Advancing

Free Yourself To Make Better Career Choices

free yourself

“I can’t make a career change. I’ve got a mortgage to pay, and I couldn’t match my current salary doing something else.”

“There’s no way I can get another degree. I have two kids to put through college 10 years from now.”

“I could never start a business. We need the health insurance from my job.”

I hear comments like this frequently from people who are unhappy at work, as a writer who specializes in careers and entrepreneurship. Their job is so stressful that it’s intruding on their family life or ruining their health, yet they feel trapped and powerless to make a change.

If you’re among them, there is a way out…

It starts with taking hard look at your personal finances. Most Americans don’t consider how much their decisions about which house to buy or what car they will drive affect the freedom they have in their careers — but the impact of these decisions over a lifetime is massive. Each time we add a fixed cost to our overhead, we’re reducing the money available to put toward reaching goals — personal or professional — that go beyond buying things. Having no real cash cushion can close off a lot of intriguing career opportunities.

If you want to put your career on the fast track in 2014, one of the most important things you can do is get your finances in order.

The first step has nothing to do with money. It’s about getting clear on what you hope to accomplish personally and professionally, in both the short- and long-term. Without having your big-picture goals in the back of your mind, it’s easy to fall into spending traps that keep many people shackled to high overhead and trapped in miserable work situations.

  • Take a couple of hours this weekend to write down your biggest one-to-two-year, five-year, 10-year and lifetime goals, in both your personal and professional life. Even if you can’t figure them all out now, simply thinking about them will put you in the right mindset to do the type of financial planning that will position you to take advantage of more career opportunities.
  • Craft a financial plan that will allow you to meet these goals. Some folks like to use do-it-yourself financial planning software, but if you’ve put off planning so far or finance isn’t your strong point, I’d highly recommend investing in a session with a financial planner, to get the ball rolling.

Most opportunities for career growth—including getting a higher paying job—will require an investment from you. Depending on your goals, that may mean anything from springing for a great haircut and wardrobe upgrade, to moving to a new city to work for a particular company, or tapping your savings to start a business. Do some research to figure out how much you will likely need to set aside to move ahead with your plans, before you speak with a planner, so you’re not just guessing. A good planner will be able to help you figure out what to do to build up enough savings and to determine if, say, you could get to your five-year goal in one year by making some smart financial moves now.

What I’m suggesting takes a lot of soul searching and some hard work. Then again, it takes plenty of effort to show up every day for a job that’s making you miserable. Harness some of the energy and self-discipline you’re putting into keeping your boss happy and devote it to taking charge of your own future.

You’ll be surprised at how much power you can gain over your career simply by having enough money in the bank…

About the Author

Elaine Pofeldt is an independent journalist who specializes in writing about entrepreneurship and careers. She was a senior editor for Fortune Small Business magazine, and her work has appeared in Fortune, Money, Forbes.com, Inc. and Crain's New York Business, among others.