Career Wanderlust

I don’t know about you, but with a vaca coming up, I’m having trouble staying focused. But did you know you can experience the same thing with your career too? I’m talking about career wanderlust.

What is Career Wanderlust?

You know you’ve got career wanderlust when are working, but you find yourself thinking more and more about looking around for a new job. Or paying attention again to those job posting emails that you had previously been ignoring. Or hitting up job sites more frequently. Or reaching out to colleagues who have moved on to ask leading questions about where they’ve landed, hoping they have great things to say.

Maybe you find yourself feeling like your work isn’t as fulfilling anymore. Maybe you’d like to find a place where your work has more impact. Maybe you are envious of how another manager or department works better together as a team. Maybe you just want a change.

You’re having career wanderlust when you start feeling a strong pull to find something new.

You are not alone. Everyone, and I mean everyone, feels this way at some point. In fact, if you stop having career wanderlust, I think you have officially settled and/or grown complacent with being stagnant.

What triggers career wanderlust

Often I see career wanderlust kick in with clients who have outgrown the satisfaction and relief they felt after having landed a job in the first place.

When you are first looking for your options after grad school, you are terrified that you might not find anything. You’re trying your best, trying to plug your scholarly and academic experience into the right sections of a job application and cover letter, but not sure you’re ever going to succeed. So when you do land a job, you feel an immense sense of relief. And then, if you’re lucky, you might even find satisfaction and fulfillment after awhile in that first job.

But over time, maybe you’re feeling unchallenged. Or impatient while you wait for increasingly complicated or more important tasks. Or that there isn’t enough growth and advancement as you had hoped. You look around and can honestly say: this thing just isn’t working anymore.

Now that you have proven to yourself that you DO have marketable skills, you can be honest with yourself and say: I need to move on.

Most of the time, when I see my clients going through this, I give them a yellow light at this stage. You need to take a close look before giving yourself a green light to shop around for new work.

The question is: when is career wanderlust something you need to do something about and not just daydream on?

What are your Career Wanderlust Triggers?

You need to identify your triggers. Like what’s triggering you to feel this way right now. Over the course of your career, you can start to be aware of and know the signs that are patterns for you.

  • Do you feel this way every couple of years? Because you want to learn something new? Is the potential change worth the risk of having to explain away why your resume is a series of short-term (2 years or less) jobs? I have clients who are perpetually in a state of career wanderlust, and that’s FINE. I know that about them, they know that about themselves, and it’s that they are constantly looking for new challenges, as they are ever-curious insatiable learners. So I’m not judging. If you want to take flight, you just need to be prepared to weigh the risks and assuage future employers’ concerns about you as a flight risk.
  • Are you feeling this way because you want to run AWAY from something, rather than towards something new?
  • Are you ready to take on the time-consuming work of looking for, applying, and learning a new role?
  • Are you feeling envious of the kind of work others are doing or contributing? Are you being seduced, for instance, by those “#workfromhome in your jammies” posts?
  • Have you done your research? Not on what you might jump to, but on your current ship? Are you clear about what qualities, attributes, roles, teams, and/or industries might help you get back to satisfied? Have you talked with your manager about your current doldrums?
  • Is this a cyclical thing? I find myself in career wanderlust whenever my workload slows down significantly, as it does ebb and flow. When it gets too slow….I start to get bored and start looking around.

Now let me clarify. I’m not talking about being miserable, crying in your car before work, working for a miserable micromanager, etc. I’m talking about run of the mill “hmmm. I wonder what is next.”

The closer you look at what’s making you feel this way – right now – the better a decision you will make as to whether it’s time to act on your wanderlust.

What should you do?

Once you’ve gotten through examining your triggers, it’s time to decide what to do. Obviously one option is to start up a job search in earnest. Full speed ahead. But there are lots of other actions you might consider, including

  • scheduling and committing to networking and informational interviews
  • exploring other work where you work now – either a temporary assignment to another team or representing your team on a cross-functional project
  • volunteering
  • starting up a side hustle

This New York Times article has excellent suggestions on how and what to think through when you are navigating career wanderlust.

If you don’t experience burnout / frustration / career wanderlust at some point down the road, something’s wrong. It can actually be a healthy sign that you are, perhaps ready for new challenges or ready to take on a different role. In other words: ready for growth. And that is always a good thing in your career.

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