Raise your hand if your parents or a high school guidance counselor ever told you that you can be whatever you want.  Anything at all. Just take your pick!

Awesome, right? What a lovely, encouraging message.  

Only it didn’t work out quite like that.  Only you weren’t told how to figure out what you want. You weren’t told that you are a highly sensitive person and that this should be a major factor when you consider your career options. And you also weren’t told…

  • how to fully explore all other sides of your personality
  • how to take into account all of your preferences and talents
  • how to separate your real wants from those voices in your head that were telling you what you should want
  • how to look for possibilities beyond that list of majors in that particular catalog
  • how it’s possible to enjoy your work and make a living
  • how it’s ok to want it all
  • how to get it all

So you didn’t get it quite right. Maybe you never really made a choice at all and just drifted into a job because of circumstances. Maybe you made the wrong choice because you didn’t have the right tools for choosing at the time. Maybe your choice was ok for a while, but not anymore…

Whatever happened, I’m guessing much of the above resonates with you, since you are reading this article. It sure resonates with me. Picture me here at my laptop eagerly raising my hand for all of it. 

When I finally came to the realization that I was terribly unhappy with where my own career choices had led me, I had no clue what to do. I had some vague ideas for alternatives, but I was terrified of making another wrong move. 

Now, I have learned a lot since those days, and in this article, I want to share with you what I know about making a career change that will lead you to work you are totally googly-eyes over. Of course, simply reading this one article will not get you your dream job, but the five tips below might help you get started on the right foot. I’ve also added some info on how career coaching can be used along the way to help.

HSP CAREER CHANGE: 5 tips to help you succeed

1. START FROM SCRATCH

When you are unhappy at a job, the most obvious thing to do is to update your resume with your current skill set and work experience and start looking through job ads for other positions you might be qualified for. This will work just fine if your dream is to be using your current skill set and you just haven’t found the right environment for applying those skills yet. Let’s say you love your job as an accountant, but you are working in an open-plan office with an unreasonable boss, too much time pressure, and arrogant coworkers. Another job in the same or similar field might give you the change of environment you’ve been looking for.

But the thing is… If you are not excited about the actual tasks you are performing on a daily basis, you will never be fully satisfied. And by the way, it doesn’t matter if you are fantastic, mediocre, or terrible at those tasks – you will be miserable regardless. Just because you have acquired certain skills or managed to become good at something, doesn’t mean that is what is going to make you happy.

I happen to be really good at number crunching and I was paid a very comfortable salary to be a number cruncher. The only problem was that number crunching bored me to tears. So switching to a different number crunching job and expecting to like it would have been a bit like putting my broccoli on a different plate and expecting it to start tasting like chocolate.

To find work that you will actually enjoy doing, make yourself reconsider everything and start the career decision making process from scratch:

  • Pretend you are 18 again. Pretend you never got a degree in anything. Pretend you never had a real job. Your whole life is ahead of you. (And unless you are 99 years old, don’t forget that you actually DO still have a whole lot of life ahead of you!)
  • Completely ignore your current skill set for now.
  • Completely ignore your past work experience for now except as a guide for what you like and don’t like.
  • Completely ignore what the voices in your head think would be “sensible” or “reasonable” or “doable”.

2. GET TO KNOW YOURSELF

Maybe you didn’t have the tools or the life experience to know who you were or what you really wanted when you were a teenager. And how could you? At age 18, most of us were struggling to decide whether to drink one more Mike’s Hard Lemonade and whether to hook up with that cute guy in Western Civ. It’s a bit much to ask an 18-year-old to really understand the ramifications of a career choice.

But take the second chance NOW to analyze the crap out of yourself. You already know that you are a highly sensitive person, but what else is there? Become intimately familiar with every aspect of your personality and temperament. Figure out what your natural strengths and weaknesses are. Be brutally honest with yourself. Forget about who you think you should be or who you think other people want you to be. Focus on who you actually are. The good, the bad, and the ugly parts of you all provide valuable insight into finding the best new career path for you.

3. LET YOURSELF WANT IT ALL

I think that the simple reason many of us end up in careers we don’t love is because we settle. We think it’s not possible to find work we love. We think we are not good enough. We think we are not supposed to love the work we do (duh, that’s why it’s called work!). We think we don’t deserve to love the work we do. We think it would be too hard to make a change.

But I’m going to ask you to stretch yourself. Let yourself dream. Let yourself want it all. The higher you set the bar, the better the outcome. Even if you only get 80% of “the all” that you want in the end, it will be much closer to your ideal than not letting yourself dream and not going after your dreams at all.

As a starting point, I would suggest that your dream career should meet at least the following criteria:

  • The work has to let you use your gifts as a highly sensitive person and the strengths of your personality type.
  • You have to be comfortable with the work environment. Even if you love the work itself, it’s hard to be satisfied if the people you work with, the commute to reach the work, or the setting in which you spend a majority of your waking hours stress you out.
  • The work has to be meaningful to you in some way.
  • You have to be able to make an income you feel comfortable with. Money doesn’t bring happiness, but constant worry over being able to meet your basic needs brings stress.

4. FIGURE OUT WHAT CAREERS BEST FIT YOUR WANTS

Most of us have done a whole lot of adjusting and compromising and settling to force ourselves to fit into a career. But to achieve career satisfaction, just the opposite needs to happen. You need to find work that fits YOU just as you are. And just because you haven’t encountered it yet, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. There are thousands of careers out there, many that you’ve probably never heard of.

Start collecting a list of potential careers that fit most or all of your criteria. Err on the side of including too many, rather than not enough at this point. Don’t rule careers out because there are some obstacles.

Once you are satisfied that you have explored all the possibilities, pick the best fit for you, taking all your criteria into account. 

5. DEAL WITH THE OBSTACLES

When you finally figure out what your dream career is, you’ll be on a happy high flying around in la-la-land clouds.

For a while.

Until the shit that is reality hits the fan and throws you back on the ground. Until you remember that there are all kinds of obstacles on the road between here and dream-career-country. There are fallen trees and big-ass rocks and police-check-points on that road. There are mortgages and kids to be fed and degree requirements. There are time constraints and judgmental mother-in-laws and will-powers that have gone missing. Thinking about it all hurts your brain and just makes you want to go to sleep. And it makes most people want to stop right there.

But guess what? You don’t have to. Every single one of those obstacles can be dealt with and crossed over in turn. None of this has to happen overnight. You don’t have to figure all this out alone.

If you’d like support with any of the steps listed in this article, here are links to more info on some of my coaching services:

  • If you are unhappy with your current career path, dreaming of change, but unsure what you could or should be doing instead, you might be interested in my HSP Career Discovery Online Course.  This course is for you if you are starting with a completely blank slate with no ideas for career options at all, or if you already have some ideas, but you want to fully consider all your options and reflect deeply on what you want before moving forward. The course is self-paced, you can enroll anytime, and you receive immediate access to a series of short videos and workbook assignments.   
  • If you match the description above, but you haven’t had much success with self-paced resources, need outside accountability, and prefer writing to talking, you might want to check out my HSP Career Discovery Coaching Program Via Email. With this option, you will go through the same process as the students enrolled in the online course, but you will send the completed assignments to me according to an agreed upon schedule. You will also receive personalized feedback from me and support if you get stuck.
  • If you are interested in formal career assessments like the MBTI® or the Strong Interest Inventory®, see the info page for my 1:1 Career Coaching services.
  • I also recommend 1:1 Career Coaching if you are stuck in analysis paralysis and need help overcoming doubts and fears that are holding you back from taking action or if you keep procrastinating because the whole process just feels too overwhelming. My services are location-independent with all sessions conducted online via Zoom.
About the Author

Hi, I'm Anni! I'm a life and career coach for stressed out highly sensitive people. My mission is to help you discover your true self and create a life you ACTUALLY like.

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