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For years, I skated on the surface of pseudo dream careers. I worked as an assistant helping others do the things I wanted to do. I didn’t know that what I was doing was testing the waters without having to jump in. That’s fine for a little while, but a little while can easily turn into decades, and even a lifetime if we’re not careful.

Shadow careers allow us to “pretend” we’re doing right by our calling. It tricks us into thinking we’re risking enough. We’re being smart by staying financially secure. But playing safe can rob you of your dreams, and giving you a false sense of safety.

How do you know you’re working in a shadow career?

These five signs will clue you in.

You’re unhappy.

You’re making money. You’re good at your job. So what’s the problem? Something’s missing and that thing is your calling.

You’re jealous.

Your writer friend, the artist acquaintance, the entrepreneur blogger, why oh why do they make your mouth drool with envy? If you can’t stop thinking about this person, it’s quite possible they’re doing the thing you’re too afraid to do.

Compliments don’t mean a thing. 

It used to be that a job well done lifted your spirits. Now it makes it sink lower. Who cares if you’re a fabulous editor when all you want to do is write? Does it really matter that you’re a flawless research assistant when what you really want to do is research your own stories? When a supervisor’s compliments doesn’t move you, it’s probably because your strengths have nothing to do with your passion.

You’re bored.

Boredom has its place in life. All people need time to unwind. But when boredom feels like an ants in your pants, I can’t stand it so I need to fill the time with my phone, TV or laptop, your soul is trying to tell you something. You’re trying to distract yourself from the truth that maybe you’re not living the life you’re supposed to be living.

You’re doing a mediocre job, but you’re not a mediocre person.

You could be super close to doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Maybe you’re fulfilling your dreams of being a writer, but the things you’re writing isn’t what lights you up. This explains why you’re doing well as a writer, but you’re not living up to your standards. You know you have the potential to write better, but everything feels forced. You’re skating on the surface, only a few steps away from your dreams.

Need help determining if you’re in a shadow career? I can help. As a graduate in counseling and health psychology, an associate editor for psych central and a stress management teacher, I’ve worked with and helped many people build bridges to overcome their fears. I can help you through in-person and on the phone coaching and consulting. For 2017, I’m offering a free hour consultation and a discounted coaching package. Please email me at for more information.

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