Unhappy at work? Choose a new career path.

adult career services advisor meets with student

Dissatisfied with their jobs and daydreaming of new careers in other intriguing fields, workers sometimes face a double-barreled anxiety: Fear of the unknown and uncertainty about where to start.

Because of the improving economy, more workers are considering making changes, releasing years of pent-up career frustrations. But they are often paralyzed by the axiom: “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.”

The first steps are embracing the fear and realizing that change is a process. Look at your career path as a staircase and trust the process by taking the first step, even without knowing what’s at the top.

Moira Kelley
Moira Kelley

Then, visualize how you’d like your life to be. Imagine what a typical day would look like, from waking up to going to bed at night. What tasks are you doing? Who are you doing them with? Consider not only the job itself, but the work environment and your lifestyle outside of work.

But don’t let dissatisfaction trap you into making rash or ill-informed decisions. Strive to identify what it is you don’t like.

So, get a notebook and jot down tasks you enjoy doing, what you want to do less of, skills you want to use or develop more fully and what really annoys you about your current job. Keep it handy to capture your thoughts and make them tangible.

Think of career change as an overall life change, and not just a job change. Think about your values, how work influences your personal life and reflect on what success and happiness mean to you.

It’s also important to lose your “job filter.” Instead of looking at options through the lens of “What job do I want to do?” think about what skills you want to use, products or services you want to provide, how you want to give back to the community or what brings value to your life. Think of this more as an overall life change.

And, although a “take-this-job-and-shove-it” approach might have some fleeting appeal, think about how small changes can improve your current situation. Are there ways to change your current situation through professional development or changed job duties? If you are interested in a promotion, make it known. Take on a part-time position that re-energizes you. Maybe a change in hours would help. Or maybe your workplace is what needs changing .

Once you have a clearer idea of how to proceed, regularly set time aside for career planning and take small actions that advance your agenda. Find experts whom you trust to point you in the right direction. Take action on your curiosity, even if it’s in small ways.

Moving ahead and taking action uncovers options that provide hope. That hope can snowball and allow you to take more control over your life and your career.

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A version of this column appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on Oct. 12, 2014

Moira Kelley is a senior career counselor at UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies. She may be reached at: mkelley@dcs.wisc.edu. For more information, see http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/advising or call 608-263-6960.