t. Relationships are what make us happy. Work is in second place, but a very far away second. Being passionate about work is nice. But it won’t make you happy. Other things determine happiness — for example, your innate level of optimism.

    Finally, do you know why I write so many posts with lists in them? Becuase the lists are what people like you comment about :)


  12. Vince
    Vince says:

    I don’t know that a job can make you happy, but it can make you unhappy if it interferes with the rest of your life, either through the amount of time you spend working or through the amount of time you spend thinking about work.

    A career (or job) change isn’t always necessary for things to change, but it’s one option.

  13. nick
    nick says:

    Ok, ah, you’re playing far too safe, fuck it, jump ship if you want to. So you’re not challenged? Get a new job in a competing agency. You’re not listened to? go somewhere else where they will. It’s not one job to rule all there’s plenty out there for a skilled person.

    * * * * * *
    Hi, Nick. There’s jumping ship and there’s jumping careers. The point here is that just because you have a bad job doesn’t mean you have a bad career. It’s about knowing which risks to take when.


  14. Marie
    Marie says:

    I agree. Changing careers is too critical. Those reasons are not logical enough to change your career. Besides, it’s not so smart to leave the thing we valued so much and take another.

  15. Anjar Priandoyo
    Anjar Priandoyo says:

    I disagree with the #1 reason, in common term it is said that people leave the company because its manager/supervisor.

    * * * * * **
    Yes, very good reason to leave a  company. Very bad reason to leave a career.


  16. Paul
    Paul says:

    I’m in a position now that I find myself very unhappy in. You’re right that it’s all in the mind. All I do is bitch and moan about everything and why I shouldn’t be here. I get paid $100,000 with free everything benefits at a job where I don’t work very hard for the money (Software engineer). After 10 years, I’m pretty much at the top of my pay scale and will most definitely take a major pay cut if I do jump ship into a new (unknown) career. I feel guilty I have such a great paying gig yet hate it nonetheless.

    • nima
      nima says:

      Exactly what my situation is! Don’t even know why I hate it so much. The money is great and frankly there are so many worse jobs than software engineering.

  17. John
    John says:

    There may be some situations wherein we really need to change careers, but it should be considered carefully. Our careers are something we worked hard for and it’s a tough choice to change it.

  18. Helen
    Helen says:

    I agree that changing jobs is our option when when we hate our boss and not career change. There are lots of the same job that don’t have the same boss.

    If we change our career, it would mean a whole new world and we need to start over.

  19. Roger
    Roger says:

    Interesting column, as usual. I have to take a bit of an issue with #4 though. Many people have a job / career to fund the “real” stuff they
    want to do. In that situation you are on the money – no pun intended.
    However, many people chose a job / career because they LIKE it and want to spend their time doing something they consider important. In such cases
    their career DOES bring meaning to their life in a very real way. What they sometimes find is that the job or career is not what they expected or what they were “sold.” That’s a good time to re-examine and consider a change.

  20. JustForKicks
    JustForKicks says:

    A job is nothing but a vehicle for your dreams and ambitions. If you feel that your current job is not the right vehicle that will help you realize your dreams, then it is time to hop off and look for alternatives.

  21. Working on Career Change
    Working on Career Change says:

    I would agree with the first 3 and disagree with the last 2. I doubt John Wood, author of Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and founder of Room to Read, ever regrets his decision to change careers in favor of a career and life mission that had more meaning.

    Secondly, if you dislike your job and wish you were doing something different, you will probably be unhappy. Meditation may make you less unhappy, but I disagree that it can make you truly happy.

    It’s hard for people to find the courage to change their careers. And there are certainly careers that provide more or less satisfaction in terms of the impact on other people’s lives.

    In your other post on this topic, you state, “Work does not need to give your life a grand purpose in order to be a good experience.” That’s true. You don’t HAVE to find a job that you believe has some lasting impact on society. But if someone DOES want a more meaningful career, then that is a very valid reason to consider a career change. I met someone who left a job as a used car salesman to enter the clergy. His wife said he was very glad to have made the change. Good thing he didn’t read this column.

  22. Peter
    Peter says:

    Are you having a laugh?? there are times when all those reasons for staying are good ones for going.

  23. Suzie Harfnan
    Suzie Harfnan says:

    These are great tips but sadly, my brother in law does not understand this. He use to be an accountant and decided to switch to being an insurance underwriter (at AIG no less) thinking this might make him happier. He took a pay cut, his job is just as boring, and he hates what he does. Sadly, he ignores the rule / tip that says “it’s not the career or job that makes you happy, it’s the mind.”

    To this day my brother in law is still unhappy and hates his job. He refuses to admit it’s an issue with himself. Smear this post all you want but the truth will always remain unchanged. Let this be a lesson to all of you.

  24. Salvatore
    Salvatore says:

    What if you hate volleyball? Why would meditating about how to do the perfect serve bring you any happiness, and how exactly would you motivate yourself to do it?

    Sorry, but your job takes up about a third (if you are lucky) of the time. If you are in a career that you hate (note – career, not job – I agree with your points about changing job rather than career where that is the real problem) then you need to find a career that you can at least tolerate, or else you are a slave, not a free person.

    Free yourself by finding the things you care about, and then finding a job or career that you feel is making a difference to these things. I’d personally be happier cleaning the toilets in a maternity hospital rather than being a scientist (my chosen second career) working for the military (I;m not American, and this is not an anti-American military rant – I’m Irish and I wouldn’t use my abilities for any military organization – I don’t think having better weapons makes anybody safer or happier, they (the weapons) just end up being sold to people who use them to kill, enslave and oppress).

    Please excuse the convoluted grammar and nested parenthesis – last career was in IT and some habits are hard to kill…

  25. Overcast
    Overcast says:

    The question I read somewhere that keeps forefront in my mind was this: Do you want a job or a career?

    Going into a grind day after day that feels like nothing more than being on a classy production line is fine, if you just want a job. But if you seek a career, sometimes you need to make a stand and take a risk with improving the career and realize that once if becomes just a ‘job’ – there may be more to offer out there.

    Meditating is not going to change the fact that my job now – isn’t what I went to school for, it’s administrative overhead, red tape, and more red tape. I think it’s time for me to get back on path with my career and not just rot in this job.

  26. Delta Highshaw
    Delta Highshaw says:

    YouTube video clips are famous in entire globe, as it is the leading video sharing website, and I turn out to be too happy by watching YouTube video lessons.

  27. Disgruntled Social Worker
    Disgruntled Social Worker says:

    What about situations in which one entered a career one should never have entered in the first place, for various reasons (playing out the same “parentified child” caretaking-role I had always played since birth through one’s career)? Or when one has severe post-traumatic stress disorder due to workplace events (and of course the childhood stuff too) making my entire career one huge trigger for me? Is it appropriate to change careers in this regard, especially when I’ve tried job after job to try to will it to be the “right” career for me (so I wouldn’t have to go through the process of re-training for something else, or go back to school, etc.) Yes, I am in therapy, but the more therapy I do, the more I realize this is NOT for me, and the more I realize I would happier if I had a job that did not center around taking care of others’ needs….and the more that I realize that I have a right to be happy in this short time I have on this Earth. Is that a valid reason for a career change?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Corporate Engagement says:

    Leaving your job is not always the answer…

    Five situations when you shouldn't change careers » Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk….

  2. says:

    Cuando NO deberías cambiar de profesión…

    Resumiendo: 1. Odias a tu jefe 2. Quieres más prestigio 3. Quieres conocer nueva gente 4. Quieres que tu vida tenga más sentido 5. Quieres ser más feliz. En inglés. Se os ocurre alguna más a tener en cuenta? Via

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