Give Yourself Permission to Focus Elsewhere, For Now

Two people on either side of me on a plane are wrestling the armrest. I have been booked and rebooked on a cross-country flight, and the storms mean I am spending an unscheduled night in Minneapolis. During moments like these, I try to remember that annoyances are fleeting, and that life still has great possibilities.

Give yourself permission

The last few weeks have also been weird, with bits of bad news—a dog that I shared custody of passed away—she was a lovely little animal with a snaggle-toothed smile I have missed. Her passing brings up loss and is another nail in the coffin of a past relationship. I am saddened and compartmentalizing the bad news to move through life.

Why am I sharing these daily stresses? Because this word keeps coming up as a career coach:


For you, jobseeker, or dissatisfied professional, this is a teachable moment as you consider whether this might be a good time to start career exploration.

Take a look around you. What is going on? I ask, because this very well may not be the right time for you to focus on your career, and that is entirely okay. And in fact, you could probably benefit quite a lot from making that realization, if it is true for you.

You’re welcome. 

Of the 40 career conversations over the last two weeks, I have lost track of the number of times I have had to give people permission to postpone the search for new work.

So, I guess you are wondering when permission comes up: 

  • Someone needs to make money ASAP. A long-term search waits while they deal with their short-term financial issues. 
  • Someone is dealing with medical issues for themselves or their family. The predictability of their job and understanding of their employer makes their current role the smarter play now.
  • Someone is recovering from a recent loss in their family or the end of a relationship.
  • Someone is just trying to hold it together during COVID. 

Sometimes we need to find financial, emotional or time equilibrium before we can take on the complexities of making a career transition, or of shaking up life in our current job. You should give yourself a reality check-in before you give yourself another to-do on your list!

My goal is for you to make your best choice. To put in the time to figure that out, you often need to pull from something — time, money, or emotion. I never want to set you up to fail, because when you do, you often then carry guilt around, and can extend it to future attempts to improve your life. 

A lot of people waste nervous energy browsing careers websites, or fantasizing about improving their life, when they are feeling professionally dissatisfied. But the truth is, there really are no shortcuts. Finding satisfaction from your career takes energy, it takes time, it can sometimes require a little money, and above all, it takes work. So, if you are not in a position where you can devote the energy to doing it, then you are better off not starting, instead of taking half-measures.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the two or three most important things I want to actively work on in any part of my life now?
  • How much time am I prepared to give to making my work-life better? How many hours over how many weeks?
  • Am I emotionally ready to take on this challenge?
  • If you end up with a “no” to that previous question, when will you be ready? Ideally, you have an answer that is an amount of time, along with an event that has passed.
  • In the meantime, give yourself permission to just survive for a while, until you are in a better spot. 

Frequently I will have conversations with people about very immediate short-term financial needs. Often, they have found themselves out of work, for some reason, and that is the last time for them to begin a soul-searching process about what they might need from a career to feel satisfied over the medium to longer term. I had a conversation yesterday, for example, with a coaching candidate facing the very real prospect of eviction in six weeks unless they can figure out a way to make the rent at the end of this month. “You just need a job,” I said. “Right now. And once you’ve reached financial equilibrium you can focus again on your medium or longer-term career!”

Do not waste energy. Just be as flexible as you need to be to get by. Do not spend energy guilting yourself about not doing the work, either. It would be a waste.

By the way, giving yourself permission—not excuses—can be a hard to learn skill. It is one of those that even I have to keep relearning.

Russ Finkelstein is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor.  A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website and his new book, "Let's Sort Out Your Career Mess, Together..." is forthcoming in 2021. 

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