When I began writing Passion & Purpose in 2009, I met Susan, a young woman on the brink of quitting her investment banking job to pursue her lifelong passion of starting a nonprofit. A year later, when I asked how her new venture was going, I was surprised to hear that she “couldn’t bring herself to quit” in the first place. And when we bumped into each other last week, I found her toiling away in exactly the same role, still dreaming of her nonprofit venture, but now more depressed than ever.
Why can’t Susan just leave the job she despises? More generally, what powerful forces are pulling us back toward the “devil we know”?
As job dissatisfaction rates climb up towards 80%, it’s pretty safe to conclude that many of you reading this would rather be doing something else professionally. But in my interviews, I was surprised to find that people’s inability to quit their current jobs had nothing to do with the perceived riskiness of their new professions, the fear of unemployment if job options fell through, or even how well they had defined their proposed new career step. An overworked lawyer was hesitant to pursue his dream of regaining balance in a comparatively safe nine-to-five corporate job, despite given numerous opportunities to do so. A marketing professional who dreaded the thought of planning the next strategic campaign couldn’t bring herself to move into management consulting, a move which she acknowledged would be both exciting and a much-needed change. And the many young men and women I met who hated their jobs but didn’t know what to do instead? Most of them are in the exact same place today.
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