How to Break the Cycle of Pain to Find Career Fulfillment

You’re burned out, you don’t like the people you work with, you aren’t compensated enough for the hours you put in – or maybe your boss is a real jerk. Hundreds of thousands of professionals aren’t happy in their jobs, but most are afraid to make a change. They feel stuck. Sadly, too many people come up with reasons why they shouldn’t change and they stay in jobs that make them miserable.

The average person spends more than 90,000 hours in their lifetime at work – why stay stuck in a job you hate?

As a career transformation coach, I hear a lot about (and have experienced personally) these types of stories. Lately, this story became very personal as my husband finally came to the reluctant realization that he would have to leave his job to find career fulfillment. He, just like everyone else, was afraid to change. He had a dozen reasons why he should stay at a go-nowhere, under-appreciated and over-worked job.

Fortunately, he’s married to a successful career strategist who made it her business to get him un-stuck! Candidly, I will share with you that: coaching your significant other isn’t easy. While I’ve personally shifted careers 4 times and coach hundreds of professionals through the same each year – this was a new and insightful perspective. We both learned a lot and, in the end, this story has a happy ending.

Here are some of the reasons many professionals (just like my husband) stay in jobs they hate:

#1 – Fear of Losing Out on Financial Rewards or Benefits

“If I just wait until next year, I will probably make Senior Level and that’s a pay increase” my husband said as I listened (mostly) patiently. “Yes, but that increase is minimal”, I reminded him, “and a Senior Level position is what you should have received 5 years ago”. Money is a BIG motivator! Money is also the number one roadblock between most people and a career change. For some, it’s so complex and emotionally charged, it can become almost impossible to think rationally around the subject.

Whether it’s a carrot that dangles in front of you keeping you where you are or it’s a scarcity mindset – financial fears are tough to work out alone. Some people, for example, want to stay at dead-end jobs just because they have a certain amount of stock, shares, or tenure they don’t want to lose. These same people can probably afford to make a shift and are financially established, but that carrot kept them from thinking logically about change.

Misery also has a significant cost. Lost sleep, stress-related relationship woes, health concerns, and occasionally traumatic illness are often related to workplace misery. Happiness comes at a cost. How much is happiness worth to you? When I had my career pivot moment, I realized that career fulfillment (happiness) was vastly more important than a cushy salary and no life to enjoy it with.

Transformation Tip: If financial fears keep you chained to a miserable job, seek external assistance from a financial advisor. An objective and credentialed approach is useful to understanding how to rationally approach, and plan for, a potential career shift. It’s also important to gain a positive perspective around money so it will not negatively influence critical life decisions. The fact is, you can make significant positive shifts in your career without feeling financially strapped.

#2 – Fear of the Unknown and What to do Next

I get it, change is hard. In fact, fear of change is so potent for some that they will stay in jobs they hate just to avoid change! “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”- or so they say. In reality, there are ways to ensure that you do not walk into another miserable situation. Is fear of the unknown is keeping you from making the best decision for you?

What about fear of job searching? Quite a few of my clients seeking a career transition are afraid of either one or all of the aspects of job searching. Maybe they aren’t sure what to say in the resume or don’t think they do well at interviewing. The stress of finding a new job can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start!

Transformation Tip: Start by establishing a plan. Every successful career transition starts with a solid action plan. Here’s an overview of some of the key steps I share with my clients:

  1. Establish your career target. What is your ideal job? It’s almost impossible to have success launching a job search without anything to aim at. Be sure to select a job type or related types of jobs that make sense based on your expertise.
  2. Develop relevant career contribution stories – based on your ideal job. You can talk about anything, but connecting the dots between what you have done and what you want to do is essential for your job search marketing plan.
  3. Share you stories in your resume & LinkedIn. Include relevant career contributions in your resume as well as online so you stand out to recruiters and the hiring manager.
  4. Selectively apply for jobs that fit you the best. Do NOT use the ‘shotgun’ method approach to your job search! Use your time and energy wisely by applying to and spending energy on applications that really matter.
  5. Be organized and disciplined. The better organized you are in your job search, the better your results. Keep a job search log and a file for every resume, cover letter, and a copy of the related job description so you will be prepared for potential interviews.

#3 – Fear of Damaging Relationships and ‘Quitting’ Guilt

“I’ve built such extensive relationships at my current job, I don’t want to lose those” my husband said. A vast majority of professionals will stay in jobs, even if they are underpaid, because of the positive relationships they have built. Culture eats salary for breakfast (lunch and dinner). We have a deep need to be part of a community and connect to others. Liking the people you work with and ‘fitting in’ is so significant that most of my Career Growth clients focus on this very topic!

When you ‘fit in’ to your work culture, it’s hard to leave. You feel like you are a part of something and you feel needed. That was certainly my husband’s challenge. He is a subject matter expert and super nice to work with – so of course everyone relied on his expertise! It’s nice to be wanted. However, it’s also important to do what is right for you and your future.

Quitting guilt is another potent and emotionally leveraged issue that keeps people from changing jobs. “I don’t want to leave everyone to pick up my work” said one of my clients during a Job Search Strategy session. I understand her concern. But, it’s not your job to try to fill in the gaps that management needs to act on. Don’t sabotage your own well-being for something you are not ultimately responsible for.

Transformation Tip: This fear is more commonly voiced by professionals that identify heavily with their jobs. I encourage you to discover your community outside of work. When you build relationships with others in a non-working environment, you may see that (1) it’s possible to connect with others and (2) you have a support system that is not solely tied to your current workplace.

#4 – Fear of Failure or Not Being Good Enough

“You really think I have a chance?” said one of my clients when we discussed his career transition. I was stunned. Sitting in front of me was a young, smart, energetic and out-going man that had the whole world in front of him and a great education, experience, and credentials backing him up! This is an example of how strong the fear of failure (or of not being good enough) really can be. He was stuck in a miserable, dead end job where he couldn’t leverage his strengths. It had sucked the life out of him.

“If you’re depressed and down in general, and you’re in a very negative place, it’s very hard to launch a job search,” said Belinda Plutz, owner of Career Mentors, a consultancy based in New York.

Low morale is EXTREMELY common in career misery cases. If you’ve been passed up for a promotion, jammed into an energy-draining position, or not succeeded in your job search; you might struggle to feel like you can achieve the greatness you deserve. When you have been told (too many times to bear) that you should be ‘grateful’ for having a job – you don’t feel like you are good enough. Don’t listen to this garbage!

Transformation Tip: Every one of my clients builds an Impact Inventory with me. This is a list of your career contributions – everything you did that made a positive difference to your job, your team, your clients or your company. Even if the contributions were small (to you), remember, small things add up. Also, write down any accolades you received from peers or clients.

Be sure to note any details that stood out, a skill you used to succeed, and what the positive impact was. Over the course of the rest of your career, be sure to continue to add to your Impact Inventory every 3 months. Set a reminder in your calendar. It’s important to realize that you are a gifted and talented individual. You just need a system to recognize how and why you stand out as an accomplished professional!  

#5 – Not Knowing What Career Path is Best for You

Career Clarity is critical for long-term professional fulfillment. It’s also quite common for people to be confused and uncertain what types of jobs are the best fit. Let’s face it, many of us had to decide on a major life decision (college) or had to find a viable paying job very early in our lives. I argue that, expecting someone newly emerged from the halls of high school to make a life decision (particularly college) is insane.

Regardless, this is the routine many professional go through. After working for a while doing something that you probably didn’t go to school to focus on – you decide: “enough is enough”. You are miserable and you need a change but you have NO IDEA what do to do about it!

Transformation Tip: If this sounds familiar, here are your first steps:

Analyze Your Situation. It’s important to be clear on why you are burned out or feeling miserable. If you don’t become very aware of the root cause of your current feelings, it’s almost impossible to break free of the cycle. Most people simply walk through the next open door and often right back into misery because they weren’t clear on the best career path for them.

  • Is the root cause of your current dissatisfaction your boss, what you do, who you do it with, your pay, or the work environment itself?
  • Make a list of tasks and things you do frequently for your job. Note which ones gives you energy and which tasks drains you.
  • What did you want to do for a living when you were young? Did you have a dream that you set aside due to other people’s expectations of you?
  • Are there any jobs, industries or trends that excite you? Is there something that you would gladly volunteer your time to do?
  • Lastly, make a list of all your skills to include credentials and even intangibles – such as ‘work ethics’.

Career Clarity is at the intersection of your skills, strengths, and interests. It’s important to find that ideal spot where you can leverage your innate talents. If you just hate your boss, aren’t paid enough or work too much – then go to work for someone else. If you don’t like what you do – then you need to be very clear on your next career move.

Don’t let fear hold you back from a successful career transformation! Stay true to your needs for career growth. Even when my husband asked me for the 5th time: “Are you sure this is the right thing to do?” – I helped him stick to his core values and make a much-needed transition into less stress and better pay. With a little self-evaluation, leveraging your support system and being clear about your next steps: you can have the very same happy ending to your career transition story.