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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

5 Ways to Cope When Your Career Starts to Feel Like a Bad Relationship

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Whether you’re bored or feeling unappreciated, sometimes your career can start to resemble a bad relationship. You may be at the point where you’re ready to throw in the towel and walk away for good. But before you write that resignation letter, consider these five strategies for finding out if the spark is really gone or if there’s a way you can reignite it before you kiss your current career good-bye.

1. Pick Up a Little Somethin’ on the Side

OK, yes, this is actually horrible relationship advice. But when it comes to your career, if you’re seeking a bit more excitement or flirting with a new position, consider testing it out as a side gig first. Whatever you do, be discreet. Don’t gush about your new adventure to your co-workers, and by all means resist the urge to delve into it while you’re on the clock at your current job.

Here’s a great example of sampling a new path on your own time: I once knew a man who wanted to trade in his corporate cubicle for cabinet-making. To get a taste of the vocation that had tempted him for years, he used his vacation time to shadow a carpenter he knew. By the end of the week, he realized that while he loved working with his hands, he wasn’t cut out for the back and forth with customers that accompanied this career. Able to put his “fling” with wood-working behind him, he happily returned to desk job with a greater appreciation for it.

2. Take a Good Look at What Else Is Out There

It can feel like everyone else’s career is perfect—especially if you’re miserable. Every job post you look at seems rife with potential. But often the grass isn’t really any greener. Take a long look at your alternatives before you bail on your current situation.

A former colleague of mine was longing for a job that offered her more leadership, but after interviewing for a few different opportunities outside the company, she quickly found that she’d be taking on more responsibility for the same salary while at the same time sacrificing her ability to work from home. She’d put in years at her current position and was happy with her benefits. When she compared what she had to what else was out there, she decided to recommit herself and try to improve that situation, which brings us to our next point …

3. Have a Conversation

Talk it out. That same former colleague inspired her to talk to her supervisor and find ways to make her current position more stimulating. Before having that talk, her manager had no idea she was willing to take on a more managerial role. The same holds true for relationships—unless you’re involved with a gifted psychic—if you don’t communicate your needs, chances are they won’t be met. Your boss isn’t a mind-reader, and it’s up to you to talk to her about making potential changes with your work, particularly if you’re feeling restless or unhappy.

4. Get Counseling

You may want to consider counseling. Career counseling, that is. Speaking with a professional coach can help you decide if your position is worth saving or if you’d be better off parting ways and finding something new.

If you’re determined to make it work, a coach will help you devise a plan to turn things around or possibly move within the company if that turns out to be more desirable. If you reach the conclusion that you’ve come to a dead end, an expert can guide you in getting back out there.

Just as re-entering the dating scene calls for a bit of reinvention, before you jump back into the job market you might need to spruce up that resume or polish your interview skills. This (almost magical) person will assist you with that and more.

5. Take a Breather

Take a break. This is a great way to discover which adage holds true: “Out of sight, out of mind” or “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” If you’ve got vacation time saved up, use it. Maybe you’re just in a rut or burned out. Enjoy some time away, unplug, and give yourself permission to take a real breather. When you come back, hopefully refreshed and recharged, see if you have renewed enthusiasm for your current position.

Think your issues are bigger than something a long weekend can fix? Opt for a real, faraway (or as far away as you can manage), unplugged vacation. No matter what length break you take, if you absolutely dread going back, then you'll know it’s time to make your move.

As you go about coping, remember not to advertise your workplaces woes on social media. You’ll want to keep those #worstbossever tweets you’ve been composing in your head offline, or you could find yourself dumped by your employer. Airing your dirty laundry is never a good idea, especially if your grievances are visible to potential employers.

If your career is unfulfilling and seems to be going nowhere, you may be tempted to call it quits and start over. Before you make it official, try to see if there’s anything you can do to rekindle your career flame and possibly save yourself some heartache.