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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

3 Realistic Things You Can Do When Your Career Isn’t Living Up to Your Expectations

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When I started my career, I felt like I could accomplish anything. I hustled to land my dream internship, managed to turn that into a full-time offer, and was pumped to get started making my mark. I was confident that if I just pushed myself and put the time and effort in, everything would work out. I had high expectations for my future and was certain I’d succeed.

Less than a year later, the company I’d joined went bankrupt. My team was absorbed by its competitor, which only served to delay the inevitable: I was laid off a few months later. After a long period of unemployment (that probably felt much longer than it really was), I found another job.

Although it was a decent role at a respectable clothing company, it wasn’t what I really wanted to be doing. No matter how much I told myself I was meant to be in in the retail industry, I always felt out of place. I just wasn’t passionate about it and trying to force it only made me feel more dissatisfied. I felt like my career had derailed.

Getting my it back on track took time, and I learned several critical lessons along the way. If you feel unhappy with the path you’re on, consider the following:

1. Confirm You’re on the Right Path

This is an important first step. Too many of us spend our energy climbing the ladder without checking to see if our it’s even against the right wall. I experienced this several years back when I felt I’d reached a low point. I had a good job and was performing well, but there was one problem. I wasn’t happy. If you’re questioning your path, here are three questions to ask yourself.

After months of soul-searching, speaking with my mentors, and asking myself those very questions, I realized the path I was on wasn’t sustainable. A career change was in store. I decided to take the unconventional step of leaving the world of finance to become an HR professional.

While this didn’t make sense to most people, I’d discovered that I was more interested in helping companies tackle people-related challenges than building financial models.

Making this change may have slowed down my career growth in the short term, but it was a necessary step to figure out how to do what I loved.

2. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Once you’ve confirmed you’re on the right path, the next step is to avoid the comparison trap. One of my friends is a partner at a prestigious private equity firm. Another is a serial entrepreneur worth millions. My career can only be viewed as a major disappointment if I compare myself to them and their salaries. So I don’t.

We spend so much time and energy comparing ourselves to others—and usually our weaknesses to their strengths. This drives us to create expectations for ourselves that are impossible to meet and that can quickly lead to feelings of dissatisfaction. I’ve created three quick steps to avoid the comparison trap:

Stop Yourself

Once you realize you’re comparing your career to another’s—whether it’s a job title, paycheck, or number of people under you—take a deep breath and allow yourself to acknowledge your feelings. Then, change your focus.

Count Your Blessings

Think about what you have, not what you don’t. Think about how lucky you are to have a job that involves doing work you believe in. Bask in the fact that you have people in your life who care about you. Pull out a piece of paper and write down everything you’re grateful for.

Focus on Your Strengths

Instead of looking at your weaknesses, ask yourself what your strengths are. Celebrate them! Be proud of them. Don’t brag, but feel good about them and work on using them to your best advantage.

3. Live by Your Expectations

I spend a lot of time having career discussions. Many people I speak with are torn between their personal desires and those held by others. Their dad wanted them to be a lawyer, or their mom thought they should be a doctor. They got a good grade in accounting and were told they should be a CPA. They heard they needed to live in a big city or work for a large company to be successful. The list goes on.

There’s nothing inherently wrong about seeking advice from people we think highly of, but there is a problem when we find ourselves caring more about what others think is right for us instead of what we know deep down will make us happy.

If you hate the big city, you’re not likely going to be content for long working in one just because someone suggested that was the key to success.

If we’re not careful, we can spend precious years of our lives trying to live up to someone else’s ideas of what suits us. If this is you, I have one word of advice—stop. You’ll never be happy pursuing a path someone else planned for you. As one of my mentors frequently encourages, “Collect advice, but don’t take it.”

If you’re unsatisfied with where you are in your career, figure out if you’re truly unhappy or if you’re letting other people dictate what matters to you. Once you confirm you’re on the right path, avoid comparing yourself to others and remind yourself that as long as you’re content with your choices, other pressures and opinions don’t matter.