Five Subtle Signs It's Time to Consider Changing Careers

“Am I in the ‘right’ career?”

It’s the question you struggle with each and every day. The good news is that you’re not alone.

A recent poll found that approximately half (52%) of American workers are planning to make a career change this year. It’s no wonder that by age 50, the average person will have held 12 different jobs.

Still, you’re looking for an answer. Here are five subtle signs that it’s time to consider a career change:

#1 Your body is rebelling.

A career is like a shoe. You ache if it doesn’t fit.

You can count on your body to provide clues as to whether or not you are on the “correct” career path.

For example, consider how you feel as you embark upon a new work day: Do you wake up feeling open and energized…or agitated and listless?

Waking up with anxiety can be attributed to the cortisol awakening response (CAR). Cortisol, known as “the stress hormone” is highest in the first waking hour of individuals who anticipate high levels of stress. Your adrenal glands release cortisol so you have the energy to handle the cognitive stressors encountered during your day. In essence, your body is trying to do you a favor by prepping (stressing) you in advance.

Your body also understands what you may be trying to deny: You aren’t happy in your career.

#2 You’re focusing on the math.

Do you find yourself doing calculations in your head – counting the dollars you’re making and analyzing how they’re adding up? Poring over your salary, rather than your job tasks and responsibilities, hints that it may be time to change things up.

An EdX survey revealed that 39% of employees who changed their careers did so for a salary increase. Your strengths and skills may qualify you to enter a career that comes with a larger paycheck.

Conversely, you may be focusing on the numbers because you’re currently well-paid. “Golden handcuffs” can keep you locked into a career that is lucrative, yet unfulfilling. If this is the case, consider the value of engaging in meaningful work each day. What is that worth to you?

#3 Your work doesn’t fit your life.

Our lives are multifaceted; work is just one component. It’s important to channel time and energy into nurturing relationships, maintaining good health, relieving stress, having fun and exploring other interests. A career that impedes these things will lead to burnout.

The patterns and flow of our life will shift and change throughout the years. It’s therefore only natural for change to be a part of a career journey. For example, full-time travel, late nights or weekends at the office can feel stimulating during one life phase, yet stifling during another.

It’s a good practice to check in periodically and assess whether your career goals are still in alignment with other aspects of your life: Are your work commitments overshadowing your relationships or outside interests? Do you need more flexibility? Is your career aligned with your goals?

Ensure that your career is adding value to your life, rather than detracting from it.

#4 You see a dead-end up ahead. 

Career fulfillment and growth go hand-in-hand. It can feel stifling and stale if you feel like you’ve come to the end of the road in your career journey. Unsurprisingly, 20% of career changers cite “upward mobility” as the key motive for transitioning to new job opportunities.

There may be a time when you realize that a chapter of your work life is coming to an end, that your contribution is complete. For example, are you bored on the job? Is each day beginning to feel like Groundhog Day? Are you just going through the motions? If you’re not growing, you’re not serving yourself.

Give yourself permission to take on new challenges and try something new. You can be satisfied that you’ve accomplished what you set out to do and decide to set yourself up for a new opportunity.

#5 You’re staying put for other people. 

It’s human to search outside ourselves for advice and approval, but relying on other people’s opinions can take us down an ill-fitting career path and keep us there, wasting our time and talents.

Pause and reflect on how you chose your career. Did you enter your field to please someone else? Did a friend, family member or mentor choose this career path for you?

You are responsible for narrating the story of your life. Be sure that you’re filling the pages with work that is fulfilling to you.

Now that you understand these five subtle signs, you’re better equipped to make a decision regarding your professional future. Remember: It’s never too late to do something meaningful for yourself. A career change may be just that.

Dr. Lee Koles ’93 is an industrial/organizational psychologist, career strategist and the founder of CareerSequel, where she helps job seekers find flexible, meaningful work that fits their life. A Psychology major at Williams, she also hosts CareerSequel: The Return to Work Podcast. You can connect with Lee on LinkedIn or via her website. The original version of this article was published on Fairygodboss.