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HARDBOUND

New Beginnings
Jon Acuff has a how-to guide to prepare yourself for big career changes

Things aren’t bad. We don’t hate our jobs. They’re OK.

They’re fine, even.

Our job is fine.

Our boss is fine.

Our life is fine.

A fine life is fine.

We are fine with fine.

And so we grow comfortable.

This is not a bad thing. I like comfortable. But great lives are very rarely created in great comfort. You’ll never hear a musician say, “Life finally got so comfortable and easy that I was able to create my best music.”

The distance between comfortable and comatose is surprisingly short.

The bright light of our bravery dims.

Our hope congeals.

We become stuck.

We will have Career Bumps. Someone will take the option to be stuck out of our hands, for the moment, catapulting us into a brave new world when they fire us or lay us off. For a brief moment we will consider doing something different. Maybe that Career Bump was a gift in disguise. But finding a job like the job you just had is a lot easier than anything else right now. Bumps are no time to dream. We return to center.

New job. New business card. New title. Same fine. Eventually the same stuck.

Other times we will shake off the rust ourselves, spurred on by something louder than our complacency. We watch our parents retire into a world they were promised would exist at the end of their fine job, only it doesn’t. Our kids drop a comment grenade about how we’re never around because we travel so much for work. A coworker makes an offhand comment about being to ourselves. We become aware of our own career mortality, determined to do something more meaningful. We get focused and work. We clean our room and do mental push-ups.

We go for it, believing that with our leap into something new we have finally beaten our fear forever.

Day one of our new adventure behind us, we are shocked to learn the hardest lesson of chasing a dream. When you go for it, you don’t escape fear, you land in it. Fear is not a dragon to be slain once, it’s an ocean to be swum daily.

When you were stuck at that job, fear felt simply like a pond you had to cross. It was dark and perhaps mysterious, but you could see the other side. Having sworn you were made for something more, sworn you’d never let fear defeat you, you jumped believing your single act of boldness left the deep waters behind. Only to land in the Mariana Trench.

On the other side of a Career Jump is more fear than you’ve ever known before. And I swear, no one tells you this. Not your friends. Not your family. Not books. They sell you on the before, maybe the moment of beating that fear, but never the after.

The after doesn’t sell books. Nobody wants the promise of deep water, they want sunsets and sailboats.

So you think you’ve made a mistake. If you’d made the right decision and chased the right dream, shouldn’t you feel less fear, not more?

In those moments of doubt, fear launches an ad campaign for fine. Your fine life was easier. It wasn’t this hard. It’s always available. What would the harm be in going back on the shore? It wouldn’t be giving up. You’d just be taking a break.

Complacency rolls its sluggish head and wakes back up, ready for its shift.

Most of us will spend most of our lives walking that same circle.

We are afraid of the unknown.

We grow stuck in the known.

If we fight fear and become brave, fear will concede the loss but mutter under its breath as we pass, “It’s going to be really hard, maybe you should be complacent.”

If we fight our inertia and hustle, complacency will concede the loss but mutter under its breath as we pass, “It’s going to be really scary, maybe you should be afraid.”

These two enemies hot potato us back and forth until we finally give up. We accept that Monday must be miserable. We buy the myth that there’s a perfect job out there and quit a dozen great jobs in search of it the wrong way.

It wasn’t always this way, though.

As kids we believed we had the power to declare “Do over!” when something didn’t turn out the right way.

We’d stand in the street and boot a second attempt at kickball. We’d crumple up a piece of paper when the dog’s head ended up lopsided and scribble all over on a new one.

We were not afraid to try again.

Somewhere along the way to adulthood we forgot we still have permission to do that.

And not just with art or neighborhood sports, but something much larger. Something that often owns our days and haunts our weekends. Our careers.

The good news is it’s never too late to declare a Do Over.

All you need is a Career Savings Account.

This is an extract from Jon Acuff's Do Over published by Portfolio

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