When it comes to our careers, we’re told to follow our passion and find work that fulfills us. While I believe that we can find or create careers that allow us to grow while making a difference, sometimes, work can be a disappointment. I’m not talking about a mean boss or undermining teammates. I’m talking about how because we want our jobs to do a lot for us beyond just giving a paycheck—to inspire us, coach us, engage us, and connect us to a bigger purpose and to a larger community—we’ll likely have experiences that are a let down as many jobs, for whatever reasons, won’t meet our expectations.
So what should you do if a job isn’t what you’d hoped it be?
Clarify your work priorities
What makes a job great? While there are some characteristics across jobs that make people happy, you have to answer this for yourself and be clear about your non-negotiables. These priorities might shift over time, and a job might highlight desires that you never knew you had, but it’s key to be specific about what you need versus what would be nice to have.
Actively cultivate your career outside of your job
Part of the let down is assuming a job will provide us everything we need to be successful. And while a job can certainly propel you and support you, ultimately your career growth is in your hands. What are you doing outside of work to learn, connect, and grow in your field?
Change what you can and let go of what you can’t
I have been surprised by how much has changed in my work life simply by asking questions and bringing up concerns. Not feeling challenged? Talk to your manager about bigger assignments or create your own. In other words, focus on the things you can change that also have a big impact on your work life, and be OK ignoring the rest.
Shift your perspective
Sometimes what feels like a let down can be a valuable experience. Focus on what you can take away from this opportunity; while you might not be getting the writing experience you want, for example, you are learning how to manage multiple projects. Also, what’s been great for me is chatting with people older than I am and hearing how they managed disappointment at work. It helps to learn the difference between a temporary feeling vs. a permanent situation; something that can change vs. something that is simply part of culture; something that is common in workplaces (and you’ll just need to deal) vs. something that you should tackle and change.
If it’s time, look for an exit
Believe it or not, we can outgrow our jobs and organizations. Leaving doesn’t have to be the result of a terrible boss or underappreciation. Sometimes we leave simply because it’s time to pursue new challenges and opportunities that your job can’t provide. Before you make the jump, spend some time getting clarity on what you need from your next opportunity.
How have you handled a disappointing job?