If you’ve ever felt discontented with your job, your gut might tell you that it’s time to move on—and you’d probably be right to follow that instinct. But making a career move without considering the big picture can lead you down a rather scattershot path of development. Here are some reflections and mental preparations to take before you change course.
Breaking down the discontent
Come up with a list of everything that you find to be contributing to, or triggering, your feelings of dissatisfaction at work, and answer ‘why?’ for each. Now, list the opposite, best-case scenarios and the respective ‘why’ for each. For example, you got berated by your boss. Why? Because your work didn’t meet specific expected standards. In the reverse scenario, you get praised by your boss because you performed well. If the trigger is an endless stream of tedious, repetitive tasks, the reverse would be getting to do work that stimulates you. Why? Because you are doing things that interest you or make use of your innate talents.
Look at the reverse list. Notice whether there are patterns among these positive scenarios. If a majority of them fall along the lines of doing something well, then you’re after competency. If more of them seem to be about doing what you want to do, then it’s happiness you’re missing. And if they seem to be centered around aligning your work with your core values, then what you want is meaning.
Chasing competency, happiness, and meaning
Defining what you want through this exercise will point you in the direction where your efforts are best applied. This matters, because each area may require a specific approach. If your job seems to be lacking in all three categories, you’ll have to prioritize along the lines of which aspects are more valuable to you, or which ones seem to be immediately within reach.
If being competent at your job would bring you the most satisfaction, then you must assess your current skill set. The good news is that this is something within your control—you can work to learn and improve. But you also have to think about relevance. Similar to how local search marketing strategies help businesses find the relevant audience and drive sales, you need to align your skills with the needs and demands of potential employers. You may need to not only sharpen existing skills but learn new ones to broaden your range of capabilities. Then, you can filter out the jobs that don’t match what you do best, and you can apply for those that provide an optimum career fit.
Pursuing happiness and meaning through your career may seem like a more straightforward objective, but it can be tricky. Always bear in mind that these things might not even need to come directly from work; you can derive them from outside of your career.
Happiness at work stems from doing things that genuinely interest you. This is the goal that we commonly reference when we talk about ‘following your passion.’ If you have a hobby, something you’d do in your spare time, even without getting paid for it, see if you can spin that into a new career. There might not be a corresponding job opening for every such passion, so don’t be afraid to turn entrepreneur and start a business instead.
Meaning can be derived from work when you have strong social relationships and can align what you do with its contributions to the ‘greater good’—whether that’s a local community or society at large. Thus, context plays a significant role in giving your work a sense of meaning. You may need to work on improving relationships with colleagues or call for greater participation in activities that drive employee engagement.
Think outside the box
Career progress no longer has to be all about climbing a ladder. Increasingly, today’s employees are finding that vertical movement can be restricted. There are only so many seats to go around at the top. Open your mind to the idea of a career lattice instead.
Thinking from this framework, you can realize that the next steps in your career might involve lateral moves, which open up new paths towards advancement. Or you could seek enrichment and stay in your current position, identifying opportunities to grow and enable further steps towards your goals later on.
Don’t discount the possibility of crafting your ideal job. Sometimes you can land a position within an organization that will give you autonomy to operate. You can eventually align your work there with your values, interests, and skills.
Follow your gut away from career discontent, but be smart about it. Take charge of the plans, and you can avoid drifting around in your career.