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Everything 20-Something Women Need to Know to About Their Impending Career Crisis

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Everything 20-Something Women Need to Know to About Their Impending Career Crisis

Tess Brigham

Everything 20-Something Women Need to Know to About Their Impending Career Crisis

Sometimes she is 28 and says work is “meh”. Sometimes she is 23 and has worked incredibly hard to get a position at a top company only to find one year in, she is burned-out. Regardless of age or job, she always feels she is the only person in the world that experiences the dreaded quarter-life career crisis.

The thing is, most women in their 20s can look forward to a career crisis—yet somehow they never got the memo.

According to a White House study into millennial work trends, more millenials are staying longer in their first jobs, possibly as a result of the economy, which can also play a role in feelings of stuckness.

With the real–world experience under her belt and the pressures for relationship and family looming large, women in particular in this age group are facing many unanticipated feelings of career crisis, just when they thought they should be “succeeding”.

I know—I was there. And my own career crisis led me to wonder: just how many other women like me there are out there?

When I was 27 years old I worked for one of the top Talent Managers in the entertainment business. I worked with celebrity clients, I went to fancy parties and screening and I was on the verge of “making it” in Hollywood.  From the outside looking in…I seemed to have it all.

But I was miserable.   

I’ve spent the past 15 years helping clients like my younger self, through a blend of therapy and coaching services I developed, targeted especially to today’s millennial women who find themselves in career crisis, through no fault of their own.

What do I mean by that?

Well, today’s millenial women have a unique struggle. As generations before have paved the way for career success, today’s young woman faces the pressures not just to “have it all” but to have it all… and then some.

This is partly because the barriers have been lowered and more women than ever are afforded the opportunity to achieve higher levels of success. And also because there are cultural pressures that make balancing career, relationship, friends, health and family, look just so easy.

But of course it’s not. And though we know it’s not, and we “shouldn’t” aim for perfect, many young women still find themselves in a state of re-evaluating it all and navigating all the inherent crisis that can produce.

So, how to tell if that’s going to be you? Here are some of the familiar signs:

-       You get that sinking feeling in the morning when your alarm goes off for work;

-       You find yourself increasingly irritable or even emotional at work;

-       Your mind frequently drifts to nagging wants or needs, and you tell yourself “I can’t do it now” or “But I’ve come this far on this path, I can’t change now!”

Here’s the good news: that feeling of dread and those slightly embarrassing outbursts are actually… a good thing. This is how your body, your mind and your unconscious is trying to tell you to stop doing what you think you have to do and to start living the life you want.

So whether you are in the midst of an all out crisis or maybe just feeling like there is “something else out there for me”, know that you have options. I tell my clients to remember three words: explore, define & become. You can begin to explore how you view work, define for yourself what kind of career hits your “sweet spot” and start to take action today to become the person you want to be.

Here’s how you can use those three words to manage your impeding career crisis, should it happen to you:

Explore.

Begin to explore what work and career mean to you. The reality is that we are all living longer which means we are all going to be working for a long, long time. You don’t have to figure out what you are going to be doing 20 years from now. Just look at the next 2 or 3 years.

When you are thinking about this big question, keep in mind that there are a lot of misconceptions about what role work should play in your life. Many people advise you to “find your passion”, but your passion may or may not be sustainable.  What you need to do is find work that is engaging and meaningful for you. Not for your parents or best friend—for you.

Define.

When you know what is engaging and meaningful for you, you can start getting focused on defining your career.  Then you can compare that with your current position. Ask yourself:

1) What do I like & what do I hate about my current job?

2) Where have I excelled in my work life?

3) During my last job review, what did my boss identify as my strengths & weaknesses?

After I left my “big-time” Hollywood life, I moved back home, and I asked myself these exact same questions over and over again. What did I enjoy about the entertainment business? What did I like about working with actors? What parts of the job made me happy or made me feel good about the work I was doing?

Ultimately, I realized that I liked talking to the actors we represented and helping them work through whatever problems they were experiencing. I had been told for years that I was intuitive and could “see” things other people couldn’t. I didn’t quite understand what that meant at the time, but as I studied psychology, I started to see how these skills were going to help me as a therapist.

Become.

Start with having an open mind. You may be surprised to learn that you are in the right career, but perhaps need a different role to engage yourself fully. Perhaps you actually are in the right role, but might thrive in a different field, which may or may not mean shifts in pay or location. Some learn through this process, when they are open to it—that it’s really not their whole career that is in need of a change. Perhaps there are other shifts in personal relationships or work relationships that are causing feelings of upheaval.

You also may be hearing that voice in your head that says, “I don’t want to change anything. It’s too hard to look for a new job.” Try to distinguish that perfectly natural voice of fear of the unknown, from the real long-term needs you’ve uncovered through this process.

There will inevitably be some discomfort involved in making a career transition. Keep your eye on the prize, which is more than just your new career, it’s having an engaging and meaningful life.

One of my favorite comments I hear when helping a client navigate the “quarter-life” career crisis is, “But if I go through all of this and figure out what I really want to do, I won’t be doing it until I’m 30!” I always say, “Yes that’s true. But you know what? You will be 30 regardless of what you do.”

This crisis is a good thing. This is your wake up call to find the life and work that you love and will provide meaning to you. Don’t worry, you will figure it out. I did and you will too.