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What happens if you're not happy in your career?

A few years ago, a new trend entered popular culture. As so often happens a new TV show became a worldwide talking point, this time it was based on Netflix’s hit documentary series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.


As Marie Kondo helped people to purge their belongings she asked each participant in the show to hold every item they own and ask a simple question: ‘does it spark joy?’

If the answer was yes, they should keep it, if not they should get rid of it.


It seems that the simplicity of Marie Kondo’s message resonated with a lot of people. The series, the accompanying book and most importantly the message entered popular culture, to the point where several charity shops had to ask people to stop donating items as they couldn’t deal with the influx of unwanted items.


People seemed to love this message when applying it to their possessions, but something that is arguably more valuable is to ask a similar question about your career.  

In the majority of cases, you’d hope that most people would answer by saying that their work is fulfilling, although there may be frustrations this is true of any job and that taking the rough with the smooth is part of the deal.


But what about those cases when people reflect on their career and find it deeply unfulfilling, perhaps to the point where it makes them unhappy? And if you’re in this position - what steps can you take?


Step 1 - Let go of your self-image

A key way of getting to the bottom of why your work doesn’t make you happy is to ask yourself: “Does it actually make me happy or do I wish it makes me happy?”

When you were younger, you may have had ideas about what a great job you’ll have, when you were a bit older you may have adapted that or changed direction and got to the point you’re at now. Even now you may have ideas about what it is you want to do.

It’s important to reflect on why you want/wanted this job. You may have worked hard to get to where you are today, you may love how important-sounding your title is and you may enjoy the money that this job affords. But those things don’t answer the question: does my job make me happy?


Step 2 - Forget about Shoulds and Can’ts

You may have found that your answers in Step 1 sounded something like:

" should be grateful for the opportunity to have this job, salary and position. I can’t leave this line of work as I have spent years getting to where I am today."

As easy as it is to convince yourself through this attitude, the reality is that you deserve the benefits associated with your job from the work that you’ve put in, but you don’t deserve to feel empty and unfulfilled.


Drawing comparisons to other people may seem like a natural way to measure yourself, but the reality is that you are completely unique. Although comparing yourself to a motivated coworker may seem like a good way to know your level, you are both unique and it isn’t appropriate to compare yourself to someone who takes satisfaction from their job when you don’t.


Step 3 - Implement the changes you need to incrementally

Reflecting on what motivates you and inspires you is half the battle, knowledge is power after all. Well done for realising what it is you do and don’t want to spend your time doing.

It might be tempting to have a knee jerk reaction and to try to fix everything that is broken overnight. However, in doing this you will be taking away your safety net, and even then there is no guarantee that you will find the answers you’re looking for.


The easiest place to start is where you are right now, doing a little bit each day to get towards where you want to be. Try speaking to a supportive supervisor, letting them know that you prefer certain aspects of your role and want to focus on what gives you energy rather than takes it away.


Small steps can turn the tide in your favour and small wins can add up to a big direction change.


That’s not to say that a career change won’t energise you, only you know what does and doesn’t make you happy. As is often the case, higher risk often equates to higher rewards.


Here at MyJobs.Coach, we have expert advice and specialist consultants in a number of different fields. We are happy to talk you through your next career move. Have a look at our Employee page to see what we can offer, or contact us for further help!

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