Over the years, countless clients have come in to therapy looking to find direction. They find themselves at a crossroads. Sometimes it is precipitated by the end of a job and they feel they aren't prepared to do anything else. More frequently, it is a feeling that they aren't satisfied with their current state and they want to change but HOW to change and WHAT to do are the problem. Do I go back to school? Do I change careers? Do I keep doing the same thing even though it is boring and I hate it?
I am fond of the expression "there are no wrong answers". I know, there ARE wrong answers like 2+2=5 is a wrong answer but what I mean is that in life, any decision you may make is not "wrong." You didn't "mess up". You didn't "make a mistake". Either you did the best you could do at the time (you thought it was the "right" answer) or you felt like you didn't have any other options so you did the best you could given that lack of information. SO, whatever you've done up to this point is not "wrong." And guess what, any decision you make for your life from this moment on will not be "wrong" either! I don't believe life is so straight forward. I don't believe that we're given one shot and that's it. I believe if you make a decision, follow a path, and it leads to a natural conclusion (either the work ends or you find yourself dissatisfied) then you have a choice (you ALWAYS have choices). You can step onto a new path or you might find that somewhere along the way, other paths have diverged from the original one. You might be able to take a path that is close to the one you're on.
Here's an example that I love to use to illustrate my point. I went to grad school and finished before I had my daughter. After becoming a mother, the decision to work outside the home was no longer one I was willing to make. So, I took a "maternity leave" during which I was a stay-at-home mom and took my daughter and, later on, my son to preschool and other activities. In doing this, I became friendly with the staff at the preschool. One day, my daughter's teacher said "you're really good with kids! why don't you sub for us?" It was a very appealing choice--both of my kids were in the preschool at that time and the hours made it very convenient to work while they were in school anyway! So, I became a sub. When a classroom opened up, the director asked me to become a teacher (I had a bunch of ECE units from undergrad and grad school). I followed that path even though it was not what I originally intended to do. Eventually, after several years of teaching there, both of my kids entered the public school setting and it was becoming clear that it was time for me to move on from the teaching gig and back to what I went to school for. So, after 9 years, I finished up my hours for licensure, finished taking my licensing exam, and became a clinical psychologist. My stint as a preschool teacher, however, made me a much better therapist and a much better parent. I never regretted my decision to take time off and persue that diversion. Ultimately, the road I was on did lead me back to the ultimate destination but it could just as easily have led me to full time teaching.
So, some could say that I made a "wrong" decision by not finishing up my hours and exams right away. Some could say that I made a "wrong" decision by not pursuing teaching since I loved being a teacher. I say none of my decisions were wrong because veering from the path helped me once I was back to the original goal. So, if you dislike your job or what you're doing in your life, do something different. Don't say "I'm too old!" because I don't believe that is ever an excuse--the average life expectancy is something like 80 these days. Unless you're 75 and in poor health, I don't accept that you're "too old" to do something different. Do you want to spend the next 40 years hating your life?
I do believe that the key to all of this is the importance of trying to do what you love. My family took priority for me when my kids were small and my family decided to make the financial sacrifice to allow me to be a stay at home mom for a time. In order to facilitate my staying home, my family had to make some financial adjustments. We had to tighten our belts a bit. More importantly than the financial cost, though, was the feeling that I was doing what I needed to do--not even what I wanted to do but what I actually NEEDED to do. I needed to be a stay at home mom. I needed to work a job that was the same as the hours my kids were in school. I needed these things for my own peace of mind. This is what I encourage all of those that find themselves at this crossroads to do.
What is calling you? What are you passionate about? Putting the financial piece aside for a moment, what do you really want to BE and DO? Its that classic question "what do you want to be when you grow up?" Is there ANY way to make that happen? Can you slowly begin to work towards that goal? I think if you pursue your passion, even if it doesn't pay very well, its the way to make yourself happy. Lots of research shows that once your basic needs are met, more money doesn't bring more happiness. Yes, in order to pursue your passion, you may need to live a more frugal lifestyle, take out a loan, or you may need to have a partner that brings more home than you do in order to support your goal but the reward, if you can manage it, is worthwhile. If you really do something that you love, you will be happy. Money doesn't bring us happiness. Fulfillment does. Compassion does. Love does. Contributing to others does.