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What Can You Do When You Have No Idea of What to Do?

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 17th 2008

 Many of our very astute readers commented on an essay I wrote entitled, "What Do You Do When You Don't Know What To Do? "

These readers correctly idenified the fact that the article identifies a problem they know all too well but leaves them with no possible solution. In this log, I will attempt to find some solutions. Later, there will be another essay on this important issue.

In the area of work and careers, there are no solutions that fit everyone. I guess that is true for most things in life. A possible solution for one individual may not be practical for another. Having stated this, let us begin:

Dr. Dombeck and I briefly discussed the challenge of how someone can go about finding changing the type of work or career that they are presently following. One of the things he pointed out to me is that it is very risky to make large changes in life. Of course, he is absolutely correct and no one knows that better than me. Originally, and when I was a lot younger, I was a school teacher but extremely unhappy in the job. I was aware of my desire to get into psychology but firmly believed that, with two children at home, it was an impossible wish. My wife and I talked about this ad infinitum and, finally, and with her encouragement, I left teaching and returned to school as a student.

In deciding if you want to change careers you need to ask yourself whether or not you are a risk taker and how loved ones in your family will be affected by the risky choice. What are the risks that you and your family will be taking with a career change?


A. Tuition costs are very high and must be carefully calculated by you and your family if a career or job change requires a return to school.

B. Ambition and determination are important because if a person is not highly motivated to change, making the choice and plunging into a new career could have disastrous consequences if the individual does not wish to follow through on the changes after a lot of money has been invested.

C. Even after completing school or training, entering a new career usually means starting over again so that the individual is at the bottom of the salary scale. For people accustomed to living at a certain income level, even though they are unhappy in their work, starting at a low salary in a new type of work can feel very humiliating.

D. Many older people, let us say in their late thirties and their forties, having to take supervision and instruction from people far you than themselves can also feel humiliating and can create a lot of resentment.

E. Financial investment in school, student loans, starting at a new and low salary all mean that everyone in the family will be making many sacrifices in terms of life style, material possessions and ease of life. It is important to know whether or not you and the family (wife and children) can tolerate all of this adaptation and change.

F. Dr. Dombeck correctly pointed out to me (and helped me remember) that these types of changes can and do impact on relationships. For example, my wife and I weathered the storm of changes that my career ambitions brought about and even strengthened our marriage. However, there are many people who, if they take these risks, discover that their spouses no longer like them and or the new life being lived. This can be the road to divorce. I have known many people go to medical school later in life and discover that their intimate relationships were never the same.

Friendships change with career changes because anyone entering into a new career undergoes a change in the way they see themselves and others see them. Friends from the old work with whom there was a lot in common no longer seem as interesting or appealing. While these changes in friendships are not necessarily bad things it is still disruptive and can open up hurt feelings.

G. You need to know if you can afford to make the types of changes discussed in this log. There are many of us who are hard working but do not earn enough to afford the luxury of returning to school and of starting a new job. Being realistic is extremely important.

Knowing Your Self

Many people begin the journey towards a new career by consulting a career counselor. However, I have known people who have taken this route and remained stalled and unhappy. Before someone can really move toward a new career they need to learn a great deal about their self. Because a new career brings with it many changes in the way a person sees their self and the way others see them, an individual needs to know how what inner daemons they might be up against. For example, I have known people who could never enter a new career because their father, mother or both would not be able to accept the change. It does not matter whether or not the family is still alive or not because it is their voices that are now within that can exert a powerful influence.

One medical doctor who consulted me for psychotherapy many years ago had a very difficult time being in the role of physician. Coming from a blue collar family in which his father did skilled but manual labor this patient who was now a physician felt a lot of guilt about his role and status in life. Despite the fact that his father was alive and both parents were proud of him, he could not get over an inner guilt he had for having surpassed his parents in academic and material success. Monthly, he sent them money to ease their lives but, admirable as this was, he still could not shake the guilt he felt.

Changing careers can have the same impact as that suffered by the physician, particularly if one's parents were openly hostile to education and success.


I would urge anyone contemplating a career change, or, anyone who is deeply unhappy with their work, enter psychotherapy and explore what it is they want out of life and whether they really wish to enter into the arduous task of returning to school and making vast changes. In this case, I would suggest "good old" psychodynamic therapy in which you and the therapist talk openly and without the structure of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This can provide the time to explore the "inner depths of the psyche" to see if there is a hidden dream or not and whether you want to journey into a new career or not.

After all, in the end, one must decide if they can adjust to their type of work regardless of the fact that it is not the most fulfilling in the world. There are lots of us who may feel a sense of disappointment with what we do but can live with it because we feel "good enough." Please remember, "good enough" can be very satisfying. It is awful to think that a person might go through this whole process only to discover they should have remained where they were prior to this adventure of change.


There are many popular books and workbooks on changing careers and I recommend that anyone interested go to the bookshelves of popular book stores and see what is available.

Your comments are welcomed and encouraged


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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