Mental Inertia: Career Transition

Change is a beast! In one sense, predictability in the patterns of everyday life keeps us sane. In another sense, predictability breeds complacency that stunts our maturity. It’s the devil that you know, as opposed to the devil that you don’t know. Have you ever seen a friend in a toxic relationship? It’s amazing how well we can use our own skewed reality to camouflage the truth. That friend has magically been able to weave a narrative in their own mind that justifies the abusive behaviors of a significant other. Objectively, we can see the the situation is bad and no matter how much we listen and reason with our friend, they can’t seem to let go of what seems so obviously wrong. And, it’s not just relationships with other humans that we do this with…

Careers, food/drink, workout routines, a city that we live in, a credit card, a car we drive… We have a relationship with all of these things. We engage with them for a reason. But, what about when it’s time to change? The challenge is the comfort of familiarity. It’s so much easier to stay the same. The brain doesn’t have to do any critical thinking when facing off with the devil it already knows. We become comfortable with chaos. However, eventually, chaos will destroy something. For many of us it’s death by a thousand cuts – A thousand little actions in a direction that we know we don’t want to travel until one day you’re staring at death having not been true to your deepest desires. Why? Mental Inertia.

Google’s definition of inertia is – ‘a tendency to do nothing or remain unchanged’. The mind doesn’t want to change and except a new reality because it takes effort. I maintain that life will always be about solving problems. I believe that taking on new problems at a regular interval challenges our paradigms about the world to expand. I think this leads to more inner peace and more adaptability to sudden changes that we experience (death, infidelity, new relationships, sudden financial gain, etc.). Basically, our minds get better at blasting through that inertia and being able to accept a new reality. We don’t lose time trying to hold on to an old identity (an old story).

I think I’ve seen this most commonly with career transitions. The idea that our work is not who we are has always been tough for me to fully agree with. No, work doesn’t represent everything about our personality but anything that we spend a significant amount of time with (like 40 hours/week) will inevitably impact how we see ourselves (identity).

It’s the experience of being in a work situation for a substantial amount of time (3-5 years or more) and you recognize that things need to change but you have no idea what’s next. It’s been good in the past but things are becoming more and more difficult (time will always introduce challenge in any situation). We know we need to let go but the fear of not knowing where we are headed next, causes us to keep holding and hoping. The fear of the ‘Devil we Don’t Know’ causes us to hold onto the ‘Devil we do know’.

If we do find the courage to make that magical leap, we may need to take a job because we need money. This role may not utilize our talents, doesn’t involve our interests, and doesn’t pay us that well. In this scenario we might feel some anxiety because, in a former work situation, we had all of these things and there is a fear that this new role, that is so unsatisfying, may be forever. We hold on to the old identity instead of letting go and being able to appreciate this new reality.

Career and the prestige that comes with making lots of money are both huge challenges in America. Maybe it’s our fundamental lack of consideration for the roles that every single one of us plays?

For Example: I once met this guy in Starbucks that was a fellow Veteran. He said he wanted to talk to me about a potential job opportunity that he felt I might be a good fit for. Our meeting ended up being a sales pitch for a multi-level marketing scheme. He went on and on about having financial freedom and his mentor who flies private jets etc. He then used one of the baristas as an example of someone who wasn’t living out their full potential. He challenged the idea that they were actually serving people. “Their just handing out coffee all day! How is that really serving people?” He was tearing down the work that baristas do in order to elevate what he does. I challenged him, “Well, the energy that I get from an interaction with a barista first thing in the morning can literally change the trajectory of my day. I’ve watched baristas at other Starbucks show huge amounts of patience and grace with people who are angry that the line isn’t moving fast enough or their order has an error. The job requires a level of patience and graciousness that I don’t believe I have. If coffee shops and baristas didn’t exist, many small business owners wouldn’t have a place to work during the day and you and I wouldn’t have this nice space to meet in… and we don’t even have to buy coffee to be here. How is that not serving people?” Our meeting ended soon after that.

This whole ‘work’ thing seems to be more enjoyable when we are able to follow our instincts and change the way we see, both, the familiar and the unknown. Said another way: It’s knowing when it’s time to have the courage to change the job versus when it’s time to change our perspective on the job. Nether option asks us to look down on the other. I think it’s about developing self-awareness and honing out intuitive senses.

What characteristics do you desire in a career? What are the intangibles that make work enjoyable for you (examples – autonomy, problem solving, team projects, solo projects etc.)? Have you ever hit a mental/emotional wall in a job? What thoughts and emotions did you experience during that time? Have you ever been in love with a job? What thoughts and emotions did you experience then?


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