A bad career choice can serve up some major emotional consequences. First comes discontent and dissatisfaction. Next comes frustration and overwhelm. Then comes depression and learned helplessness. And finally you get numbness and apathy. This pattern normally plays out over a period of years, although the rate of progression is different for everyone.
It’s sad to see people stuck in the numbness/apathy stage. This is especially common among people who’ve been on the wrong career path for 10 years or more. Apathy and denial become the primary coping mechanisms. When you see someone suffering from career apathy, you’ll almost always see lots of escapism. Their evenings and weekends — and even much of their work time — gets consumed by TV, computer games, internet addiction, idle chit chat, and so on. They may use a variety of methods to essentially check out from life. The person feels hopelessly trapped, but it’s too painful to deal with those feelings.
When you look into the glazed-over eyes of someone suffering from career apathy, you can still see their soul peering out through a thick crust of denial, as if crying for help. It really gets to me when I see someone working as an office administrator, real estate agent, or paralegal, but I can see in their face that they have no love for what they do. However, if I talk to them about it, they’re going to feel worse, not better — at least initially — since the path out of apathy runs straight through the territory of negative emotions. Take a quick scan of the levels of consciousness scale, and you’ll see that in order to progress beyond apathy, you have to move through grief, fear, anger, etc. Basically you have to peel back the layers of soul-crushing negativity that you piled on in order to become apathetic in the first place, and as you do so, you’re going to experience those emotions again.
In dealing with such people, I often wish I could rip my heart out of my chest and stick it in their chest to give them the courage they need to get moving. But I’d never do that because it would make a real mess of my circulatory system, I’d die an agonizing death, and there’s no guarantee the other person is the same blood type as me.
From my perspective such people have absolutely nothing to lose, however. To dump a job you don’t absolutely love is to give up nothing, regardless of how much money you’re making or how many years you’ve invested in it. It’s strange to see people guard such careers as if they actually hold something of value. What they’re really trying to protect is their self-esteem, which they think will be damaged by admitting to a mistake made many years prior.
This path of career apathy, left unchecked by conscious awareness, doesn’t end well. It leaves people with nothing to do but wait for retirement and then death.
Don’t let this be you. It’s better to deal with a messy repair now than to flush the rest of your working life in a feeble attempt to uphold a bad decision. Allow yourself to grieve, to be afraid, and to get mad as you deal with the emotions you’ve been suppressing. Cry about it. Complain about it. Scream about it. Just don’t go back to being numb.
It’s perfectly OK to admit you’re on the wrong path and to be uncertain and frustrated about what to do next. This is a very human situation. The benefit of dealing with those difficult feelings is that they’ll help you clarify what you do want, and therein lies the energy to pursue new opportunities for greater happiness and fulfillment.