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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Ask a Credible Coach: How Can I Stop Being a Failure and Find a Job I'm Good At?

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Dear Credible Coach,

I can’t seem to find a job that sticks. I’m in my mid-30s and keep finding myself starting over from the bottom—always landing in organizations that are experiencing growing pains and that seemingly have no interest in helping me develop my career.

For example, I resigned from an office job that felt like it was going nowhere (the company has been struggling to re-define itself). Now, I work full-time at my second job, a retail operation, just to pay my bills. I feel lost, hopeless, and endlessly discouraged.

I hoped to be in a better place at this age, but now I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be able to realize what I thought I could; I’m just not a quality person or employee. I need to find a job in a new city, and I don’t even know where to start. I have a resume riddled with constant unemployment and clear failure.

Career Doldrums

Hi Career Doldrums,

If you’re in your mid-30s, that probably means you have another 30+ years of professional employment left to go (unless you win the Powerball, or gain an unexpected inheritance, in which case, don’t forget me!). As depressing as that might sound to you at this very moment, I encourage you to view it as an opportunity. Your past experience adds up to a quarter of your total career journey, so there’s plenty of time left to analyze, define, create, and work toward what you truly want to do!

Have you heard the phrase “zone of genius?” It’s basically that magical moment when you’re having so much fun working, you lose track of time. Or the moments that provide an exciting challenge and allow you to utilize your natural talents and strengths. The moments you think to yourself, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this.”

What a concept, huh?

From what it sounds like, you may’ve been accepting positions that rarely tapped into your zone of genius and thus you got bored and frustrated, leading to an unpleasant exit. It also sounds like you’ve entered many companies whose values, growth strategies, and leadership may not have been aligned with your expectations and your set of values.

So, what are some action steps you can take now that you’re in a new city seeking a new position?

1. Conduct a Career Assessment

This is helpful in understanding what career paths would excite you and allow you to feel the zone of genius at least 80% of the time. Understand the qualities, traits, and skills that excite you versus those that drain you. What are your strengths and weaknesses? By exploring your accomplishments, failures, reasons for accepting and leaving jobs, you’ll be able to identify important patterns and gain a clearer sense of what your needs are.

2. Identify Top Values

What five values are the most important to you? You can start by making a list of everyone in your life whom you admire. What traits do you admire about them most? Make an exhaustive list and go back to tally any traits that are repeated. Most likely, the ones with multiple occurrences are values that you regard highly and can serve as a compass in the relationships and careers you form over the next coming decades.

Next, ask yourself some questions such as: When you’re 90 and looking back on your life, what do you want to be known for? What legacy do you wish to leave? What does a successful life look like on your terms? What does being a quality person or employee look like? Explore why your answers feel important to you.

Hopefully you’ve gained new insight on your skills, talents, values, and what professional opportunities will allow you to demonstrate them. The fun part is next!

3. Explore Opportunities

Spend time researching opportunities that are match for you based on your geographic location, education, and transferable skills. You can use the Occupational Outlook Handbook to explore career paths in line with these factors if you’re having trouble figuring out what industry you’d shine in.

Once you’re clear on what you want to do, you’ll have to go through the standard job search steps, including but not limited to updating your resume, setting up informational interviews, building a network, perfecting your cover letter (tailoring it for each distinct role), and practicing common interview questions.

Depending on your career, you may want to demonstrate your passion for it by finding volunteer opportunities, taking additional courses or certifications, and creating an online presence.

Bottom line: Once you have clarity on what you want to do and you’ve put together an action plan, nothing is going to get in your way.

This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Career Coach in the subject line.

Your letter may be published in an article on The Muse. All letters to Ask an Expert become the property of Daily Muse, Inc and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.

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