Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

How to Realistically Change Careers When Your Current Job Totally Drains You

person with computer
Anna Bizon/Getty Images

Throughout our careers, we may find ourselves in a role that takes more from us than it gives in terms of money, happiness, or energy–sometimes, it’s all three.

At first, waning job satisfaction might not be noticeable, clouded by day-to-day demands and expectations. But at some point, though, you become aware that you’re surviving–not thriving–at work.

Maybe you no longer believe in the mission or identify with your co-workers. Your enthusiasm dwindles.

Regardless of what causes the realization, you know one thing for certain: A change is necessary. Maybe it’s time for a new position. It’s more likely, however, that you’re ready for an entirely new career.

But finding a new job, let alone a dream job, can be tricky. For example, making time to interview is tough when you’re balancing a heavy workload or traveling all the time. Not to mention, changing careers can be hard when you’re facing burnout brought on by your current position.

It’s a paradox many career changers face: How do you tackle a major transition when your time is nil and your energy levels are already low?

This dilemma’s often accompanied by the temptation to opt for a quick solution: find a position in the same field at a different company. While these options are attractive in the moment, you’ve got to resist the urge to skip over the important work called self-evaluation. Unless you stop and take an honest look at what’s causing your unhappiness, you’re likely to repeat history wherever you go.

However, by taking small steps and tending to your emotional well-being throughout the process, you can make a successful transition.

Shore Up Your Emotional Reserves

If your job’s drained you to the point of burnout, lifting yourself out of your career rut and back into a positive place is the first task at hand.

Like other emotional stressors, burnout responds to reframing. Shifting into a growth mindset helps you see possibilities where there once were only dead ends.

When the going gets tough, and you doubt your ability to manage a career change amidst a daunting workload, try taking the perspective of a good mentor. What advice would you give to another overworked person in your shoes? How would you advise a burnt-out friend?

The best answers often come from within and it’s likely you already know where to start: Give yourself permission to take your time. Big decisions, such as leaving a job or deciding to strike out on your own can and should be thoughtful and deliberate. Assure yourself that you can and will take action, and that once you do, things will get better.

Ask Yourself the Important Questions

It’s all too easy to blow through life on auto-pilot, never spending time honestly exploring what you really want in a career. But people don’t succeed by migrating to a particular industry or job. They thrive by exploring their strengths, motivations, likes, and dislikes.

To ensure that you forge ahead based on a thoughtful appraisal (rather than blindly following what you think others say you “should” be doing) employ an honest self-evaluation. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What would I rather be investing my time and energy in?
  • What is my personal mission?
  • What are my top three values?
  • What pivotal experiences have made me who am I today?
  • What obstacles stand in the way of me making a career change?
  • What strengths can I draw on during my transition?

These big, open-ended questions are specifically designed to provoke creative thinking and help you get in touch with the roots of your personal preferences and natural drives. You won’t arrive at the answers overnight, but the more you think about them, the more you’ll gain the clarity you need to get unstuck and move forward with your transition.

Stop Second-Guessing Yourself

Often, when you’re forced to make a decision that pushes you beyond your comfort zone, fear rears its head. You may worry about the future or become preoccupied with whether you’re making the right decision. At times, you’ll probably face self-doubt and wonder whether things at work are really as bad as you’re making them out to be.

This is an example of a thought trap known as the sunk-cost bias. In short, this is simply our innate loss aversion popping up. We mistakenly rationalize that because so much has been invested in our current path, to change course now would be a waste. But the truth is, the cost of doing nothing–of staying in a job that depletes you–is much higher. Studies show that sticking it out despite your unhappiness leads to emotional exhaustion, illness, and burnout.

Instead of dwelling on what you’ll lose, imagine a career that makes you feel challenged, happy, and fulfilled. If that vision looks, feels, and sounds better, shift your efforts away from focusing on sunk costs and look toward your new trajectory.

Act, Don’t Intellectualize

While the process of clarifying your values and your strengths is important, these discoveries are useless without follow through. Action is the antidote to self-doubt.

Rather than overthinking what you should do to pursue your passion, look for low-risk, micro-learning opportunities that you can accomplish in the few spare hours that you do have. You can start as small as joining a Twitter chat hosted by an organization you’re interested in or committing to sending one email a week to a someone whose career path you admire. Maybe, if you can find the time, you volunteer on the weekends to test drive a new role.

This experimental approach helps you take incremental steps toward a career change in little time without a ton of effort. In the process, you may make connections with inroads to your dream job, short-cutting the traditional (read: long and draining) interview process. You’ll also gain a better sense of answers to questions like: Do I enjoy this work? Do I want to pursue this path further? What other opportunities am I curious about?

I won’t kid you and say that discovering your career happiness formula–the trifecta of finding what you’re good at, what you find meaningful, and what gets you paid–happens overnight. Or that it’s simple and easy, especially when you’re already under a lot of stress.

As long as you’re vigilant about maintaining healthy boundaries and are ruthless with self-care, you can make it through this transition time. In fact, you may find that as your strengths come into alignment with your work, you’ll gain energy and momentum along the way. That’s the difference between a job that drains you and one that lights you up.