Some people spend their entire careers searching for a role that checks all of the boxes they care about—fun perks, opportunities for advancement, a lucrative salary, great culture, fulfilling work. Many never find it.
But if you’re fortunate enough to land that ideal job, you know how painful it can be to fall out of love with it. As your priorities change over time, so too will your thoughts on what constitutes a dream job. Working for a hot up-and-coming company with beer on tap and free lunch every day might have felt like winning the career lottery six years ago, but now you’d prefer a generous 401K match, good health insurance, and a more flexible schedule.
Coming to grips with the reality that your current role isn’t a forever role takes time, but these four steps will help you to find a path forward.
1. Pinpoint What Isn’t Working
Figuring out why your job is no longer as fulfilling as it used to be can help give you clarity. Start by asking yourself what’s changed since you first started—whether that was eight years ago or 18 months. I’d suggest assessing your current role through the lens of these five factors:
Opportunities for Advancement: Will you be able to continue to grow and take on new challenges? Are you confident your company is invested in your advancement? Is your career path clearly outlined?
Learning and Development: Do you find your work interesting and engaging? Are you still learning? Does your company invest in training and development opportunities?
Compensation: Are you being compensated fairly? Does your current salary and benefits package meet your needs? Have you received regular raises or bonuses in recognition of your outstanding contributions?
Company Culture: Do you enjoy spending time in the office? Do you like and respect your co-workers? Do you believe in the company’s mission and values?
Work-Life Balance: Are you able to find time to do the things you enjoy outside of work? Is your commute manageable? Do you find yourself watching the clock or dreading Mondays?
2. Explore Your Options and Get Perspective
If it’s been years since you considered exploring new opportunities, beginning a job search may sound daunting. You may even feel like you’re being disloyal to your current employer. Try to remind yourself that you’re in the driver’s seat—just because you’re browsing job postings, putting feelers out to your network, or planning informational interviews doesn’t mean that you’re going to quit tomorrow. You get to decide if, when, and how you’ll move on.
Sifting through job listings and going on coffee meetings are great ways to gain some perspective. Exploring new opportunities allows you to benchmark your current role, career outlook, compensation, and company culture against what’s going on in the rest of your industry.
This could either strengthen your resolve to move on or give you a fresh perspective on your position now. Either way, taking the time to understand what your skills and experience are worth in the job market is an incredibly useful exercise. (And you may even stumble upon your next dream position in the process.)
3. Own Your Accomplishments and Reflect on Your Growth
Take the time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished, everything you’ve learned, and how much you’ve grown since you first started. Remember the super complicated spreadsheet that used to take you forever to update? You can manage it in your sleep now. And how about those intimidating board meetings you’re obligated to present at? You don’t even get nervous anymore.
Just because you’ve decided that it’s no longer your dream job, it doesn’t mean that your experience and accomplishments don’t matter. Don’t lose sight of the great memories you’ve made, things you’ve achieved, and what you’ve learned. You get to take all that stuff with you in your next endeavor.
(And don’t forget to add all your big wins to your resume and LinkedIn profile. You’ve earned those bragging rights!)
Find Your Niche Right This Way
4. Know That It’s OK to Move On
Think about what you spent most of your free time doing 10 years ago. Do you still have all the same interests and priorities now as you did then? Probably not. For example, working around the clock may not have bothered you when you were 25, but at 35, you might want more time for yourself or your family. One of the great things about being a human being is that we’re constantly learning, growing, and evolving.
Unfortunately, that also means that we’ll probably end up outgrowing things that once brought us tons of happiness and fulfillment. Most of us will spend 40+ years of our lives working, and it’s not necessarily the case that the job you thought was ideal eight years ago will still be ideal today. Try thinking of your desire to try something new as a natural part of your career evolution.
We all know that change is constant and inevitable, but that doesn’t make it any less of a bummer. It may take a little time for you to come to terms with your desire to move on, but understanding why you’re no longer loving your job will help you to figure out how to move forward. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to more clearly envision—and land—your new dream job.
Photo of man with glasses courtesy of David Schaffer/Getty Images