Skip navigation
Careers Café

Giving up


What happens when the following truths collide?

  1. All of us are multi-potentialed and have the ability to enjoy and do a variety of work.
  2. All of us face the reality that some kinds of work are easier for us to secure than others, and that some offer a better standard of living than others.
  3. And, of course, all of us face the challenge that the work we can most easily find is not necessarily the most rewarding, inherently or monetarily.

At one point or another in the job search, the collision of these truths can cause you to ask yourself whether it’s time to give up on your Plan A.

Generally, people don’t consider giving up on their first career choice unless they feel forced to. Yet there’s still some choice, even if only in the language you use with yourself. Stopping a search is not synonymous with copping out. (Maybe you already realize that. It took me a while, though. For example, when I left academia, it wasn’t until I started doing informational interviews that I realized the people who saw leaving academia as copping out all happened to work in academia.)

However, the feeling that you might be copping out can be pretty persuasive, especially when you’ve dedicated significant time and energy to one career path, and have the bulk, if not all, of your professional accomplishments in that path. If the labour market or elements of the typical lifestyle of a profession also factored into your decision, that feeling of copping out can be that much stronger. Mind you, most career advisors would give you two thumbs up for considering things like associated stresses and job availability when choosing career options.

If you’re considering a new career path, consider, too, the ways in which you might do it:

  • Moving on from your main search. This is often in terms of letting go of a specific job title, but not necessarily the body of knowledge, skills, or chance to get “back in” down the road. This kind of closure can feel more satisfying if you find out the typical expiry date for returning, if there is one, and if you explore work that draws on similar knowledge or skills. Letting go of a body of knowledge, though, can take some grieving – and can (erroneously) convince you that your transferable skills aren’t applicable elsewhere.
  • Taking on a plan B job search (and maybe C through F), alongside plan A. You could see it as giving up, or, you could see it as recognition of your potential to do meaningful work in multiple ways.
  • Continuing a plan A search while taking on a plan Z: a survival job which you have no intention of enjoying, but which you’re using for practical purposes. If you need to take on a survival job, it’s worth thinking about what kinds of survival job environments are more conducive to your happiness than others. And it’s not unheard of for someone in a survival job in an environment they can stomach to seek out more rewarding roles in the same environment.

In any case, letting go of plan A is neither uncommon nor a failure – it’s a very real part of how career paths move from one period to the next. But it comes with real loss: the loss of an imagined future self AND that blank of a different future self. It’s not for the weak of heart, but it is survivable.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
Post a comment
University Affairs moderates all comments according to the following guidelines. If approved, comments generally appear within one business day. We may republish particularly insightful remarks in our print edition or elsewhere.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Click to fill out a quick survey