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Common Career Problems 

What is it about career planning that seems to generate avoidance behaviors in a large subset of people? Why is it that many people have solid plans in other aspects of their livesI want to have a child, I want to buy a house, I want to learn to play an instrument—yet do not have a plan for their work life. Despite years or even decades into adulthood, for some, it has yet to be defined. 

To have a Career Plan Means Three Things:

  1. to be able to state a specific occupation, or a related group of occupations, you intend on pursuing, or are currently a part of
  2. to project how you would like that career to unfold over the next three, five, and ten years
  3. to be committed to engaging in professional development (ongoing learning) to deliver your ambitions as stated in #2

A career plan should be written down. This is because once written, the plan becomes a contract you make with yourself. Without the plan, at best, you simply have a loosely-defined goal, and a goal without a plan is just a wish. 

Now that you see the steps for producing a career plan, it’s time to decide where you are getting held up. If you are stuck at step one, could it be that you don’t know enough to make a decision? If so, you can work with a career counselor or you should read articles and find other resources to get the career information you need. Additionally, marketable skills need to be assessed because they should be factored into career decisions. As you arrive at this part of the paragraph, are you excited about doing what I just suggested or is paralysis about to set in? If you know what you should do, yet still can’t commit to doing it, the reason is often one of the following—you have lost your enthusiasm on many fronts, or you are experiencing fear. 

Depression and Fear Can Derail Career Plans 

If you are depressed, the good news is that there’s a lot of help available to you. The odds are very much in your favor that you will emerge from your depression, and with the right help, sometimes quite rapidly. Once your mind is in a better place, the career issues will be much easier to work on. Depression is a common phenomenon when career decisions are elusive. Once you recognize this and get professional help, you have already surmounted the first hurdle.  

If you are not depressed, but still can’t seem to muster the resolve to tackle the career exploration and decision process, it is likely that your career paralysis is about fear and you are not moving forward as as way to avoid the possibility of failure. Perhaps it is comforting to know that success is often born out of failure. (Read the biographies of Henry Ford and Walt Disney and you will find prime examples of people who failed miserably in their careers before they ultimately succeeded.) 

A Word About Ambition

Step two and three of the career plan are about ambition. Humans inherently want to achieve and accomplish things. I will simply call this “mastery” and it is the icing on the cake of life. Without it, something does seem to be missing. You can attain mastery in a hobby you have, but the payoff is far better when you achieve mastery in your occupation. This is because being great at your job yields job security, potential for advancement, and gives you a self-esteem boost like few other things ever can. 

In addition to depression and fear, there are other common career problems and I discuss them below.   


Often indecisive when forced to choose between several important options, and Making a career decision can be hardnow uncertain of the best career choice, you stall out for a rather long period of time. You remain in a job that you consider a dead-end. You fail to appreciate that standing still is just a different way of making a wrong move.

 Lack of Discipline 

You seem insufficiently motivated to acquire the knowledge and/or skills necessary for the kind of job you say you want. Is learning difficult in general? Is there an attention problem? Are you angry about having to work so hard because in some way it seems unfair?  

Unrealistic / Narcissistic  

You’ve been out of the workforce for a while, perhaps with care giving responsibilities. Deep down you wish you didn’t need to work at all. So, your next job needs to tick a lot of boxes. You need a certain salary to make this worthwhile, you also want a 401K plan, you can’t commute too far because it wastes too much of your time, you absolutely cannot work Saturdays or evenings, and in the summers you take a family vacation the first two weeks in July. When you become such a picky eater at the table of employment, something is quite wrong and it’s not about the menu options. 

Wake-up Call Required

You believe you are adequately educatedEmployers are looking for specific skills and skilled yet your job search is protracted and you are having difficulty getting interviews. If your resume is well-written, it’s time to consider that your current skill set and/or your education may not be a match for the job you are seeking. Thoroughly read job listings to see if you meet all the qualifications. This could be your wake-up call to proactively acquire new knowledge and skills to become a competitive candidate.  


There is a pattern of leaving jobs for “greener pastures ” and your work history reflects three or more jobs of short duration (less than three years).  When you join another employer, the grass turns brown again very quickly. Is it a string of bad luck or are you not planning well enough? And even if you are not concerned about the frequency of your job changes, will potential employers down the road consider you a “job hopper”? 


You don’t enjoy the day-in, day-out responsibilities of your job but you take home a nice paycheck. You get all of your work done but you never volunteer to do anything extra and when you are asked to do something additional you feel put upon. Sensing you don’t seem to work very hard, management wonders if someone else could be hired at a lower salary. You don’t see the WARNING LIGHTS FLASHING or the GATES COMING DOWN and your only career “plan” is to ride out this job until the end of your work life. The Universal Law of Career Management has a message for you: never let a boss have a legitimate reason to replace you. 


Identifying the root cause(s) of your career difficulties is an important first step. The next step is to remove those difficulties so they are no longer obstacles to your career success. Most people who have one or more of the difficulties on this page need professional assistance and should read about career counseling and career coaching services.  You may contact me for a no-cost 15-minute phone consultation. Use the contact us page if you have a resume and are able to send it in advance of our conversation.