Choosing or Changing Jobs and Finding Satisfaction at Work
Whether you’re just leaving school, finding opportunities limited in your current position or, like many in this economy, facing unemployment, it may be time to consider your career path. By learning how to research options, realize your strengths, and acquire new skills, as well as muster the courage to make a change, you can discover the career that’s right for you. Even if you’re trapped in a position you don’t love, with no realistic opportunity for change, there are still ways to find more joy and satisfaction in what you do.
Why is finding meaningful work important?
Since so much of our time is spent either at work, traveling to and from work, or thinking about work, it inevitably plays a huge role in our lives. If you feel bored or unsatisfied with what you do for large parts of the day, it can take a serious toll on your physical and mental health. You may feel burned out and frustrated, anxious, depressed, or unable to enjoy time at home knowing that another workday lays ahead.
Having to concentrate for long periods on tasks you find mundane, repetitive, or unsatisfying can cause high levels of stress. What’s more, if you don’t find your work meaningful and rewarding, it’s hard to generate the effort and enthusiasm needed to advance in your job or career. As well as feeling happy and satisfied, you are far more likely to be successful in an occupation that you feel passionate about.
So how do you gain satisfaction and meaning from your work?
- You choose or change careers to something that you love and are passionate about. Or:
- You find purpose and joy in a job that you don’t love.
When changing careers isn’t a realistic option
For many of us, career dreams are just that: dreams. The practical realities of paying the bills, putting food on the table and the kids through school mean that you have to spend 40 hours every week doing a job that you don’t enjoy. Or maybe you have to juggle multiple jobs, as well as school or family commitments, just to get by in today’s economy. The idea of choosing to make a career change may seem about as realistic as choosing to become a professional athlete or an astronaut.
Still, getting up every morning dreading the thought of going to work, then staring at the clock all day willing it to be time to leave can take a real toll on your health. It can leave you feeling agitated, irritable, disillusioned, helpless, and completely worn out—even when you’re not at work. In fact, having a monotonous or unfulfilling job can leave you just as vulnerable to stress and burnout as having one which leaves you rushed off your feet, and it can be just as harmful to your overall mental well-being as being unemployed.
- Try to find some value in what you do. Even in some mundane jobs, you can often focus on how what you do helps others, for example, or provides a much needed product or service. Focus on aspects of the job that you do enjoy—even if it’s just chatting with your coworkers at lunch. Changing your attitude towards your job can help you regain a sense of purpose and control.
- Find balance in your life. If your job or career isn’t what you want, find meaning and satisfaction elsewhere: in your family, hobbies, or after work interests, for example. Try to be grateful for having work that pays the bills and focus on the parts of your life that bring you joy. Having a vacation or fun weekend activities to look forward to can make a real difference to your working day.
- Volunteer—at work and outside of work. Every boss appreciates an employee who volunteers for a new project. Undertaking new tasks and learning new skills at work can help prevent boredom and improve your resume. Volunteering outside of work can improve your self-confidence, stave off depression, and even provide you with valuable work experience and contacts in your area of interest.
- Make friends at work. Having strong ties in the workplace can help reduce monotony and avoid burnout. Having friends to chat and joke with during the day can help relieve the stress of an unfulfilling job, improve your job performance, or simply get you through a rough day.
- Consider the following steps in this article about planning a career change.Even if it’s something that you’re unable to act on at present, having a plan for someday in the future (when the economy picks up, the kids have grown up, or after you’ve retired, for example) can help you feel energized and hopeful, and better able to cope with the difficulties of the present. Simply sending out resumes and networking can make you feel empowered. Also, making a career change can seem far more attainable when there’s no time pressure and you break down the process into smaller, manageable steps.
Discovering new possibilities
Whether you’re embarking on your first career out of school or looking to make a career change, the first step is to think carefully about what really drives you. You might find it hard to get past thinking about “what pays the most” or “what is most secure,” especially in today’s economy. But the truth is most employees rank job satisfaction above salary in ensuring they feel happy at work. So, unless you’re in a situation where you have to take the first available job to make ends meet, it’s important to focus on your primary interests and passions. This can open doors to careers that you might not have considered. Once you have that foundation, you can start fine tuning your search for the right career. You may be surprised at how you can fit your passions into a new career.
Exploring your career opportunities
- Focus on the things you love to do. What have you dreamed of doing in the past? What do you naturally enjoy doing? Jot down what comes to mind, no matter how improbable it seems.
- Look for clues everywhere. Take note of projects or topics that stir your compassion or excite your imagination. Reflect on stories of people you admire. Ask yourself why certain activities make you happy, and pay attention to times when you are really enjoying yourself.
- Be patient. Remember that your search may take some time and you might have to go down a few different roads before finding the right career path. Time and introspection will help you identify the activities you most enjoy and that bring you true satisfaction.
Fashion Burnout A two-day Professional Development Workshop clarifying and resolving the issues that impact your professional life.
Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Robert Segal, M.A