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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

When Your "Dream Job" Isn't Your Dream Job Anymore

You have the perfect job. The one you always wanted—in an exciting industry, for a big name company, with a title that says you get to do what you love all day long. Except for that—well, you hate it.

Realizing that your “dream job” has become a nightmare is as heart-wrenching as breaking up with someone you were once in love with. And speaking from experience, the grieving and recovery process is almost the same.

From one broken-hearted working girl to another, here’s an honest look at what happens when you realize that your love affair with your job is over—and more importantly, how to rebound.

The Honeymoon Phase

Remember when you started dating your first love—the googly eyes, gushy talk, pet names, and long days spent together? Not only could you two not keep your hands off of each other, but that person could do no wrong. His quirks were cute, his pet peeves funny, and when he slurped his tea, well, that was just adorable. (Never mind that you used to practically punch your little brother when he’d slurp his soup at dinner.)

The same goes for that job you’ve worked your entire life to land. You’re “living the dream,” as you told your proud parents and envious friends upon receiving the offer letter. When you walk through those fancy doors to your fairytale job every day with Katy Perry’s “Firework” blasting in your head, all you can think is: "The perks! The title! The bragging rights!" Who cares that you're working 90 hours a week and your boss is a borderline psychopath? You’ve “made it,” and the two of you will live happily ever after.

The Rough Patch

As weeks turn into months and months start to feel like years (and not in a time-flies-when-you’re-having-fun kind of way), the quirks you used to find endearing about the job—as much as you hate to admit it—start to seem unbearable. You find yourself working slower than normal, and you feel unmotivated. While you used to be excited to talk about your work with friends and family, you now try to dodge their questions.

Maybe you’ve found that you actually get to spend very little time doing your favorite part of the job. Or, maybe you’re starting to get sick of what you used to love—because doing it 10+ hours each day, including weekends, is more than you bargained for. For me, it was realizing that I was spending most of my effort each day trying to take on the persona I needed for the position I wanted—a persona that just didn’t come naturally to me. It was exhausting, and no matter how hard I tried to force it to be a fit, it just wasn’t.

The Mourning Period

Just like acknowledging that a relationship is over, admitting the truth about your job is a painful step. My admission came when I got off of work late, yet again, raced to the nearest pub to meet my girlfriends, and burst into tears when they asked how my day was. (Of course, while sobbing, I swore up and down, “I’m really happy though, guys!” until they held a compact mirror in my face and asked, “Oh, really? Is that what happiness looks like?” Touché.)

I struggled to get past the feeling that I was giving up the perfect opportunity—the opportunity I’d been wanting for so long, one that “most people would kill for.” Don’t fall into this trap. It’s kind of like your first Friday night alone after you break up with someone, when you instantly think you’ve made a mistake, confusing the feeling of convenience with passion.

Remember that there’s nothing wrong with the job or you. (Well, unless you’re working for a psychopathic boss or putting in 90-hour weeks. Then there definitely is something wrong with the job.) It’s OK to realize you’re a better fit someplace else. That said, you’re definitely allowed to shed the tears of disappointment that things didn’t work out the way you wanted them to.

The Breakup

This is the part where dating and working differ: In most cases, you can’t just have “the talk” with your boss and move on. You need to come up with a game plan.

Start looking for a job that’ll be a better fit. It’s out there, I promise. In the process, it’s important to dig deep and think about what didn’t work for you in this job, and what you want in the next. What really interests you and motivates you, and what type of office culture and environment complement both? For instance, just because you’re interested in communication, thrive under deadlines, and love creativity, doesn’t mean the ’round-the-clock, high-energy agency life is right for you. All factors must be considered and aligned in order for you to be happy.

Once you’ve lined up a new job offer, you can bring back a line from your personal life to break the news to your boss: “It’s not you; it’s me.” (You should translate this into corporate-speak, of course—something to the effect of, “I’ve learned so much here, and I’ve been offered a position with a managerial focus where I can build upon those skills.”)

Then, prepare to part ways.

Finding the Perfect Match

As we little princesses were told in bedtime stories aplenty, you’ll kiss a lot of toads before you find your prince. I think that stands true in our present-day quest to be career queens, too. Like dating, you usually figure out exactly what you want by process of elimination. It’s not always easy to identify what will satisfy you without first pinpointing the qualities you know will be incompatible with yours.

So, look at your dream-job-turned-not-dream-job the same way you would a person you’re not meant to end up with. Now that you know what you don’t want, the end of that relationship is one step closer to meeting the love of your life.

My advice to you as you move on is to carry something old and something new with you: the old memories of why you left the last job, and new criteria for the next job that is perfect for you.

Photo of woman working courtesy of Shutterstock.