Workplace Doctor: I hate my job, but how do I switch career?

Recruitment executive stuck "in a dead-end job" can make a career switch to run his own restaurant - but he must remember that ambition comes at a price.

It is almost 2015 and I have that horrible end of year feeling: I’m stuck in a dead-end job in a dead-end career that I loathe. I currently work in recruitment but it is a job I fell into 10 years ago rather than chose. My real passion is food; I would love to be a chef or run my own restaurant. But how do I switch into a career that I love and still pay the bills when you consider the time I will need to retrain and master new skills? SM, Dubai

Here’s my simple answer, SM: I don’t know. But what I do know is that you will be as miserable as sin if, in another 10 years, you are still in a dead-end job, in a dead-end career that you loathe. It seems to me that it is far better to try, and fail, at something that excites you than to continue to do no more than exist alongside something that you loathe.

I understand, of course, that this is the romantic answer. It takes no account of the pragmatic, siren call of responsibilities: what about the loan repayment, the mobile phone bill, the rental on the apartment, that nice two year old BMW, the school fees and so forth? If all these things matter more, if this is what give your life substance and meaning, then by all means keep them and keep your job. Many people work to live rather than live to work. If you are defined by things away from work, then what you do to make the money you need to do the things that define you matters little, to you or to anyone else.

This is not about being avaricious or shallow. I have a friend with two small children, and he lives for his kids. Any moment spent away from them is a moment wasted. Not for him the job that requires him to go the extra mile, to work late, to give up his weekend, to travel abroad and so on. He works from nine to five every day, in a job well below his ability level, mechanically doing what needs to be done, then rushes back to his kids. Of course he could provide for them materially better by being a high flyer. But he couldn’t give them as much of his time, his energy, his undivided attention – so he makes his choice based on how he wants to spend the currency of his life: the time he has available to him. How do you want to spend the currency of your life? How happy are you with how you are spending that currency right now?

Money is bound to be a challenge. My first question to you is this: what bills must you absolutely keep paying? Downsize the apartment, the car, the phone. Sell things you want but don’t need so you can pay for things you need but can’t afford. If you are not prepared to do this, then what you have is a dream and not an ambition – dreaming is free, ambition comes at a price.

My next question is why can’t you quit your job and work in the business where you want to build your career? Don’t worry about salary. Start at the bottom and trust that your skill and ambition will help you work your way up. If you find the idea of hard graft and long hours for little reward daunting, then settle back into your dreams and stick with your safe current job – learn to love what you don’t have the courage to change.

Of course, you might be a hobbyist. You might like the idea of running a restaurant, and you may have lots of images of yourself surrounded by happy foodie customers, revered by food critics, sitting at a pristine table, sipping a glass of something chilled after another successful evening in the kitchens. It may not always be like that. Why not go find people who have done what you want to do. Listen to their stories, ask their advice, learn from them, and then decide if you have the stomach for it. You might be better off sticking to cooking for friends.

Whatever you do, do something! Do something to haul yourself out of this rut before you become a self-pitying individual unable to make the sort of radical changes that you seem to think you want. Act before the amount of change required becomes too great to be credible.

Doctor’s prescription:

Do something before doing anything at all becomes too difficult. And when you succeed, and you have your restaurant, and you are cooking up a storm, mine’s a table for two by the window …

Roger Delves is the director of the Ashridge Executive Masters in Management and an adjunct professor at the Hult International Business School. He is the co-author of The Top 50 Management Dilemmas: Fast Solutions to Everyday Challenges. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

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Published: December 30, 2014 04:00 AM


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