I left my first post-graduate school job for a different one about a year after starting. Two years later, and I parted ways with that one, too. I know what you may be thinking—ah, the typical Millennial who’s never satisfied and complains about everything. It’s OK if you think that. In fact, I thought the same thing for a while. “Maybe I’m the problem” played on repeat in my head, and I convinced myself I wasn’t a hard worker and would never be happy working anywhere.
But I don’t believe that anymore. What I do believe is that you deserve to be happy with your work most of the time. And, in addition, you need to work to be happy at your job. An opportunity you absolutely love will most likely not just fall into your lap. So part of working for it means not up and quitting as soon as times get tough, to move onto the next best thing. Instead it means examining the current role you’re in, (as well as those from the past), and figuring out precisely why it’s not a good fit for you.
And I did just that, which is why I don’t regret leaving two gigs in the span of three years. Because I used each of those experiences to help shape the next one, bringing me closer and closer to the ideal position for me.
In order to get the most out of each opportunity, even ones you end up hating, you must dig deeper. You must pick apart every single aspect to figure out what’s making you dread going into the office each day. You can start this process by literally creating a “pros and cons” list and filling it in throughout a typical workweek. Look for patterns—everything that involves organization falls into a pro; everything that involves your micromanaging boss does not.
There’s nothing too small to go on this list. Because at the end of the exercise, you can use the pro column as your “ideal job description” to be matched up against real listing. And you can use the con column as red flags to keep an eye out for in interviews.
But before you put in your two weeks, do this:
Figure Out if You Can Fix the Problem
I probably don’t have to tell you this, but job searching’s hard. It takes time, effort, and the ability to bounce back from rejection. You can’t put it off forever, but you also shouldn’t put yourself through it unless it’s actually necessary. (Unless you’re the type of person who likes to get root canals just for fun—then go for it!)
Instead, look at that pros and cons list and zero in on the aspect of your current position that bothers you most. Perhaps it’s only one big thing, and you’ll be able to change it.
For example, my good friend works as a seminar manager for a leadership-focused nonprofit. One of her main responsibilities is to organize all the materials needed for each conference. Before she started, all handouts, readings, and articles were saved in hard copy versions (and no, she didn’t start in the ’90s. She started two years ago).
As you can imagine, having to make hundreds of copies from something that’s only saved in a binder is seriously frustrating, and the manual aspect of it was weighing her down. So, she initiated a process to migrate as many documents as possible to the computer (finally). And now? Well, she can just press “print.” It’s a small change that’s made her job a whole lot better.
For you, it may be something else. Maybe you feel you’ve mastered your current role and you’re bored to tears. You could try asking for additional projects, or you could even explore openings in other departments. The point is, sometimes you can find a solution to the reason you’re so unsatisfied. (Other than saying, “See ya never!”)
Analyze Your Intel and Make a Game Plan
Maybe you decide you definitely need to find something new. The root of the problem can’t be changed, and so it’s time for you to go. Knowing what it is specifically that you don’t like is extremely helpful. Because every piece of information you can gather is a clue to your career puzzle. So, go back to that pros and cons list.
Take me for example: There are a few reasons I left my most recent company, but the biggie was that I had some pretty serious issues with the transformation of the company culture after we went through an acquisition.
So, when I was going through the interview process, I made sure to ask everyone I spoke with—the recruiter, hiring manager, current employees—how they felt about working at the company. I also scoured the interwebs as well as the organizations’ benefits packages to ensure as much as possible aligned with my beliefs and values.
Here’s another story, my partner was in a toxic relationship with his last position. When he made a major career shift this past October, he knew there were two main things he wanted to be different: the commute and the ability to have a voice.
Now, rather than spending at least 45 minutes in the car each way (love you, DC traffic!), he rides his bike four miles to and from work. And, instead of dealing with management that has a “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Don’t even look at it” approach, he’s second in command to his two bosses and is playing a huge role in shaping the the new store location.
Had neither of us pinpointed what we wanted to change, we probably would’ve applied to positions very similar to what we were already doing. And that vicious cycle would’ve gone on. And on. And on.
To be honest, I don’t know if “the perfect job” is out there for anyone. That may just be an unreasonable expectation. But that doesn’t mean you need to settle for being unhappy, disgruntled, and downright miserable. Examining the factors that are causing you to be so glum will help you figure out where to go next, whether that’s adjusting something about your current situation or finding something completely different. Because you can’t see the future, you can’t see precisely where your career path will take you. But you can help shape it.