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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Why You Might Need a New Perspective—Not a New Job

When you’re feeling unhappy at work, it can be tempting to dash for the exit as rapidly as possible. (“I quit. Byeeee.”) After all, slaving away at a job you hate can feel like torture.

But is it possible that you don’t need a new job, but instead a new perspective?

I know. It might not be the advice you’re hoping to hear. And sure, you might still need a new job. But here are two important things to keep in mind before you make that call, especially if you don’t have another offer already lined up.

Your Expectations of What a Job Should Be Might Be a Tad Unrealistic

When you fall in love with someone, the natural tendency is to idealize that person (“She’s my rock, my home, my sun, my moon, my best friend, my lover, my confidante, my everything!”) and then expect that person to fulfill all of your needs and desires, unendingly. Problem is, that’s a whole lot of pressure and expectation to place on just one person—nobody can possibly meet all of your needs, every single day, no matter how fantastic they are!

Many of us fall into this same pattern with our careers. We find our supposed “dream job” and then feel disappointed when it doesn’t live up to all of our sky-high (read: unreasonable) expectations.

This can be a bitter pill to swallow, but ask yourself, honestly, “Am I expecting my job to meet all of my professional/creative/social/personal desires and satisfy me in every possible way? Is that fair? Is that reasonable?”

If so, think about what kinds of desires are not being met by your current job (your desire to be artistic, for example), and then find a way to satisfy those desires outside of the office, if necessary. Maybe you’re an account manager by day, but you paint glorious murals in city parks or teach art classes on the weekends!

Stop expecting your job to be “your one and only, your everything” and try thinking more expansively. This is so important, because if you continue to job-hunt while maintaining unrealistic expectations, you’ll never feel satisfied no matter how amazing your next job may be.

Perpetually Scanning for Something “Better” Could Make You Sad—Forever

Have you ever noticed how certain people seem dissatisfied with their life no matter how great everything is going? While other people with arguably “mediocre” jobs (or homes or income levels) seem perfectly content?

Turn outs, there’s a scientific reason for that.

Barry Schwartz, a researcher who studies human behavior and topics like “decision making” and “choice,” has found that most people fall into one of two categories: You’re a maximizer or you’re a satisficer.

If you’re a maximizer, you won’t be satisfied unless you know that you are getting the absolute best option (“I need to find the best croissant in Paris and I won’t stop searching until I do!”). If you’re a satisficer, you have a baseline of criteria that needs to be met (“Flaky, buttery, warm, that’s pretty much it”) and once your criteria has been met, you stop searching. You’re satisfied. Whatever you have discovered is sufficient.

Guess what Barry found? Generally speaking, people with maximizer personalities tend to be more “successful”—in the sense that they have “better” jobs with higher salaries, “better” apartments, “better” cars, and whatnot—but they also tend to be unhappier than their easy-going satisficer peers.

The lesson: if you have maximizer tendencies when it comes to your career, that’s not a bad thing. You’re driven to seek—and deliver—excellence, and that trait will carry you far. But sometimes, you’ll need to cool yourself down. Relentlessly scanning for a “better” job, boss, employer, or paycheck could wind up making you miserable, because the quest for the best is ultimately an impossible one.

Look, you deserve a career that’s exciting, meaningful, and rewarding.

But that doesn’t mean that every single page out of every single chapter of your career is going to be a nonstop bubble bath of delights.

No matter what kind of career you choose, there are going to rough spots, tough times, and weeks when you just have to buckle down and do some “grunt work” to get the job done. The big question is not always, “Why isn’t this fun?” but rather, “Is this worth it?”

You don’t have to stay at your sucky job forever, and you can certainly start planning your next move, now, even while you’re still employed. But try not to be overly hasty in calling it quits. Instead, think through these two questions, see your current position through to the best of your abilities, and no matter what you leap into next, you’ll be more experienced, seasoned, and ready to do great work.

Photo of woman reflecting courtesy of Shutterstock.