5 signs that you need to abandon (or change) your career plans

Sometimes plans don’t work out. Here’s how to know when you need to follow a new one.

5 signs that you need to abandon (or change) your career plans
[Photo: Luke Stackpoole/Unsplash]

When it comes to their careers, some people choose to take opportunities as they come. Others have a five- to 10-year plan, and meticulously try to stick to it.


Of course, there are plenty of benefits for having clear long-term goals. But life doesn’t always follow a linear path, and the road that you think will lead to your destination might not be the best way to get there.

Here are five circumstances where you might need to step away from that rigid plan you’ve set for yourself, and when it might be time to create (and follow) a new one.

1. When your job is affecting other areas of your life negatively

When job stress gets serious, it can start impacting other areas of your life–whether it’s your health, relationship, or emotional well-being. Leadership expert Colonel Jill Morgenthaler previously told Fast Company, “I tell people to try not to bring those problems home because the people at home can’t solve them.”

But sometimes when the situation is severe, you can’t help but let those problems affect you, particularly when you’ve exhausted your options in terms of solving them with your employer. In this case, it might be best to leave altogether, and either look for a new job (if you want to stay in the same field) or a new career.

2. When your job (or the company you work for) no longer aligns with your values

While it’s wishful thinking to expect to always be passionate about your job, it should at least give you a sense of pride and meaning. As author and emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutschendorf previously wrote for Fast Company, “If telling people where you work makes you cringe, it’s a good sign you don’t have much respect for the company that employs you. Maybe the company is even doing something that goes against your personal morals and makes you feel uncomfortable.”


3. You’re not building the reputation you want at your current company

For the most part, your actions build your reputation. However, there is an element of external perception that’s not necessarily in your control. Career change strategist Joseph Liu shared his experience in a 2016 Fast Company article. When he left a global marketing role for an international brand to become an entrepreneur, he immediately noticed the shift in perception. He wrote:

I began to see just how much my reputation depended on the brands I’d worked for. Setting up my own business was as tough as it was gratifying–and that’s still the case. But early on in my shift into entrepreneurship, I learned that without the name recognition of the big corporations I’d worked for, I went from being a sought-after marketer to some random guy people in certain professional circles overlooked. I was shocked by how quickly my identity could transform.

At times, focusing your on your long-term plans might mean switching companies to build your reputation.

4. Your industry is changing, and your dream job might not exist in five years

The workforce is changing faster than ever before. Jobs are disappearing, but we’re also seeing positions and careers that didn’t exist five years ago. If you’re overly rigid in your career ambitions, you’re only hurting yourself by not opening yourself up to opportunities that could equally match your interests and skill sets.

Not only that, but your dream job might not even exist in five years’ time, and you might find that your narrow focus has limited your marketability. On the other hand, by being open to change, you can create your own opportunities. When Kyle Walker interviewed for a job at Amazon, he pitched an idea that led to a then new product, Amazon Exclusives, which he was eventually hired to steer.

5. Your expectations don’t align with the reality

Your ideal job or career doesn’t always turn out the way you expect. Perhaps the culture isn’t like what you envisioned, or the sacrifices you have to make isn’t worth the emotional toll you have to endure. But as author Suzan Bond previously pointed out in a Fast Company article:


Few of us realize from the very start that a dream job is like a mirage in the career desert. Once we get to the spot we’d pinpointed, we discover it isn’t what we thought–it’s actually a little further up ahead, in the distance–so we keep searching. We commit even harder to finding it. Even though we’re tired and thirsty for something real, we set out again, our sights on the next target. This cycle repeats itself over and over.

Sometimes it takes a few not-so-great jobs to realize that your career is not the one you want, and that’s okay. Other times, economic realities and your own priorities don’t align with the plan you thought you wanted. In a 2017 article, four former solopreneurs told Fast Company why they decided to go back to full-time employment. One former freelancer shared that she found the administrative elements stressful, time consuming, and curtailing the time with her children and husband.

It’s helpful to use a career map to figure out your professional journey, but you have to allow for life’s realities to intervene. Sometimes they are obstacles to overcome, and other times they are problems disguised as opportunities that lead you down a fulfilling professional path.

About the author

Anisa is a freelance writer and editor who covers the intersection of work and life, personal development, money, and entrepreneurship. Previously, she was the assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section and the co-host of Secrets Of The Most Productive people podcast.