For people who love their careers and actually enjoy their jobs, the COVID-19 lockdowns were a real, almost physical pain to endure. For others, sitting at home while doing nothing for months was a blessing in disguise – as sinister as that sounds. The reality of waking up every day to unlimited Netflix, unrestrained social media use, showering once in two days, and mindless sleeping might come off as the starter pack for chronically lazy people. However, it runs a lot deeper than a simple “house-worm syndrome”.
An extensive global survey conducted by Gallup shows that only 15% of people out of a one-billion-person full-time work pool are fully engaged at their workplaces. This means that “far too many people” are stuck in unfulfilling careers or with jobs that leave them miserable. The fear of unemployment and losing their sole claims to financial security, despite hating their jobs, is the major reason why many people managed to return to their jobs after the first lockdown protocols were eased.
A wake-up call for many
From poor salaries and unconducive working conditions to a lack of passion and growing disinterest, it took a heartbreaking pandemic for millions of people to realize how unhappy they were in their chosen walks of life.
“Because we spend so much time at jobs we do not enjoy, unhappiness and unfulfillment may have a huge carry-over effect to the rest of our lives,” says Bobbi Kahler, an American Success coach. “We can feel like we are in a malaise and nothing seems to interest us anymore. It also affects our emotional state – we experience more stress which can lead to mood swings, and we can start to feel as though our lives are completely devoid of joy and hope.”
The fear of the unknown
In theory, the logical thing to do would be to walk away from that job or career without looking back. In reality, it’s easier said than done. With joint reports from the World Economic Forum and Statista estimating the global job loss count to be 114 million, not many people would be willing to abandon their current positions at such a tumultuous time for the global economy.
Also, many people can’t imagine the practicality of starting over to build another career or climb the ladder at a new job. It’s much worse for professionals who may have gone reasonably far within their fields. Career dissatisfaction has no uniform pattern for affecting people. Newbies can instantly hate their jobs and veterans may develop an unshakable dislike over time. Either way, unhappiness at one’s job may manifest as follows: calling in sick too often – and most times, you’d truly be feeling unwell, lacking the motivation to wake up and face the day every morning, hauling yourself over to work rather than commuting happily, anxiety attacks at the thought of your job, and deriving zero satisfaction from your tasks.
The way forward?
Getting out of an unfulfilling job or career doesn’t have to happen in one fell swoop. The “leap of faith” advice by blindingly putting in your resignation without a backup plan can backfire too quickly. Essentially, they are telling you to take an uncalculated risk and rely on the universe for luck and grace. It might work out in your favor, or you could end up impoverished in a short while.
“There’s no one way that’s right for everyone,” says Kahler, master’s degree holder in Positive Organizational Development. “Some people jump right out and they seem to fare well immediately. However, when you peer beneath the surface, they often have some sort of structure or plan in place. For example, some might have a great network to tap into. Others may prefer to develop the next opportunity while still in their old job by preparing for what’s next, networking, or developing new skills. Whichever route you decide, it’s typically helpful to think through the logistics of the decision and come up with creative solutions.”
Instead of going down the “happy-go-lucky” road, you can come up with a long-term strategy to manage your mental wellbeing while working toward a safe exit plan. Some tips are explained below:
Assess the situation at work
Can you directly pinpoint any events, tasks, or occurrences that particularly leave you feeling apprehensive and unhappy? Do you feel underpaid, undervalued, or unheard? Are you overworked and dealing with chronic stress? Did this career path turn out to be nothing like you expected? Are there people frustrating you at your workplace?
An un-muddled description of your emotions puts the situation in perspective and helps you figure out small solutions to tiny problems – creating a compound effect in the long run.
People stuck in unhappy jobs and unfulfilling careers tend to lose sight of their actual passions really quickly. Getting out of your current unsatisfying position only to fall into another hateful role is a “one-step-forward-ten-steps-backward” reality. It may sound cliché, but discovering your interests and re-igniting your passions is the most critical step in the entire process.
“You should begin by tuning into what you care about, what motivates and energizes you,” Kahler explains. “Reflect on what your core values are. What jobs or tasks have you loved so much that you were excited to tackle the day? What made those jobs energizing? Also, get specific! Journal about “what aspects of my job do I love?” and “what aspects of my job do I hate?” The key is to be very specific and to begin making distinctions in what you should package yourself for in the future.”
In the meantime, try to more make friends at work
Several studies and workplace surveys have shown that employees are more likely to remain with their employer when they have genuine friends at work. Instead of beefing and nurturing unhealthy competition, cultivating healthy, respectful, and authentic workplace friendships might help change the impression you have of your job. In simpler terms, having friends at work makes it less upsetting to show up every day. Essentially, they give you something to look forward to and a solid reason to find your balance.
Talk to a professional
Sometimes, you really can’t figure it all out on your own. Connect with a professional (therapists, life coaches) to help you work through these dilemmas, sort out your thoughts, and identify your inclinations. Your ultimate goal is to redirect your life toward a path where you can wake up in the morning and feel some excitement to seize the day.