You wake up in the morning and your first thought is about dinner. On your drive to work, you think mostly about the softball game later that day or spending time at a local park after work. You find your spot in the back of the parking lot and sneak into a dark and lonely cubicle. Something is seriously wrong.

Guess what? You have Dead-End Career Syndrome, or DECS. (I just made that up, but let's go with it for now. Let me know if you have a better acronym.) The symptoms are fairly obvious. You hate going to work, you hate being at work, and you hate even thinking about work. You loathe even the idea of working.

And it's not just today. It's every day, every week.

How did you end up here? More important, how can you find a different path?

The good news for people suffering from this ailment is that it takes only one word to make a major career change. This word can set you on a new path and bring fulfillment, meaning, and purpose into your work life. If you embrace this word, you can throw off the shackles of your accounting representative position or your marketing associate role.

The word is risk. You need to take a risk.

A career is basically a trajectory that shoots upward right after you take a risk. It always starts with a risk. I should know. I've been living with the outcome of a risk for the past 14 years. Back in 2001, I took the risk to become completely self-sufficient as a writer and abandoned the corporate world. I said goodbye to a pension, to health care benefits, and to performance reviews. It was a bit like climbing onto a diving board over a pool, except that I wasn't sure if the pool was even filled with water.

There's excitement in making a big career move. Fortunately, risk has a partner. His name is reward. The reason you feel like you are in a dead-end career is because you are not willing to take a risk and try something new, but that also means you are not experiencing the reward of heading off on an exciting journey of discovery.

I wrote recently about how your career will go skyward if it matches your values. Quite a few people wrote in and asked what that really means (to the tune of about a dozen per day), and it's a difficult question to answer because your values are incredibly personal. I mentioned at the time how writing matches up perfectly with how I value ideas and how my career is really all about idea generation.

The greater the gap between what you value and what you do in your job, the more you will feel like there is a dead-end. The shorter the distance between what you value and what you do in your job, the more you will feel fulfilled and rewarded in your career.

The steps are not that hard. First, determine what you value the most. Serving people? Making a difference? Creating a fantastic new product? Teaching young minds? Defending the truth? Whatever it is you value the most, make sure your career matches up.

Think about it this way. For the person who values the truth and wants to convince others about the truth, the perfect career choice will have something to do with convincing others of the truth. That could be the legal profession, but it could also be a marketing role if you are trying to convince others that a product or service really is worthwhile. What if you are poorly matched? The person who just wants to serve people in a practical and visible way should probably not sit behind a computer and process invoices. A numbers guy who loves equations and values financial accountability might go nuts in a people-serving role.

I'm an introvert, through and through. I don't mind communicating through the written word. I have a friend who decided to work by himself recently, and he is hitting his head against the wall. It's not really working out. What you value will dictate how your career pans out. My friend is a bit stuck. He values relationships, but a laptop doesn't really work for that. I value the idea of communicating ideas and exploring ideas, and I'm content with my role that puts me behind a sheet of liquid crystals every day and still reaches people. We have different end goals in mind. I'm OK with solitude, he isn't.

There is a risk in making a career change. Yet, once you determine your values, the other side of risk is a life of greater fulfillment.

Published on: May 6, 2015
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