The Difference Between Those Who Get Stuck at Their Unfulfilling Jobs… and Those Who Break Free

on March 5, 2014 | in Work | by

break free

On a sunny spring day in 2014, two young women sit in their office chairs, nibbling on some midday munchies and staring out the window and as they dream of a different life. The women live miles apart — in fact, they’ve never met — and yet in many aspects they couldn’t be more alike: They both graduated from college around the same time with decent grades. They both clamored about for a bit about what to do next before taking the reasonable path and settling on a job that pays the bills. (The bills do need to be paid, after all.)

And yet now they’ve gotten restless. Both women long for more: More fulfillment. More passion. More meaning. They long to do work that feeds their soul, not just their bank account.

Two women. Same situation. Same yearning.

Fast forward ten years later: In the spring of 2024, their lives look strikingly different.

The first woman has come to life — she’s escaped the meaningless, seemingly endless cycle that once defined her. She wakes up each morning with a smile on her face, a spring in her step, and an urgency that can’t be stopped. She can’t wait to get to work, to get moving, to give her gift to the world. She’s found herself, she’s found her work, and it shows.

And the second woman? She’s still stuck doing similar work as before — sure, she’s climbed the ranks and advanced in responsibility. She’s even changed companies a few times in hopes of finding a new opportunity, and yet with each move she found herself taking on similar roles because — well, that’s what she’s qualified to do, right?

Her experience has pigeonholed her, and she doesn’t see a way out without taking a drastic paycut. And a paycut? A paycut just isn’t an option when you’ve got a mortgage to pay, student loan (and car and credit card) debt to pay down, and a family to feed. It’s just not realistic… at least, not anymore.

A decade later, she still feels as if a piece of her is dying as she pulls into the parking lot each day. And as she stares out the window in the year 2024, she realizes that not a whole lot has changed in her life over the past ten years.

“Maybe things could have been different,” she sighs. “But now it’s too late.”

And so she stays, day after day after day…

What Made The Difference

It’s not that one woman began with more clarity than the other — they both felt lost, stuck, and unsure about how to break free. Nor did one have any more talent or skill or luck than the other, except for the luck that she made. One didn’t start off in a better financial position or with a bigger network. And it wasn’t just one single thing that made the difference, either — it was lots of things combined.

Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t an easy road for the first woman, and it didn’t happen overnight. There were lots of sleepless nights, lots of tossing and turning and second-guessing. And yet come hell or high water, the first woman was determined to make it happen. She wasn’t sure where to begin or exactly where she’d end up, but she took it upon herself to actively wade through the uncertainty: to explore, to question, to experiment, to play with her passions.

The other waited for clarity and change to find her. She said, “If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen,” or “I’ll make a change tomorrow.” But what change? The truth is, she really didn’t know where to start. Sure, she had some ideas about what she might like to do, but the ambiguity and uncertainty paralyzed her. She didn’t see that in closing herself off to uncertainty, she was also closing herself off to possibility. Her fate was sealed.

The first woman reached out and found mentors — people who’d made the leap and built lives they loved, and their stories gave her hope that a different life was possible. They encouraged, guided and inspired her, and eventually became some of her closest friends.

The second was “too busy” to reach out — and to tell the truth, she was afraid to do it, too. Afraid to look stupid. Afraid of rejection. Afraid it wouldn’t lead her anywhere, anyhow.

One woman found support and community in other people like her: fierce, passionate, driven fire-starters who weren’t about to accept less from life than what their hearts demanded. They helped each other grow,  held each other accountable, and nudged each other forward when they wanted to give up.

The other thought she had to go at it alone — and in doing so, ended up going nowhere at all. She clung to her familiar group of friends and acquaintances, the kind of people who counted down the hours till 5:00 each day, living for martinis and weekends in bikinis. It was safe. It was familiar. It was all she knew. She was one of them, and one of them she’d remain.

One lived below her means. She skipped shopping trips and Starbucks and sandy destinations to pay down her student loan debt — fast. She picked up an extra job bartending on weekends and used the extra cash to invest in trainings and conferences and coaching — anything to get her where she wanted to go.

The other tried her best to be frugal, but it was easy to cave when it came to dinners and drinks and vacations in Vegas. When opportunities for training and growth came along, she’d say to herself, “I can’t afford that kind of stuff.” What she didn’t see was that the alternative was much more costly.

She believed that finding meaningful work was unrealistic — a fairytale — too far away. She gave up on her dream before she even gave it a chance.

The first woman knew that a life of fulfillment might not come easily, but she was willing to risk ambiguity and disappointment and loss. She knew that it was better to go through struggles on her own path than to sail smoothly on one that was not her own. Scribbled on the journal at her bedside was a quote by author Paulo Coelho: “On some nights, [the warrior] has nowhere to sleep, on others he suffers from insomnia. ‘That’s just how it is,’ thinks the warrior. ‘I was the one who chose to walk this path.’ In these words lies all his power: He chose the path along which he is walking and so has no complaints.”

This is how she’s felt about her journey. It’s been scary, uncertain, arduous, and sometimes risky. And yet it’s all been infinitely worthwhile: From the moment she began to walk along her own path, she knew she was on her way home.

Which Will You Be?

Thoreau famously wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

So I have just one question for you: Which life will you lead? What song will you sing? Five or ten or fifteen years from now, who will you be — most men, or THE man? The first woman or the second woman? One of a million, or one in a million?

What if I told you I could help you on your journey — help support you, help foster your belief, connect you with a community, and help you to find clarity where none previously existed?

What if I told you that I wanted to do this by meeting with you personally — along with 1-2 other likeminded souls — every week for the next seven weeks? That each week, we’d walk through a module from The Unlost “Confusion to Clarity” E-Course (which, by the way, you’d get complete access to as a part of this package), talk through the accompanying exercises, and begin to forge new and clearer paths?

That I’m offering this for just nine people max? And that we could get started on this journey in a matter of just a few short weeks, so you’ll have no time to put it off until next month, or next year, or even worse… never?

And what if I told you you could get in on all this for just $250 — oh-so-much less than the price of a life unlived and a path not taken?

Well… what if?

Would you be ready to step up to the challenge?

The choice is all yours, of course — only you can make it, and only you can do the work to find clarity and move forward.

But if you’re ready, I’m here to help.

Sound like just the thing for you? Fill out this form and tell me a little about yourself, and I’ll be in touch with you within the next 24 hours to answer all your questions and tell you more about how this thing works. Together, we can determine if it’s the right fit for you.

I don’t know when or if I’ll be running this small group intensive again (and I’m almost certain I’ll never run it again at this pricepoint), so if you’re ready, I hope you’ll join me.

Oh, and here’s a short video clip from one of the small group intensives I’ve run before, so you can get a bit of an idea of what it might be like.

Fill out the form here if you want to learn more about it. Hope to hear from you soon!



p.s. Not quite ready for the small group intensive, but looking for more guidance about how to break free from unfulfilling work? The “Confusion to Clarity” E-Course is available for just $69 until next week only. Come Monday, I’ll be raising my price on this e-course forever, so now’s the time if you’ve been on the fence about buying:

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[Image by Camdiluv ♥]

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  • kristendynamite

    I love this post. What a powerful way to demonstrate the choice we all have, and in a realistic way. Choosing to change your career is scary and often times means ‘living below your means’ for a while, and having insomnia, and spending a lot of that time dabbling in lots of interests before you feel like you’re on a right path… I’m going through that all right now … but it’s worthwhile and feels so much healthier than my previous lifestyle. Excellent post. The e-course sounds great, too.

    • You are a perfect example of these concepts in action, Kristen, and an inspiration for many. Keep it up! :)

  • Helen

    It’s always been clear to me that “the difference” is social support. People on your same wavelength, who understand you, help you gain clarity through quality discussion; and who believe in living one’s true life.

    So part of “the path” is finding this kind of people. As you say: “fierce, passionate, driven fire-starters who weren’t about to accept less from life than what their hearts demanded”.

    I’m struggling with this, which was supposed to be the first part in my life turnaround, and it’s taking way too long. Where are these kind of people? Where are you hiding?

    • Right here! That’s what The Unlost is here for! ;-)

  • Toni White

    I really needed this today Therese – thank you!

    Last October I began indefinite travels starting with working/living in Sydney for a year or so. Five months later I’m back home after an illness that was misdiagnosed and the diagnosis I now have has floored me and had me back to being paralysed with fear that I’m never going to leave again and be the one thing I truly want – happy!

    So thank you for writing this to remind me that it’s going to take more work but I did it once and I can do it again!

    • Hi Toni,

      A similar thing actually happened to me in 2007 — I left to work/live in Australia for a year and got sick with an autoimmune disease three months later and had to come home. Don’t give up — the path isn’t easy but if it calls to you as your own, you just might be destined to make it happen :)

      • Toni White

        Weirdly enough, I’ve just been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease – lifelong and incurable so it’s knocked me for six a bit but hoping to chase my dreams as soon as my body starts to respond to medication :)

  • Very powerful post! It really is all about the network. 8 months ago I had no IDEA how one could survive without a 9-5. And anyone who did it was just lucky. Since then I’ve stayed up long nights, saved every last penny, paid off student debt, and quit my job to find my true calling. I wouldn’t have been to take any of these steps without following and seeking guidance of some very inspiring bloggers. I can’t wait to share this post with others!

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