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monday morning manager

In 2002, Steve Preston hit a career crossroads when the British travel company for which he was a senior manager said it was planning to move him from London to Manchester in the country's north.

He didn't like the fact his employer was uprooting his family and telling him where to live. So he decided to seek a buyout package, even though he had no idea what he would do next.

These days, calling himself the Career Catalyst, he has built a successful coaching practice based on helping people in a similar situation – individuals who have hit a career crossroads and don't know what to do next.

"So many people are at a career crossroads and don't realize it," he said in an interview.

People get frustrated. Their negative feelings toward their careers spill over into other areas of their lives. Or they feel stuck in a rut, unfulfilled, not reaching their full potential. They feel lost, not sure where their career is heading. Or they are returning to work after a career break or being declared redundant and searching for a new path. Perhaps they want to work for themselves.

"Those are classic career crossroads but only a small percentage of people do anything about it. It's easier to stay in your comfort zone, have a good moan about it and hope everything will get better. But it's like a pressure cooker or volcano and will blow up," he said.

Related: How to be thoughtfully ruthless in how you manage your career

He says research suggests one in two people are in the wrong job – square pegs in round holes.

Two-thirds of people feel unfulfilled. They cling to the present rather than letting go to find a new future.

Letting go is crucial. His recent book Winning Through Career Change sets out a six-stage career navigation cycle that is a fairly typical planning and implementation scheme, but a lot of critical time is spent on the first step – let go and look forward.

You can be clinging to the job even if it's bad – it is a job, after all, and the money feels crucial to your existence, not easily replaced.

Some people may not like many aspects of the job but feel tied to their colleagues and are not willing to let go of those fond relationships.

He responds by telling them those colleagues can be kept as friends without the trappings of the job.

Similarly, you have to consider what is restraining you from dealing with the unsatisfactory aspects of your job.

"People see changing jobs as a threat, not an opportunity," he noted in the interview.

And while in this digital age, many people are constructing alternatives for themselves as freelancers and consultants, he stresses that you can also change your job within your own company, opening up new vistas, if your bosses are willing.

Any of those possibilities can be scary.

"It takes courage. For some people, it takes monumental courage," he said.

It depends on your financial situation and, more broadly, your family and life situation. It used to be older people, as they became empty nesters, were willing to take this risk. These days he sees younger folk willing to adopt career change and "portfolio careers," patching bits of different jobs together.

Spend time understanding your values. Do you prefer to work in a large company or small – or be your own boss? Career before family, or vice versa? How much money do you need to be happy?

One of his favourite catchphrases is: "In order to change, you must change."

Just thinking about your situation or hoping for a better situation won't cut it. You must act. That may be easier if you hew to another catchphrase: Taking a "voyage of self-discovery."

You have many strengths that will help you in that voyage. "Take the leap of faith and do what you love. Why, day in and day out, do what you don't love?" he asks.

But he admits it's not an easy voyage. It's not as if the wind will always be behind you and all you must do is raise your sails and you will be blown to a beautiful, promised land. Indeed, the metaphor he uses is of a roller coaster ride, with its ups and downs, twists and turns, tummy upsets and moments of terror.

But don't let that hold you back if you're at a career crossroads.

"People often worry, 'What happens if the change doesn't work?' Often they can't imagine how good it will be," he says.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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