I mentioned in Bits & Bobs the other week that my husband and I both got new jobs recently.
For me, someone who usually stays in a job forever, this is unusual because I’ve been in my current position for just seven months.
I was hired right after I finished grad school in May. I felt so lucky because many of my classmates who graduated a year before were still on the hunt for their first jobs. My new job was also just six minutes from my house in a beautiful coastal city, I worked with wonderful people, and the salary was more than I’d ever earned before. In a nutshell, it was exactly the position I’d hoped and prayed that I’d get once I finally graduated with my Masters degree.
One teeny, tiny problem:
I hated it.
Unfortunately, I knew from day one that this was not going to work for me. After years waiting tables I felt stifled being stuck in the office all day. There was too much downtime and I resented having to stay put even though there wasn’t much for me to do. I calculated the hours and realized I was spending more time with my coworkers than with my husband. I wasn’t interested in enforcing rules. I was much more of a Ron Swanson than I’d ever realized.
This realization was very disturbing. I’d just spent three years of my life and $40,000 to get a degree in something that it seemed like I hated! All kinds of feelings and questions came up for me:
“How was I so incredibly out of touch with myself that I’d picked a job that 100% did not suit me?”
“If I couldn’t do this ‘safe’ job, would I ever be financially secure?”
It might seem over the top to say this, but the whole experience was traumatic. No matter how much I tried to reason myself out of my thoughts and feelings, I couldn’t get any relief from the anxiety and stress I experienced everyday when I walked into work. I tried everything I could think of to make my square-peg self fit into the round-hole of this job, I:
Started seeing a therapist
Signed up for an evening music class
Started this blog
Wrote out my feelings
Looked for new jobs everyday
Told myself that if things weren’t better after a year I could quit with no guilt
Drove my friends and family crazy talking about my situation or tried to not talk about work at all
Read ALL the blog posts, self-help books, and articles on finding your passion or dealing with a job you hate
Surprise, surprise, none of this worked and my body was going to make sure I knew it.
Your Body Knows What’s Up
In the fall a weird thing started happening. I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t get a full deep breath, it was like I was always gasping for air. This telltale sign of anxiety had popped up in my life before: at the beginning of the semester in grad school, or when I started a new job, but it never lasted more than two weeks. This time though, it went on for months. I even went to urgent care one afternoon because I couldn’t believe the level of anxiety I was feeling.
I’d also put on over ten pounds and could not make the weight budge, no matter how careful I was with my diet.
I was always exhausted. I couldn’t focus. My memory was ridiculous, new information went in one ear and out the other almost immediately.
The best/worst part: no one at work knew.
At my six month review my boss said I was doing a great job(!)
I’m not sure how to explain why this bothered me so much. I guess I was frustrated that I was so successful at hiding my feelings from the world.This experience made me realize that for years, possibly whole decades, I’d been repressing what I wanted, telling myself my dreams weren’t feasible, responsible, pragmatic, or smart. I felt like I’d been ignoring those gut feelings that were trying to guide me in the right direction. I’d told my inner voice to shut up for too long.
I knew this experience was trying to teach me that I needed to finally start expressing what I wanted, even if what I wanted didn’t seem like the easiest, most secure path.
I have a tendency to be complacent. To choose stability and safety over pretty much everything. But the upside of being as miserable as I was in this job was that it kicked my butt into high gear. It made me reach out to people, strategize, and dream in a way I hadn’t before because I felt like I absolutely had to get out of this situation.
The upside of being as miserable as I was in this job was that it kicked my butt into high gear
Being miserable is one of the best motivators out there. It’s tough to make big sweeping changes in life when things are humming along just fine. When things are “good enough.” But when every morning you wake dreading the day ahead, suddenly (at least for me) you’re willing to do whatever it takes to steer your life in a new direction.
My miserable job story ends like this:
A very good friend of mine connected me with the owner of a local private firm and he agreed to meet for coffee to talk about the differences between working in the public and private sectors. We chatted for over an hour and I was really excited by the passion he had for his work- I wanted to feel that way about my job too! I sent a thank you card after our meeting and a few months later when a job opened up at the company he offered it to me!
Am I about to start my dream job? I don’t know. I’m just following the breadcrumbs sprinkled around by the universe, knowing that I’m going to get led to the right place if I just keep checking in with myself and moving forward.
I do know without a doubt that if my old job had been “just ok” I wouldn’t have pursued meeting with the person that ultimately offered me this new opportunity. For that reason I am very grateful for the past seven months, as miserable as they were. Whether your motivation is the result of an inspired moment or from being fed up and stressed out, both can be powerful pushes in the right direction.
Things That Helped Me
If you’re in the same situation I was in, here are some tips that -depending on the day-helped me get through this weird phase of my life:
Look for new jobs every day online: Just the action of scanning through Craigslist or Indeed relieved some anxiety for me because I was taking action
Imagine the worst case scenario: For me that was going back to waiting tables, and was that really so bad? There were plenty of things I enjoyed about working in restaurants and so if I ended up doing that for awhile I was ok with it.
Update your resume so it’s ready to go out at a moment’s notice
Try to think about what the lesson is: Are you like me: someone who has chosen the safe way and ignored their gut for way too long? Are you surprised by something that’s really bugging you about this job? Do some digging into what’s at the root of your dissatisfaction.
Let everyone (outside of your current job) know that you’re looking for something else. Now is the time to reach out to friends and ask them to connect you with anyone they know who is doing the type of work that excites you.
Try to think of this as an adventure: Can you think back on other events in your life that seemed terrible, but in hindsight you’re grateful for? This crappy situation is one of those, try to see it as an exciting plot twist that will lead to something (awesome) you never could have planned for yourself.
Mel Robbins audiobook: “Take Control of Your Life”
Natalie Bacon: Blog with a Full Time Job: For starting up a creative outlet while your figure sh*!t out
Beyonce: For getting pumped when you’re driving to work
Meditate, even for five minutes: Insight Timer
One Last Thing
One disturbing thing I kept hearing from people when I talked about my job was some variation of “work isn’t supposed to be fun,” or “welcome to the real world.” Please please please ignore statements like these. Yes, your job, even your dream job, isn’t going to be roses and vegan donuts every day, but it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) be something you dread, it shouldn’t drive you to urgent care because you’re having the first anxiety attack of your life.
Maybe it will take many transitions and lots of awkward soul searching to figure out the best job for you. It might end up being something totally surprising that you never even dreamed of before! Pay attention. Be mindful of what gets you excited and what shuts you down. Most important, don’t give up.