Have you tried different jobs and still can’t find one that feels good? Do you start a new job with optimism and hope for your potential future in the role, but then – either quickly or over time – realize it’s not for you?

I was there. I tried many jobs. I approached each with a genuine desire to be successful and a narrative in my head about how this was a good decision and right for me and my future. But then, for various reasons, things didn’t pan out that way. So, I get you. It’s super frustrating and it can make you feel lost and stuck. And it can trigger all our stuff. It’s different for each person, but we might make our experiences mean there’s something wrong with us, or we’re not good enough, or it could bring up fears that we’ll never be successful or able to create what we want for our lives. It can get very stressful, to say the least.

Struggling to find work you love and will excel at is very common. I see it a lot in my work as a career coach. While sometimes it’s just a case of needing to try out a few things to get a feel for what we like or don’t like before finding the right fit, it can also stem from a different issue; not really knowing yourself.

To find work you love you have to know yourself intimately

To find work you love and will be happy and successful at, you have to know yourself intimately. You have to examine your inner workings and get honest with yourself about what’s important to you, what you like, dislike and your desires for your life. You have to take note of these things and make them a serious priority. Then, it’s a matter of making decisions that truly align with what you want. If you’re not paying close attention to you and what you – a unique individual – finds joy in, likes, dislikes etc., job hopping in the hope that something will happen to be a good fit for you is like taking random stabs in the dark.

We find ourselves in jobs we don’t like because this inner work of developing self-knowledge is largely undervalued in society. The tools to help us do the work aren’t taught in school. And it’s something we have to deliberately turn our attention to and give ourselves the time to focus on. Often, instead of examining our inner world for guidance, our attention to date has been placed elsewhere; we have mostly, if not entirely, been externally referenced for direction on what we should do in our lives and careers.

We’ve come to think safety is in conforming to what the world has taught us we need to be. So, knowing our authentic self isn’t prioritized. 

It makes sense. Since birth we’ve been looking to others to tell us what to do for survival. But now we’ve taken things past learning to look both ways to cross the street or even learning the basics of how to get a job to feed and shelter ourselves. We’ve created powerful narratives about who we need to be and what we need to do or achieve to be “safe.” Finding safety has gone from learning physical survival to anxiously scanning the world for social cues to learn the “right” things to do to be loved, admired, accepted, good enough, “successful”; we’ve come to think safety is in conforming to what the world has taught us we need to be. We’ve come to believe it’s not safe to be our authentic self. And so, our own self-knowledge – knowing our authentic self – isn’t prioritized. All our own likes, dislikes, desires and wants aren’t focused on or paid much attention to. They’ve been made secondary to playing out the script of what we’re supposed to do and be believing that will make us safe.

You’ll need to get quiet and deeply listen to you, not fear

I repeat, to find work you love, you’re going to have to get to know yourself. To do that, you’re going to have to put aside all these internalized voices and opinions of others and your beliefs of who you’re supposed to/should be. Then you’ll need to spend some time getting quiet and listening to your soul, your heart, your true self or whatever you like to call the non-ego identified part of you. It holds your truth and all the guidance you need. It’s all inside.

Naturally, there’s going to be huge (huge!) resistance to doing this. Fear is going to come up big time. Your mind is going to scream every fear in the book to try to keep you where you are now, trying to convince you that you need to listen to all the shoulds and external opinions to keep you safe. But if you really take a closer look at those fears, while they may feel really real, many are simply not factually true. And to listen to your heart and your truth is actually a much safer option.

By listening to all the shoulds and believing the fears (for me, I was thinking I needed to have a certain type of job to be “good enough”) I found myself in jobs that look good on paper, but were actually all wrong for me. So, was I safe? No. It resulted in a lot of struggle and exhaustion and ultimately so much stress I developed a serious illness. That’s not safety. So to me, it seems there’s more evidence that looking past the external voices, past the shoulds and fears, then getting acquainted with your true self and listening to him/her is the much safer path. By doing this I’ve found myself in work and work situations that feel good, supportive, easeful, exciting and aligned with who I am. And discovered that safety – to me being “good enough”- is available just the way I am. I am and always was enough.

If I follow my true self, what about money? 

Now, let’s real talk for a second about an often unacknowledged elephant in the room – money. If you listen to your heart and change careers, will you have to take a salary cut? Maybe. It depends on what you want to do. But if you do have a pay reduction, consider this; you might not really care. For many, they find that just being able to do what they love is so enriching to their quality of life, health and happiness, the reduced income (within reason) doesn’t really matter so much. Also, our potential for being successful financially through our work is often much greater when we are doing something we love and that gets us in our genius zone. So, while there are no guarantees and again it depends on what you want to do, there’s the potential for even more financial upside if you decide to make a change – even more so if you’re doing something entrepreneurial. Basically, the money stuff is something you’re going to have to come to a personal decision on, but it’s likely not as black and white as you might be thinking.

Find the freedom to simply be you

Once you put aside the shoulds, fears etc. and embrace who you are, there’s a profound freedom that opens up for you in your life. You get to simply be you. What’s better than that? No job title or approvals from others, bank account balance, level of professional achievement will ever compare to the joy of getting to move through the world authentically yourself.

So, if you find yourself in yet another job that’s just not working out, before jumping to the next, take a pause and spend some time reflecting. One place to start is to look at your motivations, what drives you, and what drives your decision to take a job? Perhaps you have some beliefs that you need to do/be or achieve certain things to be accepted/survive. Examine what comes up for you and the truth of those beliefs. Then ask yourself, what actually brings you, the real you, joy? What would feel amazing to get to spend your days doing? What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? What would you do even if you weren’t being paid? What lights you up? In the words of poet Mary Oliver, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Take out a pen and paper and write out what comes up.

Have patience with yourself. Give yourself space to unfold and find your next steps

Know that it’s ok if you don’t have the answers to these questions right away. Many of us have spent a lifetime with our focus outside of ourselves, only paying attention to ourselves as it pertains to trying to get ourselves to fit into a prescribed box. So it naturally may take time to hear your own voice over the noise – to get a signal on your true self and desires and see your true self take shape. Have patience with yourself. Give yourself space to unfold and find your next steps.

Although your mind might be putting pressure on you to hurry up and get to know yourself so you can “figure this out” and be “successful,” that’s more of the same stuff to examine and let go of. The more you do, the better chance you’ll have at not rushing into something and finding yourself in yet another job you don’t want. But also, I’m guessing patience, slowness – space to breathe – is one of your hearts desires if you listen close. And it’s available. There’s really no rush. Your life is for you; for you to live and enjoy on your own terms. And if this resonates, while it’s entirely up to you, may I suggest that living and enjoying life on your own terms, in alignment with who you are and what you want, is your new definition of success.