Feeling like a failure and wanting to change job is one thing. Being successful and wanting to change it is another.
This is the dilemma many medics face. I’ve coached a good number of doctors (both junior doctors and consultants in the UK and internationally). By all accounts, they have great jobs that make a difference to patients, they make decent money and have the respect and admiration of society. But they feel something is missing and may experience regular anxiety over what to do.
Why does this happen?
Large economic surveys show that most people will experience some crisis of meaning in work and life in their mid-thirties. It may be to do with starting to contemplate midlife and mortality, dashed hopes and aspirations or simply the pressures of life outweighing the fun and joy of it.
So the first thing to note is that a career crisis is common and to be expected in the mid-thirties.
The second is that if left unaddressed, people begin to feel better around the mid-fifties. They hit rock bottom and then start to take on a more accepting and positive view – perhaps because they feel that life is passing by so they might as well enjoy what’s left…
Medics have an additional problem: they feel guilty about their career crisis. They’re ashamed of wanting to back out of a job that others admire, gives them security and that their families invested so much in…This is a Success Trap (the subject of a book I’m writing). The job situation looks good on the outside, relatives and bosses may want you to stick with it, so it’s hard to walk away.
It’s important to realise that you are much more than your job.
Your current career situation was most likely shaped by decisions that you made when you were much younger and were still heavily influenced by external expectations. So trying to stick with a job that you’ve outgrown or doesn’t resonate with who you’ve become will create stress.
Many of my clients go through a transition to a new job – an intermediate phase. They might locum as they build their business (this gives them flexibility and cash) or take up secondments in international organisations (I work with a lot of medics who want to do global health). This allows them to test the waters but also get away from work environments that can be toxic and sap their enthusiasm for change.
Unless you’re up for a sudden career leap into the unknown and taking time out to figure things out building the plane as you fly it (that’s what I did), going through an intermediate phase will help you get clearer on what you want and how to get there.
Let’s get practical
Going through a career transformation is a marathon rather than a sprint. Often, it’s much more than changing jobs. It’s about rediscovering old passions, reconnecting with deep values and restructuring life in a way that feels more balanced.
I take my clients through six steps (not always in this order):
- Relax: The NHS can be an overwhelming and confusing place. Take a step back and increase your self-care to reduce brain fog and reactivity.
- Reflect: Take time to sit with the big questions like “what do you really want?” and “who do you want to become as a person in this next phase of your career?”
- Release: At some stage you’ll need to let go of the old to make way for the new. The uncertainty can be scary but there are ways to stay calm and focused.
- Reconnect: Rediscover the things you really care about, articulate a vision of what you want and prioritise those. Reconnect with people, places and habits that align with your priorities.
- Respond: A flexible strategy implemented in small, consistent steps is best.
- Receive: Learn to be patient, trust the journey and celebrate your courage.
The most important thing if you’re unsure about your job or career is to give yourself some space as well as speak with objective people who will help you think things through without mixing in their own agenda.
It’s entirely possible to reinvent your career once, if not two or three times. Trust yourself and you’ll find that the path becomes clearer.
About the Author
Dr Amina Aitsi-Selmi works full time as a Transformational Coach and Consultant virtually and at Harley Street. She helps doctors, scientists and public health specialists who might be feeling stuck to find inspiration again and create a fulfilling career and life.