- Posted by Ramin B
You are having one incessant thought – ‘I hate my career’. Congratulations you are at the beginning of an essential rite of passage that will form the foundation of your future happiness and contentment. This depressive state will provide you with the ability to appreciate the good times to come.
Few of us will be fortunate enough to find our true outer purpose during the early stages of our career and the experience of being ‘stuck’ in an unwanted job is likely to be a situation almost all of us will face at some point in our lives. Job dissatisfaction is a common phenomenon and can occur for a variety of reasons, ranging from the disengaged worker doing a job just to ‘earn a living’ to the initially engaged employee whose enthusiasm gradually dwindles after discovering that their ‘ideal’ role was not how it appeared on the surface. With obligations to pay the mortgage/rent or to financially support their immediate family, moving on is not an option for many people in the short-term, leaving them stuck in what seems like a miserable daily grind which they simply no longer want to be a part of yet don’t have much of a choice.
Starting with yourself
One of the most important points to recognise in such a situation is that if your immediate circumstances cannot be changed then the starting point will be to assess how your perceptions of your role may be influencing the way you interact with it. Many disgruntled employees may not like to hear this, but how might you be contributing to the dysfunctional situation you find yourself in? What assumptions or expectations might you be holding about yourself and colleagues in relation to your role? Are these beliefs realistic? The gap between expectations and reality may be leading to the feeling of dissatisfaction with your job. We are all familiar with the archetypal young and enthusiastic graduate in their first or second job on the career ladder who becomes disappointed by the perceived lack of opportunities for upward progression and is often outraged to discover that the workplace does not resemble a ‘meritocracy’.
Despite the perceived injustices – and the mind will always be able to identify grievances – there can be no excuse for not trying your hardest to make the most of the situation you find yourself in, even if it is less than ideal. Honestly ask yourself if you are really doing everything you can to use your present position to learn new skills and find new opportunities? Are you really trying to perform at your highest possible level? Self-awareness is key to this process: you must be willing to identify any bad habits that might be holding you back. The 360-degree feedback mechanism is now commonplace and is a useful tool for obtaining feedback from clients or colleagues, but for it to be effective you must adopt a non-defensive attitude and be receptive to both negative and positive feedback. Ideally this self-appraisal process should be translated into a performance improvement plan, and this can be kept just to yourself if you so wish.
A high level of performance requires a professional mindset
Through the media and in conversation we often spend time appreciating the brilliance demonstrated by others in numerous fields such as sport, film, music, science and literature to name just a few. Yet rarely do we discuss the type of mindset adopted by these high performers that enables them to achieve such brilliance. We tend to focus on the tangible products rather than the more mundane and regimented actions that enable that brilliance to be achieved and sustained. We like to appreciate the beautiful goals scored by a footballer but rarely talk about the 200 sit-ups a day or endless shooting practice that forms the platform of their high performance.
Perhaps even more importantly, we rarely appreciate the mindset of discipline and repetition that is required which can easily be taken for granted or simply not observed at all. An important question to ask yourself is whether you believe that these principles do not apply to your situation simply because you are doing a ‘boring office job’ rather than a more glamorous profession such as acting or professional sport? I would argue that high performers in any environment will have a variety of good habits that represent a solid foundation for whatever they are doing. If these good habits are then allied with natural talent and intelligence, then the potential for brilliance is very high.
Don’t view the small, unexciting aspects of work as boring or painful – if you do them well, you will be on a strong footing. It may be useful to consider and learn about individuals who are renowned in a particular field – what positive habits do they have that make them so effective? Ultimately, your overall level of performance will simply be the sum of the quality of your doing in each moment you are in the workplace.
In talking about method and mindset, it is important to touch upon the social dimension and how this can affect people’s approach to their career. Is your career as much as possible in your own hands or do you place favouritism and personal relationships above your own capabilities and skillset? If so, you are likely to suffer recurring periods of anxiety at the thought of structural and personnel changes which could bring to an end the patronage networks you are ‘benefitting’ from – and remember that such changes are inevitable sooner or later.
Beware of the tendency – frequent amongst many workers – to lapse into bad habits simply because you happen to have found yourself in a situation where you can ‘get away’ with not giving your best or are not compelled to improve or expand your skillset. The evolution of your company and its industry does not end simply because you have been ‘lucky’ enough to find a position where the point of equilibrium between effort and reward is very sweet – this can end at a moment’s notice due to sudden changes in internal or external conditions.
It’s also crucial to appreciate the way that bad habits in any realm of life can seep into other spheres due to the fundamentally interconnected nature of habitual thought patterns. If someone is not giving 100% in their career, then they may also lack discipline in other crucial areas of life such as physical fitness and personal relationships. Self-improvement if applied properly will be an all-encompassing endeavour which strengthens and reinforces all realms of your outer existence. A mindset that leads to self-deterioration will naturally have exactly the opposite results.
Having decided that moving on is the best course of action
Having taken a balanced appraisal of the situation and how you are interacting with it you may conclude that moving on is indeed the right decision and start actively looking for a new position. As many recruitment specialists say, looking for a new job is a job in itself. The job search must not be half-hearted and if you approach it in a professional manner you will have the best chance of being rewarded with the position that most suits your requirements.
In practical terms this includes regularly trawling job sites, staying in contact with a decent set of recruitment agents, tailoring your CV and covering letters to each job description and learning from feedback from both prospective employers and recruitment agents. If you struggled with a question during an interview, make a note of that question and prepare a better answer for future interviews.
Don’t take the easy option as this can easily result in you being ‘pigeon-holed’. If, for example, you have been doing a particular job for a significant number of years, then companies and recruitment agents will naturally try to place you in a similar role. However, as people often end up in a particular position by chance, the job that you have been doing for the last 15 years might not necessarily be your aptitude. Don’t be afraid to be adventurous and go for a job that you think is more likely to be your passion, so to speak. This may mean taking a pay cut though if you are moving into a field where you are less experienced.
Balancing acceptance of your situation with the determination to change it
It is important to remember that the job search can take a long time and is itself a learning experience which you can use to refine your approach – and perhaps adjust your expectations – in response to feedback. You may discover that some of your hopes are unrealistic in which case you will have to adjust to reality without lapsing into negative self-judgement.
If you adopt a more detached and sober mindset, you will discover that no purpose is actually served by the continual negative judgements you make about your job and your colleagues, other than strengthening an artificial sense of righteousness and injustice. How about trying to embrace the challenges and dysfunctional situations rather than resisting them? If you know that habitual tendencies are holding you back, then in many situations the approach most conducive to self-development is likely to be the opposite of whatever your impulse is suggesting. If your impulse is saying that you really don’t want to make that presentation to the directors, then making the presentation is exactly what you should do. Tackling new challenges is a pre-requisite for overcoming fear and building confidence.
‘The grass is always greener on the other side’. Sure, it’s a cliché, but remember that human beings are conditioned to evaluate the present moment through the events of the past. You are therefore pre-disposed to carry your present habits, thoughts and judgements into any new role. Unless you raise your level of self-awareness, your mind will make similar judgements about your new role as it did about the old one. New context, same ways of thinking.
In principle there is nothing wrong with wanting to leave your current position if you think that is the right thing for you to do, but remember that personal development can only occur in the present. Attitudes such as, ‘when I get the job I really want to do, I will work harder’ are self-defeating. Always look for opportunities to improve wherever you are – being effective in the workplace is about being adaptable, and being adaptable is about dealing with every situation based on its unique requirements. Employees who are heavily conditioned by past experience tend to deal with situations according to habit and will therefore not be equipped to tackle complex projects which inevitably have distinctive elements.
Appreciating the role of purpose: ‘I hate my career’ > ‘I am a pro in any field’
It can take some people many years – even until their 50s and 60s – before they find their true purpose. Some people will find it at an early age, but for many others the journey will be longer, consisting of a unique sequence of events and experiences that will lead them to discover the field in which their natural aptitude can be applied to maximum effect.
The ‘negative’ situation you may currently find yourself in could well be integral to the unique path by which you will discover your real purpose. Purpose exists irrespective of the judgements of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ that the mind will attach to people or situations. Purpose only becomes apparent with the unfolding of time. Patience is therefore required but do not become overly concerned with time: things will naturally change but the degree to which your career objectives will be achieved will always depend on the quality of your doing in each moment, and self-observation and feedback from others are essential in identifying whether the quality of your doing is actually as good as it could be.
So every job provides you with a learning opportunity. Your job is to maximise your learning and do your job to the best of your capability. If you are a barista, be the best barista in town. Be the barista that not only makes the best coffee but makes people feel happy and positive as they pass through your sphere of influence. That said you must have your goals and objectives clear in your mind; you must be scanning the horizon for new opportunities; always ready to jump ship at a moment’s notice. Never have fear to jump ship too as it must be you that seizes opportunities, it must be you who takes the risk as rarely do they fall into your lap like a lottery win. Stay positive and you will move inexorably onwards and upwards.
Essential further reading for cultivating a positive mindset is anything by Eckhart Tolle, but start with the acclaimed Power of Now. Further reading on the subject of self-fulfilment and lifestyle design will be published soon.