Career Transitions: 'I Hate My Job. Now What?'

10/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

It used to be the case that when you chose a career, you lived that career throughout your life. But as lifestyles have become more work oriented, as the stresses of a particular job have increased, and as the possibilities for work have become more and more interesting and diverse, people no longer feel as though they have to stick to one job. In fact, many people dread the idea of being in one job throughout their lives. Yet, despite this dread, most people who are disillusioned by their jobs, or even hate their jobs, cannot make the transition as easily as they want to. As inspired as they may be, this inspiration struggles to reach action. In this and the subsequent four columns, I will describe important reasons for this. The psychology and the brain science can both be used to make that new career choice easier.

As you gradually grow sick and tired of your career, you accumulate distaste and dissatisfaction with your career. You start to hate your job but the familiarity of he old job and the fear of change keep you paralyzed. People are often inspired to leave their jobs, and subsequently frustrated that they don't. But between inspiration to leave and leaving, there are many subtle psychological processes to consider. The first of these is 'commitment'. When you are interested in leaving, are you just interested or committed?

People run into problems because they often feel as though they cannot be committed until they find a new and better job. However, this very thought may be standing in the way of the change. It is possible that if you are committed to leaving, new ideas and thoughts will occur to you, which previously were not because your brain has the permission to look for alternatives.

I think of this like a race. If you are running race and need to get from point A to point B, you have to do more than just show up. You have to be on the track, and start with the "on-your-mark" position. Most people mistake this as being a sign of commitment. They try to get from the "on-your-mark" position to running, but cannot do this effectively or with sufficient momentum. The "get-set position" maximizes the momentum in taking off. It is the position of action-orientation, and people often need to be coached on the difference between an "action-oriented" mindset and an "inspired" mindset. But does this really make a difference in the human brain?

It turns out that it does. Hammond and colleagues reported in brain stimulation studies that action-orientation stimulates the left frontal cortex in the brain. Just the intent to act without action-orientation is insufficient. Action-orientation is a focused mindset.

It is also interesting that the left frontal cortex is also responsible for language-related action. People can help themselves and coaches can help people develop a new language for understanding what they are feeling and doing to help them become more successful at planned actions.

So what are the first steps in getting to commitment to the change you want? Asking you the following questions can be a helpful first step:

1. Are you truly committed or just wishing and hoping?
2. What indicates that you are action-oriented and not just inspired?
3. Do you have any conflicts that are inhibiting your action?
4. Have you resolved those conflicts?
5. Are you waiting for those conflicts to be resolved before you become committed?

The answers to these questions and the psychology behind these conflicts are complex. For anyone who wishes to change their careers, having a meaningful grasp of these ideas is crucial to making the changes they desire. (Details of these processes are outlined in: Remember that conflict resolution may occur more effectively after becoming committed to your goal. If you want to change jobs, you may have to increase your commitment to this aim prior to weighing the pros and cons if you want to reach your goal. Next week we will examine why this is the case.

If you are interested in understanding applications of brain science to personal or professional career or other changes, you may consider the workshop: The Neuroscience of Change and Transformation: Executive Coaching Tools for Embracing a New Era