Hate your job? We asked a career coach and financial planner how to fix that

Author and career coach Tama Kieves feels more people should take the time to find work they love.
Author and career coach Tama Kieves feels more people should take the time to find work they love. Courtesy

No, not everyone will be the next Jeff Bezos or Martha Stewart with dramatic midcareer shifts that turn out wildly successful.

But for those slogging through in jobs they hate, time is a tyrant.

Mike Lewis, author of “When To Jump: If the Job You Have Isn’t the Life You Want,” noted in a recent New York Times article: “Eight years is going to feel like 16 if you’re stuck doing what you don’t want to do.”

What if you did decide to make a shift, hoping to earn success and improve your health in one fell swoop? Such a big question demands professional help, and we don’t mean psychiatry.

Two experts who have built careers out of helping others do just that shared their insights recently with The News Tribune.

Career coach Tama Kieves, based in Denver, is the author of several books on this topic. She holds retreats throughout the year and offers coaching from her home, in person, online and over the phone. Earlier this year, she led a session in Seattle.

Her latest book, “Thriving Through Uncertainty: Moving Beyond Fear of the Unknown and Making Change Work for You,” builds on her basic message: You owe it to yourself, and the world, to do the work you love.

“If you are this successful doing what you don’t love, think about how successful you could be at what you do love,” she told The News Tribune in a recent phone interview.

Kieves recalled her own journey and what it took for her to leave a career in law for writing and coaching others.

“I was in a therapist’s office going, ‘I don’t know what to do with my life,’ ” Kieves said. “Writing didn’t even count to me as a viable path. I thought I would starve.”

“I used to joke that I was a starving lawyer, starving in a different way that really depressed me,” she said.

Gary Brooks, a certified financial planner and the president of BHJ Wealth Advisors, also writes a monthly personal finance column for The News Tribune.

He knows how the financial pressure to stay in a job can be significant, “particularly for people who are behind where they should be savings-wise, which is the great majority of folks.”

“For many people, the final 10 years or so before retirement are expected to be the power-earnings years,” he told The News Tribune.

The good news is that taking a job that pays less but is a better fit isn’t out of the realm of reason.

“If a lower salary forces you to focus on keeping costs in check and living a little bit more like a minimalist instead of gathering more stuff, that will also ease the transition to retirement and make your later working years less stressful,” he pointed out.

He sees a midcareer transition as a convenient time “to address any lifestyle creep that may be elevating your standard of living at the expense of less long-term security.”

If your dream is radically different or too scary to jump into wholesale right now, Kieves recommends exploring your interest in smaller ways.

“People think they have to leave everything behind immediately,” she said, “but if you start something on the side, it changes your brain chemistry.

“You feel more alive, you’ll have more creative ideas and it will give you more confidence. And, you’ll see the contrast in how you feel — sometimes that will wake you up.”

Unless what you do is extremely specialized or lucrative, Lewis noted in The New York Times article that you probably have other options you aren’t even considering — such as a lateral move or even a small step back. Either might bring a job that could bring more happiness.

And yes, you need to include happiness in your plan. The health risks of staying in a job you don’t particularly like can rise in step with your anxiety and ensuing stress-related disorders.

“We all think our dreams are frivolous, so we don’t listen to them and we try to make reasonable choices or practical choices, and that’s when you get in trouble,” Kieves said.

She also warns that staying in a job you don’t love can be detrimental in other ways.

“It’s imperative now, particularly in the changing economy and amid all the competition, you need to be doing something you love,” she said.

“If work has to take up more of your hours, doing something that follows your passion is where you’ll have the most energy, resources and ability.”

If you need more convincing, the Mayo Clinic offers a point-by-point review online on whether you’re experiencing one facet of unhappiness at work: burnout.

Symptoms, it notes, can include unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints.

“Everyone wants security and they think that’s money in the bank,” Kieves said. But, she asks, what about your health?

“If you always feel overwhelmed it affects your health — chronic fatigue, health problems, depression,” she said.

Google’s search function appears to be clued in to this. Looking up “psychological effects of hating your job” spun off these related search topics: hating job depression; job affecting my health; symptoms of hating your job; my job makes me sick to my stomach, among others.

Even the fiscally focused Brooks notes that happiness needs to be part of your plan.

“Presented with an opportunity to switch to a more enjoyable job, better aligned with your personal interests and values, potentially at a lower salary, I’d recommend taking the job,” he said.

“If it turns out that your path to financial security needs a little extra savings, it’ll be much easier to put in another year at an enjoyable job.”

Kieves recalls an epiphany before her own career shift.

“I had the American dream and everything you need and I was depressed,” she said. “I started realizing you can’t buy your way out of your calling. I wanted real freedom, and money couldn’t buy me that.”

Debbie Cockrell: 253-597-8364, @Debbie_Cockrell


Some additional things to consider financially when deciding on making a midcareer change, according to financial planner Gary Brooks, who feels that people in general “focus too much on salary and not enough on the value of other employer benefits.”

When evaluating jobs, Brooks says to also take into consideration the following:

▪ Size of 401(k) match (a lower salary might be offset by a higher match or other retirement benefits in some cases)

▪ Group insurance coverage for life, disability and medical

▪ Difference in commute. If you can work closer to home, eliminating the irritation of getting back and forth can have personal value that clearly justifies accepting a lower salary.

▪ Some employers have service requirements before contributing to the retirement plan. If that's the case, you'll need to keep saving in an IRA or other investment account while you wait for eligibility in the employer plan.

Source: Gary Brooks


Career coach Tama Kieves’ quick-start advice:

“Start doing something you love right now. Take a photo class, go explore the industry you dream of being in. Basically, let’s play first before you spend $1,000 on something.”

“As a coach, I make people talk about what they love for a solid 10 minutes, and they can’t talk about why it wouldn’t work or how it didn’t work in the past, only how fun it would be to try now.”

She emphasizes it may not be a linear path to get to the life you want. “It’s about following the bread crumbs — one thing leads to another. You cannot plan an inspired life.”

Tama Kieves’ website: