Your job is making you absolutely miserable. But, wait just one minute. Is it actually your job—or is it your employer?
There’s no doubt about it—the two can be easily confused. However, before you become convinced that you’re in need of a total career 180, you’ll want to press the pause button and take some time to evaluate. Is it what you’re doing that you dislike so strongly, or is it who you’re doing it for?
Believe me, I know that figuring that out isn’t always easy. So, ask yourself these four questions and you’re sure to gain some clarity and determine your best course of action.
1. What’s My Favorite Part of My Current Job? What’s My Absolute Least Favorite Part?
First, let’s take a magnifying glass to your existing gig. This is crucial for determining what’s working for you, as well as what isn’t.
Sit down, think through your day-to-day, and zone on the thing you love the absolute most about what you’re doing right now. Perhaps it’s a key responsibility you have or a big project you’ve been working on. Whatever it is, find that one thing that you adore the most about your current job.
On the flipside, you’ll also want to take some time to identify the thing you undeniably loathe. What part of your position makes you groan uncontrollably and heave endless exasperated sighs? Thinking that through definitely isn’t as much fun, but it’s still important.
So, where exactly is this question getting you? Let’s break it down. If you have no trouble thinking of an aspect of your position that really makes you feel fulfilled, that’s probably a good indicator that you’re on the right path in your career. And, on the other side of that coin? If you’re really racking your brain only to eventually land on your decent dental plan as the very best part of your job? It might be time to make some changes.
The question about your least favorite aspect works the same way. Are those dreadful parts of your job more employer-based—such as too few vacation days or gossipy, rude co-workers? Or, is it something specifically tied to your position? That too can shine some light on what you need to do next.
2. What Three Words Would I Use to Describe My Boss? What About My Co-workers?
I know what it’s like to have your brain feel so clouded that you have no idea which way is up. And, needless to say, that confused state of mind can only make your situation that much tougher.
So, now, instead of focusing solely on what you’re doing, it’s time to turn the spotlight on who you’re doing it with. Grab a notepad and jot down the first three words that spring to mind when you think of your supervisor, and then do the exact same thing for your colleagues.
Take a look at what you wrote down. Do you see mostly positive words, like “supportive” or “motivating?” Or, did you mainly list things like “overbearing” or “untrustworthy?”
The environment you work in can have a huge impact on how you feel about your career overall. So, taking the time to evaluate what you truly think about the people you work with will help you to focus in on what’s actually bothering you about your current position.
3. How Would I Describe My Perfect Employer?
Yes, knowing what you don’t want can undoubtedly be revealing—I won’t argue with that. However, you can’t just focus on the things you want to avoid. You should also be well-informed about the characteristics you’re actually looking for.
Think about what qualities would make up your perfect employer. Perhaps your dream company has a really laid-back atmosphere, with flexible schedules and a relaxed dress code. Or, maybe you’re looking for something a little more rigid and structured. You like high expectations and formal organization—it keeps you on top of your game.
Once you’ve determined what qualities your ideal employer would possess, it’s time to match your current company up against them. Does your list closely resemble where you’re working now? Or, did you describe something drastically different?
If your current company seems to fall pretty closely in line with what you’re looking for in an employer, that could mean it’s your job that’s not quite fulfilling your expectations—it might be time to explore your options. But, if your idea of a perfect workplace is a night and day difference from where you’re working now? I’m willing to bet it’s not the job you loathe—it’s the company.
4. Have I Done This Job Elsewhere? How Did I Feel About it There?
You can learn a lot from your past experiences, and reflecting on those can be particularly helpful when you’re feeling confused about your current job situation.
Look back on your previous positions. Did you perform a similar job elsewhere? Were you happy with the general duties and responsibilities then? Or, were you still less than thrilled, and thought that changing companies (and maybe even getting a bit of a pay bump) might improve your outlook on your career?
You don’t want to jump from the frying pan into the fire again. And, thinking back on any previous experiences you had in this same (or even a somewhat similar) role will help you cut through the noise, clear your thoughts, and identify what’s really making you unhappy.
Take it from someone who’s been there—determining whether you’re unsatisfied with your job or your employer (or, in some cases, both) can be a bit of a brain teaser. When the two are so closely tied together, it can be tough to separate them and pull out the pieces that aren’t falling into place.
So, ask yourself these four key questions to gain some clarity and move on to your next steps with confidence and a level head.
Photo of man thinking courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author