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

    • Thanks, Jennifer. I truly believe I’m on the “Write” path as well. If only I can inspire a few others, sort of like the underground railroad! 🙂

    • Glad you were able to glean something from it, Dawn. Hope you can visit again!

  1. Love love love this post. I was there just a year ago, not with my profession, but with my job at the time.

    When I start praying “Please God, just get me through the day” every morning in the parking lot before I go in, it’s time to leave. Whatever the cost.
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    • Erica, you are so right! I can remember saying the exact same prayer some mornings. As I told a coworker once, we aren’t created for that kind of misery. God truly does want us to be happy and have joy. We’ll have off days, but if every day is miserable, we must get out.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Nice post. I still have no idea what I want to do as a career (I’m a student), I change my mind too often. I like my course but the problem is there are so many different career paths that can come out of it. I’m glad you found what worked for you though 🙂
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    • Ally, I say explore your heart out. You’ll have a gut feeling that something is wrong or that something it’s just right. It’s kind of like Goldie Locks and the 3 Bears. 🙂

  3. Pingback: 21 Fears that Will Kill Your Dreams if You Let Them!

  4. I’ve just graduated from college and started in my career, Today was my first day working and I was extremely nervous that morning that I vomited. I went through school loving the profession and couldn’t wait to start working. I still want to help people but is my extreme nervousness a sign that I chose the wrong career? Or is it too early to tell and I am just having beginners anxiety?

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