Guest Post from Gabrielle, Career Coach and Consultant; Founder of GabrielleBill.com
I remember it like it was yesterday. I’d be peacefully asleep, dreaming of some blissful nonsense and then — BEEP BEEEP BEEEEEEP — the shrill sound of my old-school alarm clock would pull me from my reverie at 6:30am. I’d lay there for a while, as the reality of my situation washed over me: rush through coffee, shower, breakfast; commute 45 minutes (if it’s a good day), work 8 dreadful hours, commute an hour and a half home (if it’s a bad day), collapse on the couch, dinner, sleep. Ugh.
“Can I pretend to be sick today?” I’d consider, more days than not. But ultimately, my integrity wouldn’t allow it, and I’d drag my zombie body from bed and get on with the day, hoping it wasn’t one that would end in tears.
Does this sound familiar? For your sake, and mine, I hope it doesn’t, but the reality is that not all jobs are good jobs, not all bosses are good bosses, and sometimes you find yourself in that awkward position of making a shit ton of money, yet hating your life.
But how do you know, especially in today’s world where we’re trained to believe we’re all spoiled millennials who unfairly expect the world to land at our feet, whether or not it’s you that needs to change or the job?
Here’s my take on knowing when it’s time to look for something new:
1) YOU AND YOUR BOSS CAN’T SEE EYE TO EYE.
My boss at my last corporate gig was an absolutely lovely woman IRL. She was funny, interesting and intelligent. We could have been great friends had we met outside the working world, but once we were in the office, it was as if we lived on different planets. She was flexible, avoided making final decisions until she was pushed, was comfortable with last-minute changes and generally went with the flow. I was structured, organized, quick-thinking and efficient; always eager to work diligently to wrap up a project, then move on to the next. We’d sit down in a one-on-one and she’d give me an assignment, to which I thought I understood the task, until we’d meet again and realize we had walked away from the meeting with totally different interpretations of the situation. We drove each other crazy. She always wanted me to be X when I was Y, and it left me feeling consistently down on myself and unable to see the strengths that I brought to the table. I’d never felt so worthless.
There’s a reason they say that a manager can make or break a work experience, and in this case, the chasm between my boss and I was too wide, too deep. I’m all about working through differences, but people can only change so much, and you need a manager/direct report relationship that builds you up, rather than tears you down. You won’t grow unless the person who manages you knows how to foster that growth and bring you up with them. If you don’t have this, it’s your job to seek it out, whether internally or at a new gig. It’s crucial to find someone who will champion you, and once you do, you better work your ass off to show them you deserve it.
2) YOU’RE NOT CHALLENGED BY, OR INTERESTED IN, THE WORK THAT YOU DO.
When I had the pleasure of working for The Walt Disney Company, I literally felt like I was a princess. “How lucky am I that I get to come into work every day and market magic!” I’d say, as I waltzed into the office and sat down among the Disney plushes I’d used to decorate my space. When I left Disney it wasn’t because the magic had worn off, but because I was ready for responsibility that the company couldn’t give me. I thought, “Hey, I’m a marketer, I can market anything,” and thus quickly grabbed a position in the banking division of a financial services company (let’s be clear: they dangled beaucoup bucks and a fancy title in front of me).
The reality of my situation and the stark contrast between marketing theme parks and checking accounts hit me faster and harder than I expected. The Director of our team – whom I still admire greatly – had this deep set, everlasting passion for what we were doing. She connected to the work, to the mission and to the idea of delivering financial freedom to our customers. In comparison, I looked at my work and saw a transactional account and a company that, no matter how much we tried, would always be more of a thorn in people’s sides than a joy to interact with.
I tried to love it. Really, I did. But the truth is, I was bored. Uninspired. And I thought that the company’s mission was crap. I didn’t, couldn’t believe in it, no matter how much I tried to funnel the Kool-Aid down my throat. And because of that I couldn’t connect to my teammates and to the work, as I should have. It was time to go.
3) THE WORK ENVIRONMENT ISN’T SUPPORTIVE OF THE WAY YOU GET SHIT DONE.
I once worked in an “officle,” which was literally the best thing ever. It had tall walls that left about a three foot gap between them and the ceiling, but the interior space was big enough to have a legit desk, chair for a guest, a lamp and lots of filing cabinets. And there was a door! When I’d had enough of the world, I could close it for a minute, lay my head on the desk and just breathe without someone staring at me or wondering if I’m having a heart attack. I later worked in a cubicle – not my favorite – but given that I was up against a window and still had tall enough sides that people weren’t peering at me, I made it work.
Then I was moved to an open floor plan. WHO DECIDED THAT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA BECAUSE I HATE IT AND THINK IT’S A DISEASE THAT WILL SLOWLY KILL US ALL. No walls. The most annoying ping pong table in the universe. A game station. ZERO privacy. ZERO noise control. For an introvert who needs solace to concentrate, it was basically hell.
The company I was working for was big on collaboration, and I not only get that, but support it. But that doesn’t mean that if you want me to think about something strategic, or write a poignant email or prepare for a big presentation that I can do it with shouts, overheard conversations and an incessant ping-pong-ping-pong noise in the background. I am no less collaborative because you give me a few walls and allow me to create a semi-private space I can call my own.
That summer we had to work from home for two weeks, and surprisingly, I’d never been happier or more productive. I learned quickly that environment matters, and that we all have unique needs for getting our best work out the door. Embrace those characteristics when you discover them in yourself, and find a company that does, too.
5) YOUR GUT JUST SAYS, WE GOTTA GO (IT’S SMARTER THAN YOU THINK…TRUST IT).
I’ve always been a pretty intuitive person. I used to say that I knew within five minutes whether one of my mother’s new boyfriends would be a good fit or not (and I was always right), yet somehow it’s easier to trust your gut in situations that apply to others than when it comes to yourself. Fight this. If you’re waking up every day with a sinking feeling in your stomach; if you actually PRAY TO BE ILL just to avoid going into work; or if you’re overcome by a crushing wave of negative emotion when you embark on a task, it probably means something, somewhere isn’t the right fit. Maybe it is you. Maybe it’s the environment. Maybe it’s the field or the task or your boss or something else. It doesn’t matter. You deserve to do work that inspires you, that taps into your strengths, that makes you say, “Heck yes, I’m doing something that aligns with who I am.”
There’s a difference here between finding a job that matches your preferences and looking for something that’s perfect, because honestly that doesn’t exist. But knowing who you are, knowing what you want and stopping at nothing to make that happen doesn’t make you spoiled, it makes you smart. So stop doing what your parents say, what society says and what you were trained to believe is right, and start doing what’s right for you. You’re a gosh-darnit snowflake, you beautiful individual, you.