When you’re not in a great place with your career it can feel soul destroying.
Maybe you don’t actually hate your job, but there’s an underlying feeling of disappointment. A real, deflating sense that you’ve settled.
According to a Manchester University study, having a job that is “poor quality” – a job that you don’t enjoy – has a detrimental effect on your mental health and can cause chronic stress.
It can be even more difficult if your job meets your practical needs. Perhaps it pays a high salary, is close to home, or offers flexibility around your family. It can be tough to walk away from.
You begin to feel guilty for not enjoying it. Sure, there are moments when you are engaged, busy and crushing it, but these moments are transient, and Sunday nights are generally blue.
This was so me a few years ago. I got a big consulting job in London right out of university and thought I had MADE IT.
As a working class girl who had paid her own way through university, money and status were the cornerstones of my self worth. I spent a lot of time in denial, waiting for it to get better. Worst of all, I was good at my job, which made leaving even harder.
I’ve been thinking about the process I went through and how I could have approached things differently. It occurred to me that I found myself in different stages along the way, each requiring their own response and self-exploration:
Stage 1 – Knowing I’d lost my spark, but ignoring it.
I belived that if I talked about how miserable I really felt, I would HAVE to do something about it. I pretended that everything was fine and that any stress I felt was just about being too busy.
I used to have little patience for people who constantly moaned about their situation and didn’t do anything about it. Actually, I held myself up to this expectation.
I now realise that ‘feeling’ doesn’t have to mean ‘doing’. Not right away. I wish I had connected with myself a bit more and been more open to how I felt.
Stage 2 – Feeling frustrated and unable to make a change.
I was stuck underneath the weight of my own expectations, with a pretty fixed idea of what ‘success’ meant.
Each of us grows up with our own set of ‘conditions’ on what makes us worthy. These conditions develop when we take on board other people’s opinions and ideas. They come from family, school or society in general.
Perhaps you have always been ‘the responsible one’, or you don’t see yourself as capable or smart, or maybe it’s difficult for you to put your needs first. These are the hidden beliefs that keep us stuck and they are worth exploring.
Ignoring them can leave you feeling frustrated with yourself and this eventually leaks out as frustration with others or your workplace.
Stage 3 – Making a conscious decision to stay, despite being unhappy.
I tried this but I couldn’t do it. It can be a legitimate choice, but it’s important to be honest with yourself.
Stage 1 is often disguised as Stage 3. Staying, and pretending that you’re fine with it, when you haven’t really explored what keeps you stuck, is just denial.
Most clients begin by telling me the practical reasons for staying in a situation that they hate. They tell me that they need the money or the flexibility. In most cases, these are just personal choices. The real reasons are emotional. It’s about the barriers that keep you stuck.
Sometimes, you’ve done the soul-searching and for whatever reason, you still decide to stay. Maybe you’re making a sacrifice for your children, or for someone else. This is your choice to make.
Making that choice doesn’t mean that it’s easy. You are still allowed to mourn the loss of that part of you and to give yourself time to come to terms with it. Not doing so could mean that you end up resentful and unhappy.
Making the change
It occurs to me that Stage 4, or perhaps 3b, is taking the leap to do something new. But if you’re reading this article then I’m guessing that you’re not quite there yet. (If you are there, you can always go back over your journey with a little more empathy.)
I’ll let you into a little secret about that stage.
It isn’t easy either.
It was a long journey to retrain as a therapist, but my biggest area of growth has been discarding the life-time of fears and beliefs that I had developed. Even now, I get pulled back from time to time and start to question myself.
I’ve finally managed to be honest about what really makes me happy, rather than continuing with an inauthentic life. Engaging in my own therapy has been critical for me to move forward.
Change is hard.
But so worth it.