Look, there are plenty of reasons you may be miserable in your job. Horrible bosses tend to top the list, but boredom, burnout, and busywork that knows no bounds are also viable reasons.
Let’s say it’s not any of the above, and, in fact, you can’t pinpoint the source of your discontent on any one thing. You just know it’s not the position for you, and you’d like very much to quit and find something else.
Far be it from me to tell you to stick with something that’s making you so unhappy, but I will say this: Based on dozens of conversations with friends and colleagues throughout the years about this very thing, I’ve noticed that a lot of the time it’s not the job that’s the problem, it’s the person.
Was that too harsh? Let me explain. While it can feel good to place blame outside ourselves, it’s not always the wisest move. Sometimes, it’s stopping to look within that provides the most clarity on why you’re unhappy at work.
And here’s the great thing about determining that it’s not your job that’s making you unhappy, it’s you: You may be able to turn it around immediately!
1. You Take Things Personally
The feedback from your boss’ boss that the strategy you devised for getting the company’s product recognized internationally wasn’t the best, and you’ve been tasked with revising it based on their notes. You really can’t believe you put so much blood, sweat, tears into the darn thing, only to be told it’s not going to work. What the heck? Talk about wasting your time. Why’d they enlist your help in the first place? Do they think you’re an idiot? They’re probably going to hate the changes you suggest, too.
Whoa, if this sounds familiar, you really need to take a step back. Make that three. While you’re at it, take a deep breath too. Negative feedback is part of the job; don’t you know that yet? This isn’t the leadership team saying you’re a despicable employee. This is them saying, “Good start, but let’s look a little more closely at these points.”
It’s not easy getting to a point in your job where you don’t take criticism personally, but it’s absolutely essential to your success. And if you’re struggling with hostile feelings at work, have you stopped to consider that they’re stemming from your inclination to take everything not characterized as praise as a hit at your character and competence? Try changing your mindset and seeing if it helps you move past the stressful obsessing.
2. You Expect Things to Happen Overnight
You have a great idea! Actually, you had it nine months ago. You shared it with your manager who seemed equally excited about the initiative. She promised to look into budget constraints, draw up a proposal based on your analysis and recommended direction, and…crickets.
You used to bring it up every so often, but you’ve since stopped. How many times can you bear to hear that “it’s in the works,” or “it’s on a long list of things,” before you decide never to offer an awesome idea ever again?
This is, no doubt, one of the most frustrating parts of working with others in an organization that has a lot of moving pieces. But regardless of how head-banging it can feel to hope for change that no one else seems to care about making happen, it’s not a strong reason for being unhappy in your job, all things considered.
Take it as a positive that your ideas are heard because, you know, at a lot of organizations, that’s far from the reality. If the day-to-day part of your job is going smoothly, and it’s ultimately your patience that’s getting the best of you—and perhaps ineffectual goal-setting—try to see if being less impatient and rewriting those goals changes anything.
Of course, if the reason it’s not your job, it’s you is simply because you’re in the wrong industry, no amount of learning not to take it personally or reconfiguring goals and practicing patience is going to work.
Your awesome boss, cool colleagues, and manageable workload won’t distract from the fact that you’re unhappy because you hate the work. It’s not the engineering team’s fault that you discovered you detest coding. You can’t blame the CEO because you’ve decided that working on a production team isn’t your calling. If your long, hard look at your dissatisfaction leads you to conclude that you’re in the wrong career, well then, at least you have next steps.
No matter what, you shouldn’t default to assuming it’s your job that’s the problem. When it comes to career growth and success, taking ownership is part of the foundation.
Photo of frustrated man courtesy Westend61/Getty Images..
Stacey Lastoe is the Senior Editor/Writer of The Muse. She started writing short stories in the second grade and is immensely grateful to have the opportunity to write and edit professionally. Her work has appeared in YouBeauty, Refinery29, A Practical Wedding, Runner's World online, and The Billfold among other publications. She enjoys running and eating in equal measure and lives with her husband and dog in Brooklyn. All three of them are avid New York Mets fans. Say hello on @stacespeaks.More from this Author