It took me half a year to land my first full-time job—a middle school teaching position with benefits and paid summers. I knew I didn’t want to teach in a formal setting, but the opportunity was too good to pass up.
Several months in, I was confronted with the realization I’d ultimately expected: This career track wasn’t the right fit for me. Honestly, I didn’t know what was. But I did know that I was drained after every nine-hour workday.
So, I decided to vent to a co-worker about it—casually, in the hallway, while the kids were at recess. Except this particular co-worker was in a leadership position at the school and it was her responsibility to report to our direct manager—the school principal.
As you can probably imagine, I was called into the principal’s office soon after (yes, this happens even when you’re an adult). She wanted me to reflect on how I was contributing to morale by complaining and also understand where my feelings were coming from.
So, I did what I thought was my only option—I told her the truth: I was having a difficult time adjusting to the responsibilities of the job because I wasn’t sure if teaching was what I wanted to do long-term.
Much to my surprise, my boss reacted positively. Confessing my concerns led to a solution that completely improved my work experience—and taught me two valuable lessons.
1. You Have to Advocate for Yourself at Work
You know your strengths and weaknesses best, and they’re even more magnified when you’re given responsibilities you’re not passionate about. Every leader wants to capitalize on their team’s strongest assets—but they need to know what those are to even begin doing so.
Once I became transparent about the work I didn’t feel confident doing, my boss and I were able to brainstorm strategies to improve my self-esteem and workload. One option included distributing laborious tasks across my team and giving me more leadership opportunities during lesson planning and teaching.
We were even able to reevaluate some of the systems we had in place based on my concerns. When it came to keeping kids on task throughout the day, for example, my main issue wasn’t that my behavior management was flawed—it was that some of the systems we had in place needed some fine tuning to help me best work with my students.
2. You Have to Consistently Check in With Your Boss When Things Start to Go Downhill
Your boss and colleagues can’t help you unless they know you need the help. Finally admitting what was bothering me made me realize I should have done it a lot sooner and a lot more often.
Our conversation led me to set personal and professional goals for myself both in this job and future roles I might have, and my manager and I designed a plan to ensure I’d reach them in a timely manner.
My boss and I stayed in contact throughout the year, and I remained transparent about my uncertainty with middle school teaching even after the changes were made. So, we tried something else. When it was time to arrange plans for the next school year, she helped me land a position as a fourth-grade teacher. This meant I’d be teaching half the number of students, and because it was elementary school, I’d be teaching multiple subjects and not just one—allowing me to explore even more paths for myself.
As we had hoped, the switch was a better fit, but I would never have known had we not frequently checked in in the first place.
I know, this sounds like a career fairy tale: I complained and it all worked out. In your case, that might not be a realistic outcome.
If you don't have a manager you can count on to have your back, you may want to do some self-evaluation to diagnose your unhappiness and take steps to improve it. This article can help you reframe how you look at your career, and this one will help you approach your boss with a realistic solution.
Whatever you decide to do, just know this before you do it: You deserve to have a fulfilling job, but it's up to you to make this happen.