Why Your Career Needs a Shakeup

Last Updated Oct 11, 2011 11:53 AM EDT

Why Your Career Needs a ShakeupFinding a career path is a lot like finding someone to share your life with and finding a place to live. It's an accomplishment. Once you find it, you tend to stick with it. It's safe, secure, and comfortable. But what if it's not the right path?

For me, the relentless drive to be successful was sort of baked in from an early age. Sure, I was into all the usual stuff kids are into. But the overriding trajectory - courtesy of my dad - was to do well in school, get a good job, work hard, and make it big. There were no ifs, ands, or buts.

Since I grew up in a tiny little Brooklyn apartment where my parents fought all the time over money and really couldn't stand their jobs, I had every reason to want things to be different for myself and, someday, my family. So, nobody had to push me. I wanted out and I wanted it bad.

With all that motivation and drive, it's no surprise that I accomplished what I set out to do. Still, it wasn't until my 40s that I actually had a chance to stop, exhale, and look around at what I'd done and where I was. That's when I began to realize I'd made some sacrifices to get there.

Not to get too personal here, but let's just say I gave up what most would call a normal, happy family life. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you can't have it both ways. You can. Many do. But for some reason, I either couldn't or didn't.

Not that I'm complaining; that's not what this is about. Actually, I'm pretty damn happy. But if I could go back and tweak things a bit, I would. I've never said that before and I'll probably never say it again. I like to live in the real world. I don't make a habit of looking back and second guessing what can't be changed. But it is what it is.

These days, I get to talk to a lot of different kinds of people. Young up-and-comers, small business owners, middle managers, corporate executives, you name it. One thing I've noticed, a lot of them live what I'll call tunnel vision lives, for lack of a better term, that are relatively narrow and limited in choice of career, lifestyle, and work-life balance.

And that resonates with me in an intimate way. I get it.

Now, I wouldn't think of depriving anyone of the learning curve that I experienced, but, on the outside chance that you might benefit from my unique perspective, here's a bit of unsolicited advice:

You're not what you do. While your behavior does indeed define you, what you do for a living doesn't. At least it doesn't have to and probably shouldn't. Sure, at times it's comforting to have direction, a well-defined path, but when you let your career define you and your goals in life, that sort of locks you into a relatively narrow perspective.

It's time to grow up. If you're aware that you're following a path that was set out for you since before you were old enough to make your own choices, it's long past time that you stepped up to the plate, became an adult, and made your own choices. If not, you may wake up one day and realize you've been living someone else's life. Not a great feeling.

Inertia's a powerful force. If you're happy with your life and career, that's great. But if you're not, or there's some nagging doubt that you're missing out on something, then give it some real thought. Inertia's a powerful force and so is the safety and security of a well-defined career path. It brings to mind a line from an Eagles song: "So oftentimes it happens, that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key."

Don't be afraid to upset the apple cart. Sure, you'll have to pick up all those apples, but that's a whole lot better than waking up one day and realizing that you don't even like apples. Sorry, I couldn't think of a better metaphor. In any case, as most successful executives know, it's good to shake things up every so often and see what happens. You'll probably learn from it, benefit from it, and be happy you did it.

Also check out:

Follow Steve Tobak on Twitter or Facebook