6 Warning Signs that You’re on the Wrong Career Path

wrong career path You already suspect that you’re in the wrong career.

But, like I did, you probably need a little heart-to-heart to give you the courage to do something about it.

You want confirmation that what you’re feeling and thinking actually means what you think it means.

So, let’s have that heart-to-heart, shall we?

I’m going to share with you the warning signs that God shook me with to wake me up and show me that I was on the wrong career path.

And it ain’t pretty.

1. Depression

I was one of the estimated 30 million Americans over the age of 18 who struggle with some form of depression.

There can be any number of causes for depression, and the symptoms vary for each person.

For that reason, it’s important to be very mindful of the conditions in your life and any corresponding changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, motivation, or mood, etc. If it lasts longer than two weeks, you should seek advice on how to get back on track.

In undergraduate architecture school, I didn’t identify myself as being depressed, but what else could it have been?

I spent as much time sleeping in the studio as I did working in the studio.

While my classmates worked diligently, I’d hunch over and stare blankly at my projects for hours, making no progress. Then I’d just leave and go home defeated.

Or I’d endlessly shuffle music on my CD player, believing that just the right song would motivate me to finish my crudely built design model.

The year I decided to quit teaching was especially dismal for me with tearful outbursts and long days in bed.

Reflecting on my time in architecture school and while teaching full-time, I recognized that my depressive states were triggered by the mere thought of the work . . . by the idea that I was trapped in a cycle of unfulfilling days doing something I no longer wanted to do.

Whether it has to do with your career or not, depression is a sign that something has to change. 

Have the courage to face it and make the necessary changes so that you don’t waste another day of your precious life.

2. Declining Performance

Naturally, with depression will come low performance.

But it’s not always a result of depression.

We often start to perform poorly when we no longer care about the work we do, when we feel overwhelmed by the work, or when we lack the motivation to get things done.

I was an student in college, but the longer I stayed in architecture, the lower my GPA sank, even as low as a D. 

That’s right. A in design studio, which was a 6 hour course. So, it really counted as D’s.

While I could make all the A’s I wanted to in tertiary classes, the mark of whether or not I should be a practicing architect was in the design studio. If I couldn’t get a decent grade in the one class that required me to apply the skills it took to be an architect, then what the heck was I doing there?

When I checked my grades at the end of that fall semester of 2005 and saw that D on my transcript, I immediately found the school’s catalogue, opened it, and chose a new major.

3. Irritability

When the ordinary stresses of the job that you once let roll off your back start to irritate you, it may be time to go.

If you’re snapping at classmates, students, customers, coworkers, your boss, you might be on the wrong job, if not on the wrong career path all together.

Try taking a vacation. If you really want to test your love for the profession, make it a really long vacation where you do absolutely nothing work related. Rest like crazy. Travel. Spend entire days with your family. Go to therapy!

If you return, and nothing’s changed, then there’s your cue.

Exit stage left.

4. Ditching Duties

If I was supposed to be in the architecture studio working on a project due the next day, I’d take 3 hour dinner breaks to chat with friends and twiddle my thumbs.

If I had to be up at 5 am to teach in the morning, I’d stay up till 3 am composing poems.

Grade papers? Please! I have to read this new book I just bought, duh.

We all deserve to play hooky every now and then.

But when important deadlines start to slip by over and over again, there’s a problem.

If you ocasionally skip out on work without it affecting your overall performance, good for you!

For those of you who let your work priorities fall of a cliff just to watch movies on Netflix, consider why you’re not motivated to get the work done.

It could just be you, but it could also just be the job.

5. Longing to Do Something Else

This is bigger than just an interest or curiosity, something you’d like to try out.

For me it was a passionate, desperate need to write.

Of course I still wrote while teaching k-12 full time.

But I was always plagued with the guilt that something else wasn’t getting done–an unfinished lesson plan, ungraded tests and papers, an incomplete professional development form, and so on.

I came to resent teaching because it represented the burden that stifled my writing.

Maybe it’s not writing for you. Maybe you want to coach instead of audit. Or audit instead of program. Program instead of sell. And you know you can do it. And you long to do it.

That’s a HUGE sign.

6. They Told You So

My freshman year in architecture, I read a poem to my studio class. After hearing it, a classmate of mine said, “You should just drop out of architecture and become a writer.”

That was an absurd statement to me.

I wasn’t convinced then, despite the clear directive, but about a year later I seriously considered it.

In a private meeting, one of my favorite professors asked me: “Would you rather wake up in the morning and go to the design studio, or would you rather wake up in the morning and write?”

My answer was write.

In his office I realized I’d rather write about architecture than be an architect.

While not necessarily a miraculous revelation, it was a revelation nonetheless. It was such a blessing to have that question posed to me at that moment in my life.

If people that you trust have a heart-to-heart with you, it may be a sign.

Perhaps my open talk with you still isn’t enough?

Then listen to the people who are already in your life, sending you signals that you’ve lost your way.

They can probably see that you’ve lost your luster, that you’re frustrated, or underperforming and unhappy. That’s what my professor saw in me.

But merely acknowledging that you’re on the wrong career path isn’t the end of the road. That’s only the beginning of your journey. Come back next week for more insight on following your courageous compass.

Till then, leave a comment and tell us what signs you’ve seen.

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Re-Routing: Why the Wrong Road Doesn’t Seem So Bad at First

wrong road beautiful beam of lightI went down the wrong road because I was afraid to go in the direction of my dreams.

I became a teacher because I wasn’t sure how to be a writer.

It’s actually not that simple, though.

For a time, I’d convinced myself that I was actually on the right path to my dreams.

In some ways I was, which is why it gets complicated, and why so many people stay on the wrong path for so long, often losing sight of where they’d originally hoped to go.

My mission for this series is to help you determine if you’re on the right track, or if you need to do some re-routing like I did. So, I’m going to explain how I became convinced that I was going in the right direction.

The signs can be a little ambiguous, so we have to be discerning.

Here’s why the wrong road didn’t seem so bad at first.

The wrong road flows easy.

I could be confident that each step I took was a sure one. Updating my resume and submitting applications was something I’d done dozens of times. I understood the process. It was clear, and it made sense.

We tend to go where it’s comfortable and familiar, rather than where we need to go to achieve our goals.

Then I really felt the flow when all of my efforts were rewarded.

I equated success with proof that I was on the right track.

Surely God wouldn’t give his blessing if I was headed in the wrong direction, right?

Well, that’s what I thought.

But now that I consider just how many jobs I can get (the economy not withstanding), I realize that success is not always God’s way of validating what we do. Humans have been successful at some pretty crummy things.

Just because I can get a job, doesn’t mean it’s my destiny to turn that job into my lifelong career.

Just because I can get a job, doesn’t mean I should take the job.

Misplaced Passions.

I actually love teaching.

In fact, I still do it part-time.

But I don’t love being a teacher as much as I love being a writer.

That’s why it was wrong to spend 80 hrs a week doing teacher work, only to fit in writing whenever I could.

When I looked for jobs during that last semester of grad school, I was inspired by the opportunity to work with inner city youth.

I was inspired by the chance to share my passion for reading and writing, to help students discover what reading and writing could spark in their lives.

I wanted to give back to the community that did so much to shape who I am.

All of those things are noble, but all of them could be accomplished without making teaching my full-time, professional career. Teaching was just the obvious choice.

During my interviews I often explained that teaching was the perfect synthesis of my passion for people, reading, and writing.

But notice I didn’t actually say that my passion was teaching!

A lot of times we look for the safe way to approximate our passions rather than pursuing our actual passions.

We often settle for a path that’s merely parallel to the one we truly dream of traveling.

Talent or Calling?

Just because we’re good at something, doesn’t mean it’s our calling.

We often feel pressured to stick with what we can already do, when our true calling may be something we haven’t even learned to do yet.

Too many students are told to major in something they’re good at. That advice by itself is misleading.

The truth is, we’re all good at many things, and we can all learn to be great at many other things.

We shouldn’t just consider current skills, we should also consider aptitude, potential, latent abilities that may be dormant due to lack of practice.

People tried to convince me to stick with full-time teaching because I was good at it.

We may be skilled at something, but that doesn’t mean we have to turn it into a full-time profession.

It’s not enough to settle for what we’re good at.

We should pursue the paths that motivate us to be great.

The wrong road will often mirror the right one, but it’s still the wrong road.

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Re-Routing: How I Got off Track from My Goals

how i got off track from my goals past present future direction signsEver had a moment where you consider your life and wonder how you got off track from your goals, from your dreams, from who you believe you’re really meant to be?

Yeah, me too.

I  was in my last semester of grad school in the Bay Area. Those cities are a maze (though you might find them amazing).

I got lost several times, thinking I was on one street going this way, but I was really on another road going that way.

But, I digress. This story isn’t really about the tangled web of streets in Oakland, CA. If you’ve read my first post, then you know where I’m really going.

I was in my last semester of grad school, also known as the crossroads of “get a job or get a PhD.” All I knew was that I wanted to be a writer, so I applied for a couple of teaching programs back home in Louisiana. Looking back, I know that’s exactly where I made my wrong turn.

It’s one thing to get off track, and then find my way back. But realizing how I got off track in the first place might save some trouble going forward. So, let me clarify.

Teaching in Louisiana is not itself a wrong turn. It was a wrong turn for me because it’s not what I really wanted to do with my life.

The issue is not where I went; it’s why I went there. Are you ready for it?


Just writing the word gives me goose bumps. But it’s true. That’s the reason I made a wrong turn and went down a path that led me away from my dreams.

Though I intellectually knew that being a writer was a realistic goal, I lacked genuine faith and belief that I could live the life I envisioned.

So I played it safe. I went the route that was paved.

I knew I could easily get a teaching job of some kind. I knew it was predictable–you go to work, you get paid. You know how much you’re going to make each half, and can quote your salary 10 years in advance.

But becoming a writer? I was too overwhelmed to even take a step in that direction, partly because I didn’t know exactly what direction to go? I needed to know exactly how to get from point A to point B before I would even attempt to get there.

Little did I know that the sure way was the wrong way. My dreams were over the mountains. Not only did I not know how to get there, I wasn’t sure I could make it even if I did know.

The irony? By being afraid to get lost, I got lost.

Some people rarely admit to having that problem, but most of us can think of a time when we psyched ourselves out of something we really wanted. And many of us have psyched ourselves out of the really big things that we desire. Like me and my writing career.

Getting rid of fear is an ongoing work. Fear has many layers. The great news is that fear is a manifestation of our thoughts. We can’t always alter the outside world, but we can always alter our thoughts.

I really began to interrogate fear as an undergrad when I heard Mumia Abu-Jamal on Goapele’sChange it All album.

I would like to see people become more rebellious, more outspoken, and see an abolition, really, of the fear that covers this country like a blanket, because I think that when people fight against that fear they become themselves and they find themselves, they find the best part of themselves. -Mumia Abu-Jamal

Since then, I’ve gotten better at recognizing fear in all its infinite manifestations. When I get lost, it’s because I’ve navigated in fear. I invite you to take up the challenge with me to trust a more courageous compass.

Can you pin point a wrong turn you’ve made in your life? Tell us about it in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Re-Routing: Are You on the Right Path?

are you on the right path

Ever walk into a room and forget why you’re there?

Or looked for your car in one place only to remember you parked it in another lot?

Or gotten lost trying to find a location you thought you remembered how to get to?

Most of us understand what it’s like to have an imperfect memory. But forgetting the location of your car is innocuous compared to forgetting your dreams. Yet it happens to most people at some point in our lives. If we’re blessed, we eventually find our way back to the path that’ll lead us to our vision.

I’ve had a couple of major re-routes in my life, and it ain’t easy. But I’ve learned from them and gotten stronger and wiser from having to navigate the roads of change. I’ve become well versed in what I call the art of re-routing.

That’s why my theme this year is The Courageous Compass. It takes courage to change, to veer off into your own new adventure when it seems everyone else is cruising in another direction.

To help you discover and navigate with your courageous compass, I’m going to tell the tale of how I’ve gotten lost in the past and what I did to get back on track. By retracing my steps, you might be spared a few wrong turns and dead ends.

As we go along, I hope we can compare maps. Maybe even compile an atlas for a future generation.

In the meantime, I want to ask: Are you on the right path? What exactly are you doing on this road? How’d you end up where you are? Have you had that scratching-my-head moment yet? Have you looked around and felt a bit apprehensive about what you saw? Maybe you’re going in circles. Maybe you keep coming to that same intersection and you keep taking that same left turn, knowing it never leads to where you’re supposed to go.

I’ve had all those feelings before, in the architecture studio, in the classroom as a teacher, and on the church pew. Can you feel me? Tell me about it!

No, seriously. Tell me about it. Leave a comment or drop me a line on Facebook or Twitter.

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