Hindsight is 20/20. Particularly when you feel trapped in a career you don't enjoy and see that no amount of money, or change in supervisor, roles or responsibility will improve your lack of career satisfaction.
Feeling uninspired and unfulfilled by my career wasn't a new awakening that bubbled to the surface when my baby was born. I had known for a very long time. But, like most of us, I had constant life responsibilities. The time to "do something about it" never felt right.
Additionally, I had invested a lot of time and effort into building my career -- a decade, to be precise. How could I walk away from it all, when I finally reached a point where I commanded a decent salary? I had spent two and half years of my life in graduate school, obtaining a master's degree in this field I so disliked. I was haunted by the days early on in my career, when I would submit hundreds of resumes, only to be ignored by the large majority of employers. I finally had companies calling to woo me. How does one walk away from an endeavor that they've spent so much of their life developing?
The conundrum is not uncommon; it even has a name: Escalation of commitment. Formally defined as "the tendency to invest additional resources in an apparently losing proposition, influenced by effort, money and time already invested," it's evidenced throughout our actions in life, from career choices, jobs, relationships and business ownership. Of course, mortgages, bills and family obligations are a fact of life that preclude us from just picking up and walking away from a less than savory situation. But how does one determine when career dissatisfaction is an occasional "case of the Mondays," and when it's time to seriously consider a new path?
Aside from the obvious financial implications, one reason people toil in jobs they hate for years, even their entire lives, has a lot to do with how Americans define a responsible adult. Cultural norms in America emphasize fulfilling responsibilities and attaining wealth over happiness and inner balance. As a society, a benchmark of living successfully includes "finishing what we start."
According to researchers at the Institute of Social Psychology at the University of Hamburg, thinking less like a grown-up may be the key in overcoming escalation of commitment and finding the path that will prove most fulfilling. Where adults typically place value on "toughing it out," "children base their decisions more strongly on future benefits than on preceding investments," according to the researchers.
The thought-process of a child may bear emulating, particularly when the ever-powerful gut instinct tells us a situation isn't right. New and uncertain paths are scary, and risky. But are the benefits of pursuing a new endeavor that may provide future and long-term enrichment to your life worth taking a step back in the present? Ask your inner child.
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