Is Your Career Causing a Constitutional Crisis?

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Last week, I got an email from a friend who’s only known me in my current incarnation as a writer, entrepreneur, renegade guy.

He was wondering how I could’ve ever been a lawyer.

The question took me swirling back to a time when I wore $2,000 Armani suits, Ferragamos and custom shirts…and hated my life. As cool as the money and the perception of power and prestige were, what I was doing to earn my living was so contrary to who I was that it caused what I call—”a constitutional crisis.”

You may have heard that term before. Wikipedia defines it as:

A severe breakdown in the orderly operation of government. Generally speaking, a constitutional crisis is a situation in which separate factions within a government disagree about the extent to which each of these factions hold sovereignty. Most commonly, constitutional crises involve some degree of conflict between different branches of government…or between different levels of government…

That’s a governmental constitutional crisis. What I was going through was a “personal” constitutional crises.

Take the above definition and swap the word “life” for “government. Then re-frame the word constitution to understand what I’m talking about is not a document of law, but rather your own personal constitution, your personal make-up, the core of who you are. That’s the kind of crisis I’m talking about.

The day-to-day setting, culture, mission and tasks required by my then occupation so strongly conflicted with my basic temperament, preferred creative modus operandi and core beliefs and left so little opportunity to do what made me come alive, it literally made me physically ill.

The “orderly operation” of my mind, my body and my life verged on breaking down.

There were any number of ways I could’ve handled that crisis. Maybe there was even a way to stay in the law, but change my specialty, firm and focus…for a third time. I thought about it, but it just didn’t feel like that would be enough. So, after taking a short leave of absence to create a bit of space, clarity and objectivity, I set out on a path that led me away from the law.

Because that’s what I needed to do to bring the “separate factions” back in agreement, into harmony. To resolve the crisis.

So, my question to you is, if you’re feeling disillusioned, dissatisfied or disquieted by the way you earn your living…

How deep does that conflict run?

To your core? Your constitution?

Is it causing a “severe breakdown in the orderly operation” of:

  • Your body,
  • Your health,
  • Your mood,
  • Your relationships,
  • Your ability to enjoy life and
  • The pursuit what makes you come alive?

Or, is it something less visceral, more susceptible to fixing without substantial disruption?

If what’s not right is fixable with some effort that doesn’t entail substantial disruption, then get about the business of fixing it, and find people who are equipped and willing to help with the process.

But, if you’ve blown past that point, if you’re in the midst of a genuine constitutional crisis…stand up now and declare it!

Own up to it. Then, do something to resolve it.

Rally a team together. Find supporters, coaches, therapists, friends and family members who can guide the journey.

Then begin to act. To re-craft your occupation on your terms.

It may take time and work, but that’s okay.

Because if you don’t bring it all to the table and take the major steps needed to resolve the interests of “disputing factions,” there’s really only one direction that crisis will lead. And, that’s the complete, though sometimes slow and grinding, shut down of operations. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (if it doesn’t kill you) and it’s the only thing that’ll serve as a wake-up call and a catalyst to meaningful and substantial change.

But, it is the most disruptive approach by far.

So, I’m curious. Are you building what you want to build? Is what you’re doing aligned with who you are?

Or, is it time to do a bit of gear-shifting?

Share your thoughts in the comments…

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31 responses

31 responses to “Is Your Career Causing a Constitutional Crisis?”

  1. April says:

    Hey Jonathan! Great post. I changed career paths a year and a half ago when I realized that my job, even though I enjoyed it, was extremely draining. I was constantly sick and emotionally exhausted most of the time. I had to figure out how to take what I was already doing {practicing therapy with at-risk adolescents} and make it something that wasn’t so hard on me. Now, I work with creative women to help them lead more fulfilling lives. Both of these jobs entail helping people–but, the shift in focus has made a HUGE difference in my life.

    I was forced to examine my career, because I moved from New York to Virginia. I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t moved, making it impossible to stay at my job, I’d still be there today. Posts like this one help people reexamine their lives and careers without being forced, and that’s a really good thing.

  2. martha helena says:

    I stand up and declare that: (shouting out) “I am in a personal constitutional crisis, YES”!

  3. What I’ve noticed about shifts is there’s a life-stage thing going on. Maybe being a lawyer never made you happy, but could it be that there were some cool things about it, but as you matured a bit other things became more important?

    I used to be a cabinet-maker. It’s hard, dirty work and the dust can hurt your health. I got weary and it’s not like it’s a lucrative career. Furthermore, the machinery tied me down, geographically. I wanted to pursue and grow other skills that filled different criteria.

    Writing well is a lot harder than I thought it would be, but writing doesn’t burn-out your vitality the way hard physical labor can. Constitutionally, I don’t feel I was very suited to the long days on my feet and heavy lifting cabinet-work involved. I wanted something softer, that didn’t leave my nervous system humming with pain or blunt from exhaustion.

  4. David Lynch says:

    Great topic. My career in general does not cause me a constitutional crisis, however, there have been projects that required I check in with my conscience before accepting them.

    Helping an illustrator who drew Joe Camel for cigarette ads was one of them. He needed a pack of Camels illustrated in 3D on the computer. I desperately needed work at the time (it was during the Bush 1 recession in the ’90s), and I still regret to this day that I accepted the project.

    At other times, I was stronger. The Alsace Regional Development Committee (France) asked me to submit a bid. At the time, I was opposed to France’s nuclear testing policies, and I declined the work.

    These days, I ask myself, “Are you helping people succeed or are you helping people fail?” before I take on a job.

    Take banks, for example. They are not loaning money (something that would help businesses succeed), and are instead making most of their money from late and overdraft fees (they make money when you fail to make a payment on time). Until the law changed, they automatically instated overdraft protection with no notice or warning to the consumer, because they raked in billions from the fees. In essence, the banks are working to help you fail.

    I want to do the opposite. Through my work as a graphic designer, I want to help ethical businesses grow and prosper. I refuse to take work from clients that take advantage of other humans.

    Part of my personal constitution is: I need not only to turn a profit, but also to be able to look myself in the mirror every day and like who I see.

  5. This was right down the middle for me, Jonathan. I went through this ‘crisis’ last Fall and decided to finally do something about it. I had known for years that marketing ‘stuff’ that people didn’t need wasn’t going to work for me any longer. I felt like I wanted to put my skills toward a higher calling, but it was a tough decision to commit to. I pursued divergent paths for several months – one was the ‘get a good Director/VP level job at an agency and make good money’ path, and the other was to ‘go out on my own and seek out clients who shared my passions for life and making the world a better, more sustainable place to live’ path. Neither of them was fully materializing. It dawned on me one day that I was sending conflicting signals into the universe about what I really wanted. I decided to choose the path of following my passions.

    It’s still a challenging road to travel, but since I made that decision, some incredible clients have come forth that are allowing me to do amazing work that fulfills my soul. I’ve made decisions on simplifying my life, downsizing, getting rid of ‘stuff’ and other steps that take some of the pressure to make tons of money. I also ramped up my volunteer work several notches – again feeding my soul. In the wake of the BP spill, I started an initiative to capture the stories of the people in the local communities that have been impacted the most by the spill. 5 volunteers went down last month for this volunteer expedition, and it was truly a turning point in my life. I’ve never felt more alive than right now, and there is definitely a purpose behind my work now. This was the best decision I ever made, and I have no regrets.

    Thank you for your ongoing inspiration with your stories. Your TED talk on fear was a huge shot in the arm for me back in June when I was facing some very tough decisions. Because of that talk, I went forward with what ended up being one of the best experiences of my life! I posted a video about it on my FB page yesterday.

    In Humble Gratitude,


  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by remarkablogger, Grant Griffiths, Alex Blackwell, Gina Badalaty, April Bowles Olin and others. April Bowles Olin said: Must read RT @jonathanfields Is Your Career Causing a Constitutional Crisis? […]

  7. I think after I complete 20 years in my day to day business, I’ll have had enough.

    But, I’m not waiting until then to start something new. That is why I started my site and the Yakezie Network. In 7-8 years time, I do believe both sites will continue to grow and eventually replace what I do now.


  8. You’ve very eloquently given voice to a situation that so many of us have faced or are facing. Thanks for the language that the rest of us can use to speak about it. I’ve only been reading and listening to your work for a short time, but I want to say that you’ve had quite an impact already and I appreciate what you’re doing.

    So Thanks!


  9. Irene Ross says:

    Wow, Jonathan–I can relate to this more than you’ll ever know.

  10. Bill Snow says:

    Another great, thought provoking post. Since reading your book and blog, I’ve started to end the crisis and design a life and career that yields satisfaction and freedom.

  11. Hi Jonathan,

    I’ve suffered a constitutional/career crises a few times. Usually I resisted facing up to the situation and as you noted my body, health, mood, etc all suffered.

    When I faced, embraced and released the negative emotions associated with crises something wonderful happened: I was free, free to decide what I wanted my life to be like.

    It wasn’t a fun-filled journey but I’m so happy and grateful that I decided to take it since I’m doing what I want to do with my life.

    Thanks for sharing your keen insight.

    Ryan Biddulph

  12. What a never ending process this is… there seems to be no limit to how deep you can go becoming more of yourself. Becoming more closely aligned with your true self.

    Can’t think of a more worthy pursuit though…

    Great post!

  13. Joshua says:

    Jonathan, thank you for this insightful post.

    Having recently encountered just such a crisis after pursuing a career that was counter to my being (perhaps we could ask, who hasn’t?), this post hits home particularly well. I came to a similar understanding/feeling that I was being ripped apart on the inside. Each cord of the rope being pulled in a different direction.

    Despite such obvious distress, don’t you think it is interesting that many of us (me very much included) stumble around for so long without being able to place our finger on what the problem is? I would say it is laughable if I hadn’t experienced just such a dilemma and the pain associated. Identify problem. Generate solution. Someday I’ll get it.

    “Are you building what you want to build?” Great. Obvious. But not always.

    I also realize that when you say “it may take time and work” to realign, think and act intentionally in your occupation, you truly mean “it will most definitely take time and work.” The difference being that this will be work that is true to your core nature, consistent and therefore utterly worthwhile : )

  14. Paula Henry says:

    I decided over a year ago how I wanted to run my business to best support me emotionally, physically and financially. Yet, every time I am faced with what I believed to be not enough business or success, I quickly relinquish my ideal role and jumped into another.

    When I am doing what I do best and allowing the rest of my team to function in the role they are best at; I am much more healthy and happy.

    Thanks for the reminder to do what best supports me. You’re brilliant!

  15. I’m past the constitutional crisis … I’m more in The Reconstruction (with much metaphorical corruption and carpetbagging)… it’s a mess (I’ve gone to work for myself and am trying to build a new business), but it’s way better than before and during the crisis. And I’m a lot happier.

  16. Jonathan, you really made me think.

    This made me ask myself the question: When did it become part of our culture to do work that doesn’t fullfill us?

    Most of us have access to resources that were not even around just 2 generations ago. We are better educated and have support systems that encourage us to do what is meaningful and what makes us happy.

    I love what I do, but I’ve had times where I didn’t. I hope that everyone realizes that life is indeed much too short to think that someday options will appear. Seek them now!

    • I’ve got an answer for that … it’s just that the need and desire for money often precedes and usurps the need for finding fulfilling work. Most people will be satisfied with having money for a while, even without personal fulfillment. Once people get in a groove with the “money getting,” it often becomes hard to break out, especially when debt and other obligations follow having money.

  17. Andrea Williams says:

    Indeed. On Monday, my husband and I filed for divorce. It’s been unhealthy for the full four years. My body this week is consumed with sickness, all of it churning as it exits my body… finally.

    My passion has been to express; impossible when suppressed and worn down. So, yes, we must save our own lives. And then we can begin to be the people we are meant to be, and thrive as we share our gifts.

  18. What a great post! I’m in the middle of re-crafting my entire life because I had to. I adore making my jewelry and I’m also finishing a Masters Degree in CJ. Completely opposite? Yep….but they are both burning passions. One will support me and the other will provide a much-needed mental break from the other, as they do now. I got completely sick of being at the mercy of someone else’s whim all the time. When I lost my job that’s when I decided to really retool everything. The jewelry is coming along slowly, but I’ve started to gather a following. It’ll take a bit more time, but that’s ok. I’m not going back.

  19. Gi Baccarin says:

    I already said no to the bad stuff about an year ago… I´m still struggling with finding the best way until right now…
    And I´m sure I´ll make as much as I don´t regret the decision.

    Great and important post.

  20. A fantastic post Jonathan – one that truly resonates with me …. I was in ”a constitutional crisis”, working in Investment Banking, before I – like you – took some time out, and realigned my career with my key values. I’m now run a successful Career Coaching business and help people every day get out of their very own a constitutional crisis! My clients are going to love your article – thanks for a great post! Faye

  21. What an excellent way of putting it Jonathan and I might add too that one can have a “constitutional crisis” without being mired in the corporate world. I was in senior care for 11 years and realized a lot of what you and others have expressed. It’s good to work on your terms, in your own home (most often in your jammies) isn’t it!!

  22. Ed says:

    Your post resonated with me, someone who left the practice of law to go into a creative field.

    Your legal training paid off; the constitutional metaphor fits well. A constitution is core document upon which all other laws are based.

    I, too, tried for many years — 10+ — to find a good job match in the legal profession. Couldn’t. I finally left when I got laid off and realized that there was not job in the legal profession that I could get that I would want. I took two solid months off to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my working life, and decided on a field more suited to my core interests & skills & values (web design/development). There is a certain relief in knowing I won’t have to spend the next 30 years arguing about obscure regulations so that some trust-fund baby can pay less tax on a beach house somewhere.

    It is often difficult to explain to people why I left the law, and I never, ever get tired of hearing about other former lawyers who are living great new lives. Thanks!

  23. Phil Miller says:

    I see a strand of “what” thinking running through most of the cmments posted. I completely agree with the “find what you love” message and encourage people to figure our “wha” they like to do.

    But one thing I’ve been thinking about more lately is “where?” and “with who(m)?” do you do your work. My wise wifealways talks about “looking for her people”. I like the thought exercise “are these my people?”.

    I’d encourage people to take a holistic approach to defining the specific components of their “constitutional crisis”. It’s not always obvious or embedded in the “what”.

  24. I don’t know how you do it Jonathan…how you articulate what I am going through at this very moment. You are certainly talented in writing. I ended the pain last week – quit the job that was forcing me to be who I am not. Today is my first Monday in my new career as artist and I am so happy – so very happy. I have no idea where I will be in a year’s time but I know I will be happier than ever before. Thank you for voicing the echo of our souls.

  25. Ayesha says:

    Hello Jonathan (and others),
    Great post and great responses everyone!!

    I’m also going through a bit of a career crisis… which at times is inspiring and other times just plain ol’ arduous.

    After switching from sales into marketing, I’m now finding that I’m not challenged and as a result not growing – and growing is something my brain needs – otherwise I’m not fulfilled. I also struggle with the destiny of my career being in the hands of others.

    Ever wonder why a career hits a road block? Maybe it’s the universe telling you that you don’t belong here and since you’re not going to do anything about getting on the path to your destiny, I’m going to help nudge you towards it.

    So I’m exploring a completely different avenue – the arts and writing. Why? Because I can contribute on a mass scale with this avenue. I have things to say and differences to make. But most of all, I love to create. I feel great, I feel alive and it feels right.

    However, as a mere mortal, so many emotions come and go in my latest journey causing my destiny and my responsibilities to be conflicted and often daunting. Finances being among the most ominous. I’m not a big spender, but I do like the ability to go shopping and be a girl, to own nice clothes (no Prada, just affordable everyday stuff) something I’m simply not willing to give up. I did it once – won’t do it again.

    I also have a graduate loan I’m paying, a mortgage and day-to-day bills to pay (again nothing outlandish – no Iphone). So my focus shifts – sometimes a little – sometimes a lot. As a result, balancing my dream with my bills can be exhausting. I am tired… so tired of struggling.

    Thank you for your post, it reminded me to reconnect with people who will support my efforts, be tough and honest but ultimately will still care about me and my core… must go find them and hopefully I’ll find some new ones along the way!


  26. Marie says:

    Bonjour Jonathan…
    Last year, after 5 grueling years of doing something I thought I wanted to do as a 2nd career (the first being owner/operator/chef of 2 restaurants) I sold it all, gavie it up and brought my daughter to Paris for high school. Now, I’m reinventing myself in the context of my new life… and it’s WOW! The process that is… am working with Danielle LaPorte and reading blogs – like yours.. :^) – to get on track.

    Thanks for this post. It is encouraging and I’m forwarding it to friends of mine who are stuck and complaining!


  27. Wow, great advice on breaking it down into subgroups. Thanks for your insight!

  28. Justin says:

    “Own up to it. Then, do something to resolve it.”

    Bingo! You want something? You HAVE to go for it. Make a goal and press forward. Do something every single day to get closer to your goal. And when you go to sleep, think about it. “What did I do to get closer to my goal today?”

  29. Great post. And I know EXACTLY how you felt since I was there before; especially the part about being affected on a physical level.