Career Fulfilment: Answering The Question of What Next?

This post was first sent to my newsletter subscribers in June 2019, explaining the reasons why I started researching career fulfilment and career change for women seeking a more creative path.

Two years ago in May I left my job of 13 years and became a stay-at-home mum. It was a decision that came as a shock to most people who knew me. For as long as I can remember I’ve been pretty ambitious. Although I’d worked at the same company for so long, I’d moved up the ladder as the business grew. By the time I left I was on the management team of a profitable small business with a healthy turnover.

Until one day out of the blue, or so it seemed to my colleagues apparently, I announced I was leaving. The question I was asked repeatedly was “What Next”.
And that is an answer with which I am still wrestling two years later.

There is no innovation or creativity without failure - Brene Brown quote

While it may have seemed out of the blue to the outside, inside I’d been struggling for a long time. My other half had a very demanding job that meant regular periods away and with no family nearby, that meant ALL the childcare fell to me. Every school run, every meal time, most school holidays, definitely every time a kid was ill.

I was utterly exhausted. When I was getting the kids ready in the morning I was thinking about my meetings that day. When I got home I was rushing to get them to bed so I could answer my emails or finish reports.

I couldn’t allow myself to be anything other than the perfect multi-tasker at work; which meant that the thing that gave was coping at home. On the outside I may have appeared a successful working mum but on the inside I felt like a complete failure.

Deciding to change career

I don’t remember waking up one day and suddenly deciding to quit. It was more of a slow burn. A developing realisation that the work I was giving everything to, wasn’t the work which lit me up anymore. The work was not my passion but it was draining me of any passion I felt for anything else.

It probably took a year all told between that realisation and the point of having the confidence both financially and emotionally to take the leap. During that year I assumed I’d figure out ‘What Next‘. But I didn’t.

So I assumed that once I stopped working, and had some mental space … then I’d figure out ‘What Next’. First I gave myself a year to get there. Then one year rolled into two and although I don’t feel as far away as I did, I’m not sure I’m any closer now either.

I’m reading all the books, and listening to all the podcasts and while there’s so much noise around the joy of building your own creative business, finding your purpose, uncovering your superpower … it’s all based on the assumption that you know the work that fills you up. And I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, maybe you don’t know the answer for yourself yet either?

Why does career fulfilment matter?

My fear is that if I don’t know what fulfilment looks or feels like, how do I build a career that is fulfilling? How do I avoid spending the next five years building a business that just turns into another cage? How can I shape what I do to ensure it ticks the boxes that light me up? These are the questions that are bothering me at the moment.

And that is where this project stems from.

There are bound to be many books offering their theories on what career fulfilment means and how to define it. I want to dig into this research and see what I can learn. More importantly I want to bring the data into conversations with other women like us, who’ve either found fulfilment or are still searching, and see if these theories hold up.

I want to see if our collective experience of career fulfilment can lay a pathway for those of us still searching. Hopefully together we can uncover some truths that will make it a little easier not just for us, but for anyone sitting across from their boss in a year’s time trying to answer “What Next”.

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