Find Your Dream Job, Episode 336:
What to Do When Getting a Better Job Feels Impossible, with Megan Leatherman
Airdate: February 23, 2022
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You’re ready to change jobs. And you want something better. But finding that better job feels impossible.
How does this happen, and what can you do about it?
Megan Leatherman joins us to talk about what to do when getting a better job feels impossible.
She’s a coach, writer, and the founder of A Wild New Work. It’s an ecological career development agency in the Pacific Northwest.
Megan joins us from Portland, Oregon.
Well, let’s get started, Megan. How common is it for job seekers to believe that getting a better job is impossible?
It’s so common, and I just want to start by saying that it doesn’t mean that we’re doing anything wrong if we feel this way. I believe that our lives and our professional journeys move in cycles.
We go through seasons, and a season of winter or of not knowing or feeling like change is impossible can be really, really uncomfortable. But things can always shift, and it’s only us who can really know if we’re in a period of pause, where we’re just not meant to know more, inner seeds are germinating, or if we are resisting change that we deeply need. But either way, you have options I’m excited to talk about today.
I am too, and I want to talk about those options and the choices that are available to listeners. Before we do that, when people are in this place where getting a better job feels impossible, what are they experiencing? Do they feel that there’s just no opportunity out there? Does it have to do with their qualifications? What do you see in the clients that you work with who have this experience?
I find that there is a sense of feeling pretty drained. Because we feel stuck, but we don’t feel empowered to do anything about it, which can really impact our sense of self and sense of being able to be proactive in our lives.
There’s a feeling of stagnation. Where we’re just sort of avoiding even looking at what else could be out there because it just feels so overwhelming, or we feel like, well, we can’t make the whole change right now. So, why even start?
There can also be this sense of resentment that comes in, where we start to resent the current situation, even if it did fit for us at some point or resent ourselves for getting to this place.
And so, it can be a really sticky, heavy situation, and all of that manifests in our bodies and in the rest of our lives. You know, if an area of our lives, like work, which can be so big, if we feel stuck there, it can impact every area of our lives. So, I notice that it really has an effect on people.
You mentioned earlier, seasons – is this experience something that happens at a certain point in a career, or can it happen at any time in our working lives?
I haven’t noticed that it happens at the same time for everyone. But I do notice that everyone goes through these periods, and I liken it to the fall or the winter periods, where the days are getting shorter, there’s more darkness, you know, we can’t see in the same way, there’s not as much light, there’s not as much growth. But the fall and winter are so necessary to the health of our earth, and these are necessary parts of our professional journeys, too.
But they’re really uncomfortable because many of us are used to, or expect ourselves to be in the spring and summer, metaphorically, you know, producing and making changes and kind of being big and out there and able to show what we’re working on, but we all need these darker periods where we’re sort of reevaluating and coming to terms with what feels scary and with what we want next.
So, there are benefits of going through this experience. It’s not entirely negative?
Oh absolutely. I think for a sustainable change, for the next thing that you get into to be genuine and really aligned moving through a fall or a winter in your, you know, inner life is so necessary, and I really, I’ve seen the benefits of it. The spring and summer that come afterward are a lot more fruitful than if we just had just trudged through or tried to rush the process.
What would you say to a listener who might feel that they simply don’t have any control over this, they’re stuck, and there’s nothing they can do?
I would say I know that feeling. It’s so normal, and on one hand, this is absolutely something that you can impact yourself, which I’ll talk about in a minute. But on the other hand, I just want to name for people that we also live in a cultural context, at least here in the United States, that does make it hard to want more for ourselves or to shift into something better. You know, our healthcare and our financial well-being is often tied up in our job, and that can really limit our sense of choice. So, it’s not all internal; it can come from our external circumstances, too.
But there are always things that we can do to empower ourselves to start to shift things, and it may feel like you have no place to start, but I want to share a couple of things today that you absolutely do have control over that can start to create some momentum.
One last question before we do that because I do want to get to the solutions. When you’re having this experience, and you feel it’s impossible to get a better job, how do you as a candidate come across to an employer? What does an employer or a recruiting manager see?
I mean, you can think of it as, like, if you’ve ever been in a friendship or a relationship where you’re sort of only in it because you don’t feel like you have any other options. Where it’s like, it’s okay, but you’re sort of just there because you don’t believe you can do better or that this is all you deserve.
It’s really easy in that situation to become resentful of the other person. Your self-confidence can diminish because you are settling for something that you know isn’t the right fit, and it can also foster this sense of, sort of, desperation, where you’re sort of clamoring for someone to give you permission to leave or do better, and so it sort of takes the power away from you and it sort of puts you in this sort of yucky, resentful, emotionally drained, desperate place.
Which again, doesn’t mean you’re bad or that you’re doing anything wrong, but it’s certainly not the type of energy that you want coming across in an interview or a job search. It doesn’t necessarily help you.
Well, let’s talk about how to get out of that place because I know you’ve helped many people. So, what is the first step you recommend when someone feels it’s just impossible to get a better job?
I always start by inviting people to take an indirect approach here. You know, the dominant approach in our culture is to just work directly on the problem. You know, if you feel like you just need something better, then you immediately jump into, you know, looking at other jobs, or doing informational interviews, or updating your resume, which can all be really valuable work and good exercises.
But if it’s feeling really overwhelming, or you feel like you can’t even get to that place, I encourage you to take more of a roundabout approach, and this is where I start with all of my clients. We don’t start by diving into the question of what they want next. We start by noticing where they are and really work to create a new level of spacious and groundedness. That way, when they do get to the place where they’re ready to make different choices, they’re doing it from a centered place and not one of panic.
So, I encourage you to get back to the basics. Get back to your body and your sense of safety and well-being. If you know that you want something better or you want to make a change, and you immediately get shut down or a wave of anxiety about doing that, it might mean that you need to tend to your nervous system a little bit and give yourself a sense of safety and comfort.
So, it’s like the bare minimum of good sleep, you know, eating well, moving your body. Being around people and the environments where you feel resonant and can sort of let down and relax. And this might take some time and intentional effort if you have been overwhelmed or if you’re not used to really taking care of yourself. But I encourage you to start there because then, you’re gonna be making decisions about what you want next from a much more grounded place.
And you will get there. It may be on a different timeline than you feel like you should be on, but little by little, you’ll be able to start exploring what’s next without that feeling of overwhelm or shutting down.
You mentioned getting sleep, exercise, diet. Are there specific tips that you’ve found to be especially effective when you’re helping people find that energy and get grounded?
I would say the top two that have been most helpful for folks are returning to or reconnecting with a morning ritual of some kind. It doesn’t have to be meditation, but some sort of container in the morning where you can get quiet, have some time to yourself, set some intentions for your day, and just show yourself that you can carve out the space that you need.
That you’re more than someone who needs to just roll out of bed and just answer emails, or that you’re immediately beholden to your family, or pets, or whoever is in your environment. But really, to create that space for yourself first to set those intentions.
And the other thing that has been most helpful for people is to focus on their environment, so where they live, and either cleaning the space, or bringing in some new images, or rearranging the furniture. Something that helps their brain and their nervous system recognize that things are shifting and that they can take care of themselves in a place where they can really begin to let down and kind of remind themselves that something new is possible and that that can be the start of it.
Let’s pause there, Megan. I want to take a quick break, and when we come back, Megan Leatherman will continue to share her advice on what to do when getting a better job feels impossible. Stay with us.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Megan Leatherman.
She’s a coach, writer, and the founder of A Wild New Work. It’s an ecological career development agency in the Pacific Northwest.
Megan joins us from Portland, Oregon.
Now, Megan, before the break, we were talking about what to do when getting a better job feels impossible, and you shared two very specific tips about how to get grounded and create more energy. I’m curious, when you work with your clients, just thinking about timetables, how long does it take to practice these habits before you begin to see benefits in both your career and in your job search?
It’s really quick. Usually, if the ideas are resonating with you, it means that there’s a part of you that’s really ready and ripe for a change. But it might just be that you’ve had a lot of pressure on yourself to do change in the way that might feel more traditional or very direct like I said.
But if we give ourselves permission to just try some things that maybe aren’t directly to the job search, but are supporting our holistic well-being, oftentimes, there’s pretty quick insights and a really renewed energy around making a shift. So, I’ve been encouraged by what I’ve seen.
I know another step you recommend is to understand the stories that you’re telling yourself about why something might appear impossible and why you might not be able to get a better opportunity. Why do you recommend to your clients that they pay attention to these stories?
These stories have a lot of influence over our behavior because they form, sort of, the foundation of our thinking and the choices that we make. A lot of times, I’ll hear things like, you know, if someone’s feeling like they can’t get into something better, they may say, I don’t have the time or the energy to make a change, or there’s that phrase like, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t, or this fear that they could get into something even worse.
And if you have these living inside you, and we all do, but if you’re not conscious of them, it’s really easy for all of those to inform your choices. So, if I really believe that I don’t have the time or energy to make a change, it would be behaviorally congruent for me then to not make a change. Because I really don’t believe I have the time or energy to do that.
And these are stories that we tell ourselves to try and stay safe, and there’s a very powerful part of us that fears change. You know, the brain likes to be able to predict outcomes; we want to feel comfortable. And so, getting into these ruts, on some level to our psyche, they are comfortable because at least they’re familiar.
And so, we can start to bring in some different perspective when we get conscious of these beliefs, and they’re really easy to notice if you just start to pay a little bit of attention. So, if you imagine, you know, working on your resume or going to look and see what other jobs are out there, you will probably have some immediate narratives come up about why that’s scary or a bad idea or why you’re not ready or why you don’t have time, and all we want to do is just start to notice them, and really question whether or not they are true for us.
And that questioning in and of itself gives a little bit of distance, and it gives us the ability to write new stories that are more flexible and more forgiving. Like, you can even rescript them. Like, I have the time and energy to be proactive in my life. Right? You’re gonna take different paths and make different choices if you really believe that that’s possible.
So, noticing the narratives that come up and then asking if they’re really, really true, objectively true. That gives you the space to be able to write new ones that are a lot more energizing and empowering to you.
What’s your best advice, Megan, for a listener to notice these negative stories? Are there signals like motions that they should pay attention to, or are there other clues that matter as well?
I think it’s always a good idea to start with some body awareness. So often, before we’re even conscious that we’re feeling an emotion or having a thought, something happens in our bodies. Our palms may start to sweat, or our heart might start beating faster when we pull up a job description for something that we want to pursue, and that can be a really good, useful clue that some of these narratives are at play.
If you can notice these, then you’ll be able to hit pause on your process and rewind a little bit and ask yourself, you know, what are the thoughts that are coming up that might be informing this feeling of discomfort that I have? And so, it just takes some slowing down and the ability to take some space to notice what’s actually happening in your body and in your feelings, and that way you can see the thought and see the narrative, and decide whether or not you want to keep going with it.
You spoke a moment ago about a way that you might turn these negative stories that we often tell ourselves into positive stories by turning negative statements into positive ones. Can you talk more about how you help your clients do that? And do you have a process that you share with them?
One of the ways that they can do it just on their own time is to really get everything out onto paper, so that it’s out of your mind out of your body, so all of the thoughts that you might have around your job search or your desire to be into something new, and those can be ones that feel great nearby or ones that really don’t.
So, getting them out onto paper and then looking and seeing are the ones that are causing me discomfort – are those objectively true? Like, is it absolutely true without a doubt that I could end up right back in the same situation that I’m in now? That’s not objectively true.
You know, we get into this belief where like it’s absolutely certain, and the mind really loves, you know, all or nothing thinking. But it’s not absolutely true that we could end up exactly where we are, and even if you came back to the job, it won’t be the same because you will have changed, and the seasons will have changed, and the place will have changed.
So, getting them out on to paper. Really looking at them, and rewriting the ones that really aren’t true, and giving yourself narratives that are more flexible and true, like I’m open to something better, or I can make decisions that are good for me in my working life. Ones that you feel resonate in your being that don’t feel heavy or burdensome.
Another tactic that I know you recommend to your clients when they’re feeling it’s impossible to get a better job is to think small and do different things. Tell us more about this.
A lot of times, people feel stuck and like they can’t even start because they think, you know, well, I can’t do the whole big job change right now. So, I’m not even gonna start looking, or I’m so tired, I can’t shift into something new.
But you don’t have to do it all at once. You can step into a much more, again, flexible liminal space where you can start to make tiny, indirect changes that, again, build some of that momentum and build some of your energy. And remember that sometimes things feel impossible because we can’t see them, and so, it feels smarter or safer to stay with what we can see – the here and now.
But I really encourage people to start just imagining what else could be out there. Really imagining where you might want to be in one, two, five years. Not that you have to do anything with it. But just giving some space to a part of you that is hungry for a change, and not getting, you know, stuck in clamping that down or saying that it’s not rational or you don’t have the energy, and it’s okay if you feel those things, but it is also true that part of you is desirous of something else.
And so, take that longing seriously, and you can just start a teaspoon a day of, you know, extra care to ground your nervous system, or the path really starts with small aligned steps that you can start taking right now.
How long does it typically take when you work with a client to move from this place where it feels impossible to get a better job to actually moving to a new place where you perhaps get to that better job? Is there a typical period? Three months, a year, several years, what’s been your experience?
Everyone’s timeline is different, but my process is six months. That’s sort of the window I work with people in, and sometimes the person is so ripe for a change, they get into something else halfway through, and then we’re working on that shift. Other times we end our process, and we’re still sort of, you know, wondering what’s gonna happen next, and then I hear from them a few months later that they got into something really lovely.
So, I would say a few months to longer. I really trust the timing of everyone’s lives when we’re taking intentions and taking steps intentionally, rather, and really staying conscious of those narratives. Sometimes we have to be in something for a while that feels uncomfortable so that we can unpack what it has for us. But little by little, if we just start doing the work and keep doing the work and showing up for ourselves and trusting that little quiet voice that is longing for something else.
People get there. I’ve seen it over and over again, and again, it happens with these tiny little steps, not the big, you know, humongous changes that everyone sees. There’s always something that comes before that.
Well, it’s been a great conversation, Megan. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?
I just shared a new resource on my website that I’m excited about. It’s called Grounded and Gifted: Ten Days of Gentle Restoration and Reconnection to Your Deeper Self, and this is a focused and nourishing program that helps working people find greater peace and contentment where they are and also supports them in taking steps in a new, more aligned direction. So I’m excited to see how that supports people in my community, and folks can sign up for free at awildnewwork.com/groundedandgifted.
Well, terrific. We’ll be sure to include that link in the show notes and the website article, and I know listeners can learn more about you and your services, Megan, by visiting your website awildnewwork.com and that you also invite listeners to connect with you on LinkedIn, and I do hope they’ll mention they heard you on the show.
Now, Megan, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about what to do when getting a better job feels impossible?
I think I would encourage you to really let yourself feel how you feel about where you are. So often, we get that initial sense of clarity, and then we overwrite it with, you know, it’s not okay to feel that way, or I should be grateful for what I have, or it’s impossible to get into something better.
But there are these little quiet statements, these little truths that come up for us, and we don’t usually let ourselves just have them, and you can just put your hand on your heart and just say, you know, I don’t want to be here anymore, or I need something else, or I feel overwhelmed, or this is too much, whatever it is.
Especially given the state of the world right now, we need to kind of give voice to those, and again, I always, when I talk about this, I always put my hand on my chest cause it lives in our bodies and in our hearts. So really letting yourself just feel how you feel and give voice to it and that will help the emotions kind of move through so that you have the energy and clarity that you need to explore.
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Next week, our guest will be Oscar Garcia. He’s the president of Aspira Consulting.
Oscar’s company offers culturally relevant career development and leadership training services.
Oscar also hosts the terrific weekly career podcast, “Career Talk with OG.”
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.
This show is produced by Mac’s List.
This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.