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Ask Elaine: I finally got my dream job, but it’s not what I want anymore

(María Alconada Brooks/The Washington Post; iStock)

Hi Elaine: What do you do to overcome the guilt when you have your dream job that you’re really good at, and senior leadership wants you to move up but you’re no longer prioritizing work and instead want to focus on your passions? Essentially, when you’re in your 30s and the work you did in your 20s is finally starting to pay off but now your life focus is different.

— New Priorities

New Priorities: First off, congratulations! It sounds to me like you have just officially entered your Serena season. I love that for you. When the GOAT announces her retirement right when you find yourself asking this question, you must be thinking, “Maybe this is a sign.” I know I would be.

For generations, the glorification of the grind has pushed out thoughts about seeking satisfaction, contentment, and dare I say fulfillment outside of work. But now, even Beyoncé, who is arguably the hardest-working pop star on the planet, is telling us all to quit our jobs. So, by all means, if you are in a position to quit your career to pursue other passions, the culture supports you in this. The Great Resignation has led millions to walk out on their jobs and anyone who has survived this ongoing pandemic has been forced to reevaluate their priorities. You are far from alone in this feeling.

Do you have questions about making big changes? Ask Elaine here.

One thing I noticed you didn’t mention was your bills. (If you had, my advice might be slightly different.) So, I would like to congratulate you again because you seem to have found yourself in a position most Americans can only dream of. While the majority of the country is burned out on work but without better options for survival, you have managed to build a career by your 30s that has earned you the faith of senior management and offered upward mobility despite a lingering pandemic and a looming recession. For a quick perspective check, to anyone listening, it sounds like you’re winning at life right now.

Now, let’s deal with that icky inner resistance. I am here to tell you that guilt is no good reason to stay anywhere you don’t want to be. It just isn’t. If there is anything we all stand to learn from Serena’s “evolution” from tennis it’s this: It’s okay to shift focus. It’s okay to move on. It’s okay to redefine what success looks like for you now. Even if it surprises or disappoints other people.

Life is too short to live it for someone else. Especially if that someone is upper management. As much of a rock star as it sounds like you are, please believe me when I say guilt won’t be the thing keeping corporate America from sending you packing if suddenly the winds change and your job is in question.

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It sounds like you want a pep talk, not a plan, but to avoid falling prey to “The Great Regret” on the other end of your leap, there are some questions you might want to ask yourself about this “passion” you speak of. Is it monetizable? If not, can you do both until it is? Have you sought counsel from your trusted advisers about this decision (apart from this column)? What limited beliefs might be intertwined with your guilt? Also, is it really guilt? Or did you just get what you want and now it’s time to give yourself permission to want something different?

If it’s simply permission you’re seeking, here it is. Take it and run. Because life is a series of dreams realized, and one thing we are not going to do in 2022 — at least not in this column — is celebrate a grind that is breaking your soul (sorry, I had to).