Have you ever had a job that just wasn’t a fit? I sure have, and I was miserable. Even when I really liked the work, there were some days I barely had the energy to get up and go to the office. I wasn’t happy to be there. I didn’t feel like my work was making a big impact. I lost my enthusiasm and creativity. At the end of the day, I was so drained. Then, I’d go to bed and get up to do it all over again. I felt like a hamster on a wheel and dreamed of escaping, but I felt stuck. Maybe you’re in that job now and you’re miserable.
So, what do you do when you feel stuck and miserable in your career?
Figure out what isn’t working. Usually, there is one aspect of the job that isn’t working for you. It could be that the work you’re doing isn’t interesting, you’re in the wrong role, or you’re in the wrong environment.
When the work isn’t interesting, and you’re struggling to keep up
Sometimes, the work you’re doing just isn’t interesting anymore. I see this a lot when people get stuck using skills they’re good at but don’t enjoy using. For example, I’ve had highly creative clients, who are also organized, get stuck in project management roles. In those roles, they have to focus on details and information. But, what excites them is coming up with new ideas for products or programs and handing the details over to someone else. Working against your interests is a stressful place to be, often leading to burnout. Before long, your enthusiasm and engagement in the job will go away. That will lead to poor performance and ultimately, you could get fired.
When you’re in the wrong role, and you’re heading in the wrong direction
Your career could also be heading in the wrong direction. When someone performs well, there is always the pressure of seeking out advancement. But, not everyone wants that level of responsibility. When you advance up the management ranks you become removed from the work you enjoyed to managing people doing the work you enjoyed. It’s a very different skill set that doesn’t come naturally to most people. At some point, you have to decide if you want to advance or not, or even if you want a traditional career path. For example, many people opt out of the traditional job progression in favor of portfolio careers or business ownership.
When you’re in the wrong environment, and you’re feeling out of place
This is a little harder to pinpoint, but it’s the cause for a lot of frustration at work. It has to do with a mismatch of values and personality. You might be an introvert who likes to get work done alone and in silence but are working in an environment where you’re expected to work on groups projects to get work done. Or, maybe you like to have a fun, open environment yet people are often working behind closed doors. Even harder is when you work in an environment where your cultural, religious or personal values are not valued and respected by your co-workers. All of those scenarios and many more often lead to misunderstandings.
If any of this describes your situation, it’s time to do something about it. Personally, after a series of bad jobs, I had the chance to go through a career assessment process. It was the best thing I could have done for me and my career. I already knew that I was a helper, and that was confirmed. I discovered that I need a lot of autonomy, independence, and challenge in my career. I wasn’t getting that in my previous jobs. I tuned in to my skills and found that many of them were not being used in meaningful ways. Much to my surprise, I also realized the profound importance of being in the right work environment. I always thought that I could do work I loved anywhere. I was wrong!
If you’re struggling now and want to know how to change your career situation, I suggest you also take some time to reflect on your current situation to figure out what’s out of sync. Go through a career assessment process so you can have a better understanding about how you want to use your skills, what role you want to have and the best environment for your personality. Career tools such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Skillscan, and StrengthsQuest provide good insight. Of course, there are tons of books out there, too. You can work through the process on your own, but I think it’s helpful to get guidance and support from a career counselor or coach. When I went through my career assessment process, I had a career counselor and mentor who helped me sort through the reports and come up with an action plan.
What I’ve come to learn through my bad job experiences is the importance of doing work that is fulfilling, in the right place in alignment with my career vision. While it’s not always easy, you have to stay true to your goals and dreams. For me, when I’m working within the right circumstances, I can make the biggest impact, and I’m happier, overall. That realization inspired me to write my career guide, Fast Track Your Career: Three Steps for Finding Work You Love and create my career transition programs. By sharing my experiences and the steps I’ve taken to stay on the right career track, I’ve been able to live my career vision.