This article discusses what it’s like to feel stuck when you’re unhappy in your job, from my personal experience, and my experience working with others as a coach. It lists 10 questions to ask yourself as you mull it over.
Choosing to leave Google was a tough call. I had worked hard to get in to the company, and was driven to succeed at whatever I did in my career. I wanted to earn well, work with really interesting and talented people, and I wanted to have a positive impact on others. For some people, Google was (and still is) the ideal work environment. Free food, international employees, limitless scale for projects, travel, high pay. It was a great place to work. For me, though, it just didn’t fit.
I tried really hard to convince myself it did fit. I worked hard and performed really well. I have a competitive streak which helped me hit sales targets each quarter, but I didn’t seem to get the same rush from hitting targets that others did. I found the constant socialising exhausting, even though I was surrounded by great people. I found the environment really charged, and the work impact didn't align with my values.
After a year in my role, I decided to leave. I planned to stay for one more year and come up with a career transition plan in that time. I set out to enjoy my Google role while I had it, and focus my attention on projects that piqued my interest so I could really know I had given it everything I had. I joined the charity team and helped coordinate a charity drive, I joined the wellbeing team and planned some events for Wellbeing week and volunteered to train new hires each month, and took on a weekly article sent around to my team. I started growing skills in areas I cared about. Inevitably, I began to enjoy myself a lot more. Things were looking up. I loved my clients, and loved looking after them, and I really enjoyed my side projects. But there was still something gnawing in my stomach - I knew I was in the wrong job. I asked myself so many times if I should stay, or if I should go. I knew in my gut it was not a career path I would ever really love because my core values were at odds with my role. So I decided to leave and create a different path. It was confusing, and I found the decision difficult to make. I went to friends and family to discuss it - but most fell in to one of two camps. The first group thought I would be crazy to leave because I’d never do better, the other said it was totally up to me and they’d support me either way. Both positions were well meaning, but they didn’t help me make a decision.
How to make a decision
Most coaching clients have a similar experience. They chat to people about it, but are more confused after discussing it with friends and family, because it's harder to hear their own voice underneath all the noise. At the end of the day, your loved ones just want you to be happy and healthy, and people don’t really care what you do 9-5 as long as you’re OK. So it’s hard to know where to go to really thrash it out. To find out what you really want, and to uncover exactly what the issue is. To come up with an authentic decision, for you. Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re in the position I was in 5 years ago. Take some time to think through them, or better yet - get out a pen and paper and write down the answers.
1. When people ask you what you do for a living, are you proud to tell people about your job?
If you find yourself sheepish about talking to others about your work, it’s worth digging a little deeper and asking yourself what is holding you back from discussing your role? Are you embarrassed because you don’t like the field you’re in? Do you generally underplay your accomplishments? What are you afraid they will think of you?
2. Are your company’s values in line with your own?
If your company values are in contrast to your own, you will feel an underlying discontent. You might not even be able to put your finger on what it is, but there’s just something ‘off’ and you’re not quite sure what. Think through your personal values and then list your company’s values and take a step back to see if there’s enough alignment to satisfy you. Sure, no company in the world will have all the same values. But if your core values are not represented in your work, you will feel unhappy carrying the work out. That doesn’t mean leaving necessarily. You might choose to focus on the values where you overlap. You might choose another company where there’s more alignment with your values.
3. What do you need financially in order to support your ideal life?
Often people stay in a career because they’ve just been promoted, or the money is too good to turn down. Take a step back to think about the lifestyle you want. Where do you want to live, who do you want to be surrounded by, what costs will your hobbies and lifestyle accrue? Then figure out an annual number you need for that lifestyle. Be realistic, be honest, and get clarity on that number. If financial security matters to you, then factor that in.
4. Who are you trying to please?
When you chose this role, was it because of your own career ambitions, or were you eager to please another person you know? Maybe you were trying to live up to what is deemed as successful by society? Who are you doing it for? If the answer is yourself, brilliant! If the answer makes you proud, great. If you find you may have started your career to please someone else, it may be time to rethink your motivations. That doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong career necessarily, but you won’t be content with where you are until you fully own it as a reflection of you, and not a reflection of someone else.
5. Do you have imposter syndrome?
If you feel surprised when you are offered promotions, or receive positive feedback, then you may have imposter syndrome. It’s a feeling like you don’t belong where you are, and that you don’t deserve your own success. Do you tend to wonder why you’re progressing in your career? Do you fear being 'found out?'
6. Are you going through a major life transition?
Whether it’s moving house, going through a break-up, grieving a loss, or any other major life event, it stands to reason you may be feeling lower than usual. If you’re going through a lot, it may not be the best time to make big changes. Seek out the support you need to get you to a better mindset and then reassess once you’re feeling more yourself.
7. What have you tried so far?
Before you seriously consider changing careers, it’s important to give it your best shot. You might be surprised to learn a lot of people come to career coaching to change their career and end up loving the one they’re in. By making simple changes to your mindset, and your approach to work, you could remove some of your daily frustrations so the environment you’re in becomes much more pleasant. Deciding to stay could be the best thing you do for yourself.
8. Are you excited by the prospect of progressing in your field?
If you feel motivated and excited by the senior roles you see in your field, it’s likely that you’re in the right field. That doesn’t mean you have to stay put and suck it up, it simply means you can gain one more piece of the puzzle in your decision-making process. By looking at the people at the top of your field, you can gauge how much you aspire to be in the same position, which gives you an indication of whether or not you’re on the right path.
9. Have you been thinking /talking about leaving for a really long time?
If you have had it in your mind to transition roles / change careers / leave your current company, then likely it is causing you to have reduced job satisfaction now and also a reduced self-esteem as every time we make ourselves a promise and break that promise, we reinforce the idea that we cannot be trusted to follow through on our plans. If you know you don’t want to be in your current position, what’s keeping you there? What are the options to change? How could you gather more information TODAY on what’s needed? Who can you connect with outside of your organisation to find out more information about career options?
10. Are you learning and growing?
According to an IBM study, one of the main attractors to a position was the opportunity for career progression. When you feel stuck, stagnant or have fallen out of love with your role, it might be due to a lack of growth. Ask yourself if there are any learning or growth opportunities in your current role. If you’re already thinking of leaving, you have nothing to lose by focusing on growth opportunities. Best case scenario, you love it, stay, build new networks and enhance your CV. Worst case scenario, you’re exactly where you are now - unfulfilled and considering leaving.
There is no saying what the right thing is. There is only the decision about what’s best for you right now. There’s no magic formula for making the right decision. The only right decision is one that reflects who you really are, fulfils your needs, and helps you to grow and thrive. Most coaching clients stay, some go, some come up with a completely different option - it’s never just A or B, after all.
If you’re feeling stuck and frustrated, be kind to yourself. You don’t have to have all the answers today, and there’s nothing wrong with you for trying to figure out your career and improve your life.
Wishing you well this week.
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