This is the first in our new monthly Ask a Career Coach series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Kyle’s excited to answer all of your burning questions, you can submit one by emailing us editor(at)themuse(dot)com and putting Ask a Career Coach in the subject line.
I hate my job. I don’t know what to do. Everybody’s always saying to figure out what kind of work will make me happy, but that’s the thing—I don’t know. I can’t just quit because I need the money, and going back to school isn’t an option. I feel lost and hopeless. What do I do?
Don’t worry! It might be hard to figure out the right strategy when you’re stuck in a job that has you dreading everything right down to your morning commute, but getting out of this rut is just like solving any other problem. You have to be deliberate and thoughtful.
Take a Breath
Seriously, right now, take a deep breath. In situations like yours, it can feel like every day hands you a reason to make a rash decision, but it’s important to understand that you can and should take your time.
Going back to school is a huge, complex step, and if you know it’s not an option for you right now, that’s OK. Be at peace knowing at least that much. Quitting your job without any type of plan in place is risky, so if you can stick it out while you go full-force into the search, you’ll be better off. Plus, you’ll have negotiation leverage if you’re currently working when you receive an offer from a new company.
Identify the Problem
After you’ve taken a moment to breathe, and before you make a plan, you’ve got to make sure you understand what the problem is.
Write down all of the things you hate about your current job. Getting these out will help you identify the issue. Look at your list and ask yourself if the things you loathe are related to your company, your industry, or just your specific role. For instance, if you hate the way that your peers compete against one another, your company culture is the likely culprit. If you can’t stand compiling daily, monotonous reports, then it’s probably the role that’s the issue.
And if it’s the reports and practically everything else you do throughout the day that irritates you, then you may be in the wrong industry. There’s no point in finding a new job until you know what to avoid, and this list will help you determine that.
Plan Your Solution
Now you should know where the real problem lies: with your job, the company or industry—or all three. Depending on what you discover, your action plan will vary. However, regardless of whether you plan on staying with your organization or going to a new one, networking is critical.
Talk to friends about their careers. Take a co-worker out for a coffee and ask questions. Use LinkedIn to find new connections and ask existing ones for introductions. If you’re feeling up to it, find a local meetup and get to know people from other companies and industries.
Once you’ve done your research, you’ll know what to do based on which of the following situations best describes you:
If You Like Your Job, But Hate Your Company
If you find that your organization is the problem, it’s time to start sending out applications. Before you do that, update your resume, focus on your accomplishments and the results of your work, and always keep conversations about your current company positive. Talk about the hard skills you gained, or the new skills you want to learn and use. You never want to speak ill of a previous employer in an interview.
If You Hate Your Job and Your Industry
If you realize it’s your specific role (e.g., the data you work with, the clients you serve, the amount of writing required) and the field itself that’s causing you anguish, then your work is going to be a bit more challenging.
That’s because you’re going to have to identify what you care about. Rather than trying to pinpoint your passion (which can be very frustrating!), try asking yourself the questions that author Whitney Johnson recommends:
- What skills have helped you thrive?
- What makes you feel strong?
- What made you stand out as a child
- What compliments do you tend to ignore?
You are good at something—I promise! If coming up with these answers don’t help, try doing what communication expert Alexandra Franzen suggests and come up with a life project, instead of a life purpose.
And finally, if you’re still stuck, consider working with a career coach who can help you figure this out (for more information on signing up for a 30-minute session with a coach, click here).
Remember not to get ahead of yourself. Finding a new job, a new career, or a uncovering an entirely different passion takes time and is something that a lot of us struggle with. If you take it slow, identify the problem, plan a solution, and mindfully work on making a change, you’ll find your way out of your clueless situation.