Sooner or later, you will almost certainly encounter a time when you are profoundly disappointed in your career. Suggestions for handling those periods is the focus of this post. Causes for disappointment are quite varied and the following might not apply to every situation. I have not “solved” this common problem and that is not what this post offers. But what I write is based on personal experience, and may be of some help if this is a situation you face.
Focus on what you can control
A hard thing to learn is that you have very little control over most things in life, and this is true of the workplace as well. Figure out, then, what you can control, and focus on making changes that will help you cope with negative situations. Things you can control include how you choose to respond to negativity. For example, if your habit is to vent to someone else or to try to retaliate, figure out or try something less corrosive. Venting is healthy and needed but it can also serve to simply exacerbate your unhappiness, too. You may have a measure of control over your schedule or even the potential of flexible or hybrid work arrangements. If that is possible, experiment with it to see if that helps alleviate your situation. Keep experimenting until you find a combination of factors under your control that help lessen the problem.
Identify ways to grow and learn new things
A key reason I remain passionate about my chosen profession is that it inherently pushes me to learn and grow all the time. I’ve discovered that this is essential to my level of career satisfaction. Often it is the lack of opportunities for learning and growth that cause frustration and disappointment. If your regular workplace stymies you then look elsewhere! Get involved in a volunteer opportunity in a professional organization or seek out side jobs that fulfill you. Start writing think pieces. Start your own blog. Do not let yourself fall into the trap of succumbing to whatever limits your workplace puts on you! Of course, there is a whole range of personal growth you can pursue as well, including a new hobby as one example. It’s important to balance work/career and personal life, too.
Talk it through with someone you trust
Previously I mentioned the good and bad of venting. Venting isn’t always what is meant here, though. I have found it incredibly helpful to surround myself with people I can trust to tell me what they really think, not just what I want to hear. They help me by listening to my rants, and then pointing out ways to view the situation differently. Or they may simply agree with me, helpfully affirming that what I feel is a problem is in fact so. They make helpful suggestions about what to do or try differently next time. They point out when I’m wrong. Such people are rare and to be valued. And a key point to all of this is that word: trust. It is easy to break trust but so important to have, and it needs to be mutual.
Think about going elsewhere
People vote with their feet and when there is significant turnover in your workplace, that is a highly significant sign that things are not ok. I often think about this when looking at job postings over time. Sometimes I see multiple jobs open at the same time at a particular organization and I wonder why. Or worse, I see the same job posted over and over again over a period of years at the same institution—another red flag. When things get to a certain point, though, there may be no practical alternative than looking elsewhere. Just be darn sure you aren’t jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Always treat your exploration of other job opportunities as much about you interviewing them as them interviewing you. I can’t emphasize this enough! And also this step seems to me to be one of last resort, to be taken after trying other approaches I’ve already mentioned.
Nothing written here is revolutionary or groundbreaking. But I hope it will still be of use to someone, somewhere, at some point. Because it is almost as certain as death and taxes that you will face severe disappointment in your career, and you will need to figure out how to cope.
Above all else, remember that your career ≠ your life.