The Sensational Shift with Susan Bernstein, MBA, PhD
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6 obstacles to following your true career path — and how to overcome them

path-1445357715217-0b01ff0a17cfYou look at some people who just “go through the motions” at work — they show up, do the minimum required, and go home.

And that makes you sick to your stomach.

Because that’s not you.

For you, work is an expression of who you are and what you care about. 

You seek meaning and purpose in your work.

You’re on the lookout to find your true career path.

But you haven’t found it yet. 

Hang on, I’m here for you.

As a career coach for over 15 years, I’ve discovered 10 obstacles to following your true career path.

My observations come from supporting smart, highly accomplished professionals who’ve gotten “off the beaten path” to find “what’s next.”
If you want to craft a career that truly fits for you, you need to watch out for these 10 obstacles. I’ve laid them out, and along with my guidance on how to overcome them.

(1) “Searching” for your career path

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do work that’s true to you. Obviously, I heartily encourage it. That’s the coaching I do with people.

But here’s the obstacle:  You don’t find your career path. It’s not like you should be going on a search for the “right” profession or the “right” employer or the “right” job.

My advice:

You don’t find your true career path. You blaze it.

In other words, be patient and take one step at a time. Clarify what you desire, bit by bit. Move towards that. Pay attention to the clues. You’ll get feedback that takes you to the next step.

I wanted to blend the strategic sense I got from my MBA with the embodied wisdom I learned in my PhD in Somatic Psychology. Guess what? No one else i the world has that combination of degrees.

I wasn’t sure how to combine them, or what my work would look like. So I’ve evolved it. I’ve helped people listen to their hearts and guts when making career changes. I teach a signature workshop at the Esalen Institute using embodied awareness to help people navigate changes. I’ve built a workshop on conflict that has people pay attention to how they feel in their bodies.

No one else has done this before. I’ve forged my own path. It’s not necessarily been easy — clarifying where I’m going or who I serve. But because I care about meaning, I’ve stuck with it.

Where do you need the guts to be a trailblazer? 

(2) Feeling like you “should” make a particular career move

If you’re telling yourself things like “I should pursue a job that leverages my education” or “I should go for a promotion” or any form of “should,” you’re obligating yourself.

And obligation feels heavy.

That’s the obstacle: “Should” feels like a  burden.

My advice: Leave the “should” path. Follow the “want to” way.

What do you want to do? What activities pull you in? What kinds of people are you naturally drawn to? What topics feel magnetic to you?

Pursue those. 

(3) Being trapped by your parents’ guidance on work

We often feel compelled to follow the career path that one or both of our parents followed. Or we’re hung up about their advice on careers. Those are obstacles to blazing your own career path.

I identified more with my father, who earned his MBA and then pursued roles at IBM and Intel. Deep down, I was trying to gain his approval. Until I realized that, I was stuck in corporate work that stifled my creativity.

My advice:  Write down the work your parents did when you were growing up, and the advice they gave you on careers.

Look carefully. See if there’s anything negative, or constraining to you. If so, make new choices that are your own. Commit to releasing their limiting ideas about work, and invite in your own.

(4) Worrying about the money

It may feel like you can’t follow your true career path because of “the money.” Like if you want to work for a non-profit, but it doesn’t even pay enough to afford your rent.

My advice:  Build bridges. Find a role that will take you in the direction you want to go. Make a step instead of a leap.

And if money is truly what’s holding you back, take a role that you enjoy and make it your savings machine. Sock away money, invest it, work with a financial planner, and save until you can make your move.

(5) Lacking a role model for the path you want to follow

If you’re a true original, it’s tough to find role models. But you probably want someone to give you guidance and help you chart your unique path. .

My advice:  Pick someone you admire from another field and learn from them.

Or read autobiographies of people who’ve done things that impress you. Look for inspiration in how they’ve been true to themselves.

Or, hire a career coach to advise you on your journey. (Enough said)

(6) Feeling like you’ve always got to move forward. 

It’s easy to fall for the myth that you need to be constantly rising, moving up, going forward — or you’re failing.

What if the way forward is to take what seems like a step back? Like switching functions, and taking a paycut and lower title to do it.  If you see that way, you’ve created your own obstacle to you finding your own way.

My advice:  Talk to people who’ve been brave and bold enough to take what seems like a “step backward” or who’ve “taken a detour,” but they’ve been successful over the longer term.

For example, my client, Carmen (not her real name) graduated from her MFA and immediately had clients for her custom jewelry design company. Within two years, she had been featured in leading fashion magazines, had more clients than she could handle, and was earning a healthy six-figure income.

But she was bored. And itching for some kind of new learning.

She closed down her company and went to work as an unpaid apprentice for one of the leading craftsmen in her industry. He didn’t start her off making jewelry.

He made her do bookkeeping and office work.

Six months later, through learning on the job, she realized she had a lot more to learn about how to run a scaleable business. She’s planning to go back to business in a whole new way.

In summary…

Being true to yourself and carving out a career path that’s your own isn’t always easy. But along the way, if you stay with the exploration, you’ll learn so much about yourself. And that’s valuable in your whole life.

The world needs your combination of talents. So keep exploring where you feel best using them.

You’re meant to be a trailblazer. 


How do you figure out “what’s next?” in your career when you’re a smart, accomplished professional who’s done a bunch of the “right” things (like been at a big name company or two, or graduated from a top university, followed a prestigious career path) but now, you’ve gone “off the beaten path”?

I’d love to talk with you about reinventing your career, searching for a job, or managing your career in a way that helps you stay true to yourself. Apply for a complimentary 30-minute career consultation with me at

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