Regain personal power to escape 'trapped' feeling

Issue July 2003

Q:I am fortunate to be a fourth-year associate with strong prospects at a good firm. However, I have become increasingly unhappy about practicing law. I come to realize that what used to really excite me was my passion for history and teaching. Now, I feel trapped in a job in which I have invested enormous quantities of time, money and energy. My family has become accustomed to this lifestyle, and would not welcome a change of course. My sinking mood and escalating alcohol consumption indicate that I need to do something, but where does one begin?

A:Your dilemma is not as uncommon as you may think. Individuals choose a profession for any combination of conscious and unconscious, personal and social reasons with no guarantee of ultimate career satisfaction. For many, discovering where one's interests and talents most pleasingly coincide is an ongoing process that occurs with time and experience.

Those who truly feel a strong desire to pursue a different career path often find themselves contending with any number of obstacles, including, as you have mentioned, impact on family relations and on finances. As you have recognized, the appearance of symptoms such as depressed mood and increased drinking always constitutes a wake-up call.

Feeling "trapped," i.e., lacking control or viable options, is a major route to stress. An important part of the remedy is regaining one's sense of personal power, which will then permit a more objective analysis of the situation and development of an action plan. This crisis may also be an opportunity to collaborate with your spouse on problem solving, perhaps with the help of a counselor, and may reveal strengths and weaknesses in the relationship.

In facing the complex challenge of career stress and change, consultation with an experienced therapist (on the psychological issues) and/or career counselor (on the vocational issues) can help you to sort out the multiple factors involved in your decisions. This can be an empowering process that allows you and your family to make whatever adjustments may be needed. LCL can help you begin this process and can refer you to a qualified provider.