What to Do When You Hate Your Job
If you’re reading this, you might be one of the many people who hate their jobs. Maybe you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, or you don’t like the people you work with, or you can’t be authentic at work. Or maybe it’s all three.
If this is you, you know it’s time for a change—but what should you do first?
Answering this question is often the hardest part of making a change in your career. You know you hate what you’re doing, but you don’t know what in the world to do instead. You think to yourself, “If not this, then what?”
For many years, before I became a leadership, inclusion, and empowerment-focused speaker, I provided career development support and coaching to professionals. I coached hundreds of people on how to navigate through their jobs and their careers—and I learned a lot about how to successfully move out of a job you hate and into a job you love. Here’s my advice for how to get there.
Uncover Your Dream Job
You may be chomping at the bit to leave your current job for greener pastures, but the first step isn’t an action—it’s an exercise in reflection. You must know where you want to go before you can determine how to get there, so start by doing some self-reflection about what it is you want in the next phase of your career.
At this stage, think big and without restrictions as you consider the following questions:
What are your values?
What do you enjoy doing?
What are you good at?
What do you most want to contribute to the world?
After you’ve reflected on your basic drivers above, you can then turn to more work-specific reflection questions:
What skills do you want to use in your work?
Do you want to stay in your current field, or start a new career?
Do you want to work behind a desk, or be out in the world?
Do you want to work with people? And if so, in what capacity?
Do you want to be an employee, or do you want to run your own thing?
After spending some time reflecting, you’ll have a better idea of your dream job. Over weeks, or even months, take the time to reflect regularly and land on something that really resonates with you. If over time you find yourself stuck, you may want to consult a career coach to help determine your direction.
Know What Your Realistic Next Job Is
Sometimes moving on to your dream job is linear, because it’s the next realistic step in your career trajectory. But other times, you’ll need to take on a stepping-stone job—or even a few—before you’ll secure your dream job. It’s important to know whether the path to your dream job is going to be linear or not.
I’ve experienced my share of struggles along my career path—moments that were challenging, frustrating, and scary—but for me the journey was linear. I started my career as a lawyer—and for my first major career shift, I transitioned from practicing law to legal talent management. After many years of working as a director of legal talent, I decided to start a leadership consulting firm focusing on diversity and inclusion, which is what I’m doing now.
In each case, my dream job and my realistic next job were one and the same—I had the skills, experience, and education I needed to transition into the next role I wanted. But for some people, there will be multiple steps between their current job and their dream job.
Take some time to consider what needs to happen before you can get to your dream job. Do you need additional qualifications or work experience? Do you need expertise in an area you’ve not yet been exposed to? Write it out and determine what a realistic next step would be for you in your career. Where can you realistically get to next that will help you reach your dream?
It’s also important to note that what you currently think your dream job is might not be your dream job forever.
I’ve had two big “career identity crises” in my life. In my early twenties, being a lawyer was my dream, but when I actually started working as a lawyer, I very quickly realized that I hated the practice of law. I also experienced a period of struggle and soul-searching towards the end of my once-fulfilling career in legal talent management. Eventually, I landed my real dream job running my consulting firm—something I didn’t even know I wanted when I was making my first career transitions. It’s possible to cycle through a few dream jobs before you get to the one that will last.
Identify Any Self-Limiting Beliefs
For many of us who battle impostor syndrome, career transitions can be particularly difficult, because we don’t feel ready or worthy of moving on and moving up. And while impostor syndrome impacts many of us, I’m particularly thinking of women, people of color, and other marginalized people here.
Because of the biases we may have internalized about who we are (read: sexism, racism, and other isms), we will often tell ourselves that we’re not ready for something even when we are. We may hold back in reaching for opportunities, which limits us.
If impostor syndrome is alive and well for you, I suggest doing an extra layer of self-reflection.
When you’re determining your realistic next steps, take some time to really consider your qualifications on paper—and the qualifications of others who are likely to gun for the same job. Talk to your mentors, friends, family and other supporters about whether they believe you’re ready for an opportunity or not. Often, they’ll see what you don’t—that you’ve got bountiful, untapped potential, and that you are ready.
In a nutshell, don’t sell yourself short because of self-limiting beliefs. Shoot as close as possible to your dream job and take the time to deliberately remind yourself of the qualifications you do have when you’re deciding what to do next.
Create “Must-Have,” “Would-Be-Nice,” and “Hells-No” Lists
Whether you’re ready to go for your dream or you have a realistic next job in mind, this next step is the same. I have used this exercise with dozens of coaching clients and I’ve used it myself as well—it’s great! With this exercise you put pen to paper on the list of attributes that are vitally important to you, that are somewhat important to you, and that you absolutely can’t have in your next job.
The exercise is simple: create a document that you can reference easily with three lists of attributes for your next job: “Must-Have,” “Would-Be-Nice-To-Have,” and “Hells-No.”
For each list, consider the wide range of attributes related to your potential next job—factors like team style, sector, title, compensation, hours, location, skills you’d be using, skills you’d be developing, type of mentorship/sponsorship you’d receive, travel, and more.
Your “Must-Have” list includes the things you absolutely need your next job to include before you’ll accept it. Your “Would-Be-Nice-To Have” list outlines things you’d like to have but don’t need. Finally, your “Hells-No” list acts as a gatekeeper—you unequivocally won’t accept a job that includes these things.
Having this document handy will help you stay on track and make decisions about what jobs to go for, what jobs to avoid, and ultimately, what job to accept.
Slow and Steady
When you hate your job (and especially if you’re miserable), it can be tempting to aim for a quick transition out. It’s like shopping while you’re hungry—everything looks yummy, so you’ll eat the first thing you can.
But I suggest taking a slower pace and wider view. Taking your time to reflect on what you want, plan your next steps strategically, and understand where you will and won’t compromise is key.
With this approach, the next job you land will be more suited to your authentic self—and when you get there, you will feel challenged, connected, and fulfilled.