In my work as a career coach and leadership developer, I meet thousands of people a year who are seeking help for all sorts of professional and personal issues. They might hate their jobs, or find their work environment toxic. Or they want more responsibility and leadership authority, or they’re desperately longing for another career that will bring more meaning and fulfillment.
As one who spent time in a corporate marketing career that was, overall, wrong for me, I have lived the pain of knowing you’re in the wrong line of work but not knowing what to do about it. I constantly grappled with the question, “Should I just change jobs or do a need a complete career reinvention?” I didn’t know how to make that determination.
I’ve learned that sometimes it is just a new job that can bring you what you want, but sometimes it’s more. For many people, they long to use their talents, skills and passions in a completely new direction that will allow them to generate positive outcomes from their work that matter to them.
The way you can tell if it’s a new job or a new career you want is to first gain much more awareness about what you feel, think and believe. You can’t build a great career if you don’t know yourself (and many people don’t). Secondly, start to try on new directions and explore them thoroughly. Don’t leap before you’ve explored a range of new possibilities and identified the real root of your unhappiness.
In 10 years of coaching and through my own two career reinventions (from corporate VP, to therapist, to career coach/speaker/ writer), I’ve seen four signs that will tell you you’re in the wrong job, and give you clues that your career itself needs to change:
You don’t like the outcomes you’re working toward
When I was in the most toxic job of my corporate career, I worked on marketing and product development for membership programs that, to me, offered no contributive value in the world. We sold them through sweepstakes and other means that were very enticing, and the goal, of course, was to bring in as many members as possible. I remember monitoring the telemarketing campaigns we were doing, only to hear that, while our new members couldn’t pay their electric bills or their rent, they’d signed up for our program for the chance to win big sums of money through the sweepstakes. My heart would sink after each of these calls, and I hated it. I knew then that this work wasn’t for me, but I felt very alone in that, because everyone around me seemed fine about this– elated, in fact, that the campaign had been so successful.
Tip: If the job you’re in is designed to bring about certain outcomes that are difficult for you to swallow, it means you’re in the wrong job for sure, and perhaps your career direction is pointed down the wrong path as well. Begin an assessment of what you’re focused on in your work, and what you want to be focused on instead. (Take my Career Path Self-Assessment as a start.) Identify 30 companies that you’d love to work for, and start the process of reaching out to them to interview and explore. Begin talking to everyone you know about the kind of work you’d like to be doing, and reach out to colleagues and contacts you can speak to who can help you brainstorm new jobs and new directions. You’re not stuck unless you think you are.
You don’t like the skills you’re using
Sarah came for coaching as a CIO at a large insurance company, and while she was highly regarded and very successful there, she wanted a big change. She felt that she could be doing so much more with her talents, and believed that while some of her skills were being utilized, the ones she enjoyed most and cared about deeply were not being tapped. After several years of trying a number of new, high-level positions in different fields, she landed a phenomenal senior leadership position at a non-profit that’s making a huge difference for children across the nation. She’s found her professional “home” and loves it.
Tip: First, it’s important to realize that you may be very skilled at tasks you don’t like to do. For example, I was great at understanding my products’ P&L’s and presenting financials to a board, but I hated it. Look closely at what you do every day. What skills are you using? Do you enjoy those skills? Do they tap into natural talents that come easy to you, or is it a struggle every day to execute your job functions? Do you feel you’re of service in the world with your skills, in ways that are meaningful? Assess if it’s just the job that requires you to use skills that feel like a struggle, or if it’s a totally new direction you’re longing for. (Download my teleclass Inner Game of Career Success for more about that.)
You don’t like the people you’re with every day
At age 41, after 9/11 and a brutal layoff, I made the decision to chuck my corporate life and start anew in a helping profession. I began a my Master’s degree program in Marriage and Family Therapy at Fairfield University, and from the minute I set foot in the classroom (although I was very scared to start over), I felt like I was “home.” The people I met and studied with in this intensive 3-year program – many of whom were in their 30’s and 40’s and had left a corporate life, as I did, to help people – finally felt like my “tribe.” I respected them, and appreciated their insights and perspectives, and learned from them. Unlike what I’d felt throughout many years in my corporate work, I connected deeply with these folks. While we were different in many ways, we all came from a similar longing to reinvent ourselves, to leave our old, unsatisfying professional life behind, and start a new life that would be in service of others. It felt right.
Tip: If you don’t like, respect or enjoy the people you’re working with, and if that’s a feeling you’ve had for years, throughout numerous jobs and employers, I’d recommend taking a look at a new career direction. If this problem follows you wherever you go, it’s a sign that you’re in the wrong line of work, and your heart and soul are not invested in what you’re focused on and being paid to do.
You don’t like yourself anymore
Kelly came for coaching because she wanted to build better relationships at work. A high level executive with a large staff, she revealed that she’d experienced traumatic problems with people in this job and the one before, where people were going behind her back to complain bitterly about her, and she felt betrayed. As our coaching progressed, we “peeled the onion” and Kelly realized that she had grown to dislike herself in this work. Her confidence was rocked, certainly, but it was more. She began to see that she was 50% of the problem, and she wanted to understand what she could be doing (and why) that was creating these rifts between her and her staff, colleagues and peers. She also realized that the job was in some ways toxic, and she’d been traumatized by the interpersonal problems she had.
I remember too in my most toxic corporate job, I grew to dislike myself in the role. I wasn’t the leader and manager I wanted to be, and it pained me. I simply couldn’t find my center, no matter how I tried. That was the final sign that this professional road I had taken was leading me in the wrong direction.
Tip: If you don’t like yourself at work, it’s time to make a change. First, ask yourself if the job is the culprit, or if the direction your career has taken is the wrong one. Gain awareness of what is making you behave in ways that are not in alignment with who you really are, and isn’t allowing you the chance to make the positive impact you want to be known for. Often in these cases, it’s the money, title, and perks that have seduced you to accept opportunities that are wrong for you. In these cases, there will come a time when no amount of money or “prestige” can buy you the happiness you long for.
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a nationally-recognized career success coach, writer, trainer and speaker dedicated to the advancement of women in business. She is the author of Breakdown, Breakthrough:The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power and Purpose, and Founder/President of Ellia Communications, Inc. and the Amazing Career Project, focused on helping professional women build successful, rewarding careers of significance. A Forbes, Huffington Post and LinkedIn contributor and top media source on women’s career and workplace issues, she has appeared in over 100 leading newspapers and magazines and on national radio and television. For more information, visit www.kathycaprino.com and connect with Kathy on: Twitter, FB, LinkedIn.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.
Photo Courtesy of Sodanie Chea [FLICKR]