3 Steps to Release Career Shame and Reclaim Your Life Starting Now

From the early-career anxiety of not being good enough, to midcareer professionals regretful about “selling out,” to seasoned leaders guilty for not making a big enough difference, career shame is everywhere. While we are hearing a lot about the “Great Resignation,” I would rather it be the “Great Reclamation,” when people finally discover how they want work to fit into their life. If you’re ready to let go of career shame and change your story, try these three immediate, practical steps. 

1. REDUCE Your Career Shame Story

Positive psychology research shows that the stories we tell ourselves—whether experiences from our past that no longer serve us or disparaging language we use to describe ourselves now—have power over our thoughts and actions. 

First, be aware of when you are about go down the rabbit hole that is career shame storytelling. It can take some time to find a method to slow down enough that you can see when it is happening. Ask people to warn you if they see you falling down the rabbit hole. This can give you the space to practice Brené Brown’s approach of saying, “The story I’m making up right now is …” 

2. REPLACE Your Career Shame Story

It is important to challenge your career shame story in order to change it. Byron Katie’s four questions are a powerful tool to push yourself to look deeper into your story: Is it really true? Can you absolutely know it’s true? What is your reaction when you think that? Who would you be if the thought was not true? 

Next, re-story your experience by identifying other possibilities, even if you don’t believe it is true. Perhaps you didn’t get the promotion because your team didn’t want to lose you. Perhaps your boss was more interested in your ego than you were and asked your colleague to speak at your conference. You might find that this job that you regret is helping you become a better leader. You can test all of the scenarios without having to commit to anything. If you are willing to let go and allow yourself to find a new story, you might be surprised at what you could discover.

3. RECLAIM Your Life Story

Amy Wrzesniewski’s research on job crafting has shown that changing how we think about our tasks and their meaning can change our relationship to our work. We can get a big impact out of small shifts—reducing the energy we put into tasks (do you really need to rewrite your emails that many times?You can trade responsibilities with others, reduce time with toxic coworkers, and focus on the greater importance of your work.

Finally, try life crafting to rethink the role of work in your life. Once again, it’s about small shifts—stop replying to that “urgent” email while making dinner, hit the “like” button when reading that a former peer was promoted, register for the virtual training despite not being sure you’re ready, celebrate your next paycheck even if this job isn’t the one you thought you’d have at this point in your career. 

While career shame can leave you feeling hopeless and helpless, you don’t have to let it take control. You can overcome it! can reclaim your power, your story, and your life—starting right now.

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