“I think I want to be a psychologist, but I don’t want to listen to people’s problems all day!”
According to my mum, these were the seemingly contradictory words I uttered as a 17-year-old, nearing the completion of Year 12, and contemplating life outside of the school gates. Fast-forward 30 years and I am indeed a psychologist, but like many of us, my career path has been far from linear.
While my teenage musings may appear contrary to the typical expectations we have of the ‘helping’ profession, I realise now, that even at age 17, I was tapping into my values and strengths, potent ingredients in the recipe for career fulfilment and vocational success. My gut wanted to work with people’s strengths, and my belief system knew that with a positive and supportive approach, we all have the capacity to live better lives. However, in the 80s, the positive psychology movement was unheard of, and the psychological profession was generally more aligned with the traditional medical model, where the focus was on a client’s struggles, what wasn’t working, and what need to be “fixed”.
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So, feeling torn, I decided against studying psychology, and chose to explore the machinations of human behaviour via a communications degree and a subsequent career in public relations and marketing. But after years working with an array of clients across three continents, I developed an itch. The itch became a more pronounced rash (of the mental kind) until I made the decision to take the long road back to retraining as a psychologist.
My career tale is far from unique, and today, I recognise it makes the many client stories I hear about job change conundrums and career crossroads even more meaningful and relatable.
For many Australians, the itch never goes away because it is accompanied by a fear of the unknown that often holds us back from making life-changing decisions. It makes sense for us to fear the unknown. In evolutionary terms, a degree of caution with unfamiliar situations has helped us survive. But when it comes to careers, this fear can prevent us from pursuing a job that aligns with who we are and what we need most, ultimately leaving us feeling unsatisfied, and inauthentic, day in and day out.
On average, we spend a third of our lives at work but so many of us feel disenchanted and unhappy in the jobs we’re in. According to a recent study conducted by SEEK, almost 60 per cent of Australians report feeling stuck in their current career, yet many have a dream or vision that they are yet to action.
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So why do so many of us choose to stay in jobs that no longer fulfil us, even when the cost is high to our psychological, relational and physical wellbeing?