In a world driven by hustle culture and climbing the corporate ladder, taking a step back in your career might feel counterintuitive. But what if we flipped the script? What if this so-called backward step was a strategic move, a stepping stone to more alignment, greater job satisfaction, and better work-life balance?
It’s time to redefine our perceptions of career progression and understand that sometimes, taking a step back can be the breakthrough you’ve been waiting for. In this blog post, we’ll explore:
- Why it’s okay and often beneficial to hit the pause button and, perhaps, take a step back in your professional journey.
- When taking a step back makes sense
- What stepping back looks like in the career sense
So let’s dig in and challenge the norms that often shape our career trajectories.
When Taking a Step Back in Your Career Makes Sense
In the constant hustle and bustle of work, taking a step back in your career is often viewed with skepticism, if not outright rejection.
Success is supposed to be a straight line upward.
But what if I told you that success, much like life, is not always linear?
Taking a step back could be just what you need in this season of your life.
Let me clarify: stepping back in your career doesn’t mean you’re a failure or going backward.
Instead, it can be a strategic move to recalibrate your professional direction, rekindle your passion, enhance your skills, or create a healthier work-life balance.
In a time when burnout and job dissatisfaction are prevalent, it’s essential to think about all possible options — your career story doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.
I recently got this message from a reader:
Is it okay to lean out of my career? I feel guilty for saying this – but I don’t care to climb a ladder. I’m a new mom, and I don’t know if I don’t have the energy or what – but I’m zapped at the end of each day and feel stretched too thin to care. Also, my maternity leave is running out soon. So I need to step back in my career and find an administrative position. Still, I’m worried I’ll be seen as too overqualified.
Motivate me, PLEASE!
You’re in a high-ranking, well-paid job. Sounds great. What if it’s leaving you with no personal time, draining your spirits, or not lighting your fire?
Sure, you could keep climbing that corporate ladder, but will you be happy at the top?
Taking a step back means accepting a role that’s a little less prestigious, maybe doesn’t pay as well, but offers you a chance to breathe, learn, and pursue your passions. It’s all about deciding what success looks like to you.
I remember sitting in a downtown Los Angeles coworking space with neon-lit slogans that read:
WORK HARD. PLAY HARD.
DO OR DO NOT. THERE IS NO TRY.
And I was reading the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, who argues that more women must advocate for themselves and sit in executive seats.
As an American society, we have glamorized and become obsessed with hustling, climbing up corporate ladders, and defining success by the title we hold and the car we drive.
I will let you in on a secret as a career coach.
Every day I talk to professionals with impressive titles who drive fancy cars…
Yet they come to me because they feel unsuccessful or as if something significant is missing.
So if success isn’t defined by checking all of the boxes society tells you to do, then what is it?
Success is about honoring your values in your career season – guilt-free.
I just wrapped up Season 6 of Selling Sunset on Netflix, and *spoiler alert* – I love how the season ended with Chrishell telling her pseudo-boss, Mary (majorly paraphrased):
“Respectfully, I am not in the season of my life where I am constantly hustling. I’ve been there – I’ve done that. I’m no longer hungry. I now want to enjoy my life (and frolic to be with my girlfriend DJing on the other side of the world). My career and real estate are not my priority right now.”
Even when Mary tries to guilt-trip her, Chrishell stands her ground and reiterates her boundaries as she leans into her top values.
As a certified life & career coach, I couldn’t help but cheer for Chrishell!
The Seasons of Your Career and Life
What if you view your life and career through the lenses of seasons, too?
Like every TV season has a beginning and end… the seasons of the year also have beginnings and endings:
🌱 Spring: the time to plant new opportunities and new beginnings
🌻 Summer: the time to nourish, protect, and grow the planted seeds.
🍂 Fall: the time to harvest the seeds you’ve planted (or realize what hasn’t been produced and change the course of action)
❄️ Winter: the time to plan, reflect, and hibernate to recharge
We shouldn’t judge our life based on our current season, as every season has a purpose, and no matter what the season is, it will change again.
It’s 100% okay and normal after any significant life event (such as giving birth to a human) to want to be in Winter – and know that you can always change seasons when you’re ready.
Related Post: How to Job Hunt While Pregnant
And actually, I’d argue that your Career may be in the Winter season, but your Personal Life is as Spring as it could get!
How to Set Healthier Boundaries
It’s normal to have different compartments of your life in different seasons – I don’t think anyone has a perfect well-rounded life all the time because that’s not reality… and as you can see from the trash reality TV shows, we love drama. Perfect is boring. 😉
And as a Career Coach, I’d also challenge you on the belief that having a chill job has to be an administrative or lower-salaried position.
I have countless clients with tremendous work-life balance and hold fancy leadership titles making over 6-figures a year – the trick?
They learned to channel Chrishell’s energy and aren’t afraid to say phrases like:
I can’t. I’m overextended. What would you like me to de-prioritize? No.
Depending on what takes priority in their season, they may say NO to their personal or career demands.
I also have clients who purposely say my career isn’t about climbing a ladder, I need a job that gives me X (creativity outlet, financial stability, security, benefits, connection, etc.) – and they are 100% satisfied with that even if it looks like a zig-zag career.
Taking a Step Back in Your Career for Family
Finding a balance between your professional life and personal commitments, like family or other loved ones, can feel like a juggling act. Sometimes, taking a step back in your career for your family might be necessary.
You know what? That’s absolutely okay and incredibly brave. Taking a step back could mean going part-time, switching to a less demanding role, or even taking a career break.
The beauty is this step back can become a step forward for your overall life quality. You’re creating space to nurture your family relationships, attend to pressing home matters, or be there for the big and small family moments.
It’s not a professional setback but a personal STEP UP, and who knows? This time might provide fresh perspectives, rejuvenate your spirit, and eventually guide you toward a career path that aligns better with your evolved life goals.
Remember, your career is just one aspect of your life, not all of it.
Stepping Back in Your Career
When you think about it, stepping back is often stepping towards something better. For example, you may drop down from management to become an individual contributor and spend your days on the work you love.
Or you could start to set boundaries and train others on what they can expect from you without jeopardizing your work quality and reputation.
You can also look for an environment that aligns with your values and respects balancing family.
Looking at it this way, you’re stepping back to leap forward.
Taking a break from your career doesn’t mean you’re leaning out for good. For example, you could take some time off to travel, study, or spend time with loved ones.
This pause can give you a new perspective, recharge your batteries, and clarify your career aspirations. Then, when you return to work, you’ll be full of fresh new energy, ideas, and perspective on life.
How to address fear of taking a step back
Fear can be a tricky obstacle, though. It’s scary to think about how a step back might look on your resume, how it could affect your finances, or what others might think.
These concerns are valid, but remember that everyone’s career path has unique twists and turns. What matters the most is how these experiences align with your career goals and fit your long-term vision.
So, stepping back in your career isn’t admitting defeat. Quite the opposite! It shows you dare to choose your path, your version of success.
It’s about breaking away from the old norms and embracing what truly matters to you. Sometimes, you have to take a small step back to make a giant leap forward.
Consider this your friendly nudge to take a moment, reassess your career, and rethink what success means to you.
Remember, it’s your career, your journey, and you’re in the driver’s seat.
Whether you go forward, sideways, or step back, ensure it’s closer to your alignment and fulfillment.
The goal here is to ensure you make an intentional decision honoring your values rather than a fear-based decision.
If you’re ready to find a better role for this season of your life, check out my FREE on-demand masterclass to get the freshest strategies on how to go from feeling stuck to landing more ALIGNED interviews & offers.
Emily Liou and her team believe that everyone can land their dream job. Want to find out more about how you can wake up happier on Mondays? Whether you like to work at your own pace or have a group to hold you accountable, there’s a Happily Hired job search program to shortcut your job search today.