Sometimes my clients surprise me with their courage to quit a well-paying job and move onto something more fulfilling. Other clients hang on to a job they are unhappy in for way too long, leading too anxiety, insecurity, and misery.
Why do clients hang on to jobs past their expiration date? It seems there are two big reasons. First, is the money. Not necessarily the amount they make, but the security that the money provides.
The second reason is that their job is not all bad. They remember “the good old days” when they first started and felt pretty good about things. They wonder if they can re-connect with that spark, even though the circumstances have changed. For example, one of my clients who is the Managing Director of a professional services firm loved his job when he first started, but at that time he had a different boss and a different client load. Now most of his role is tied up with two key clients who bore him and his boss is a driver with little compassion. It’s been a year since the circumstances have changed, and although he hopes for better days, the reality is that it has only gotten worse.
So, what are the warning signs that you are unhappy and need to make a change?
1) Physical Symptoms – You feel sick with dread on Sunday night or filled with anxiety. Perhaps your breathing is short, and you start to feel a knot in your stomach. Whatever the symptom it usually creeps in on Sunday night as the work week looms closer.
2) You stopped caring – You just don’t seem to care about what is going on at work anymore, and things that were once important for getting results now seem petty or like a waste of energy.
3) Cynicism about people – You now look at the “power players” at work and see them in a negative light, you question whether you even like them. You seem to notice their power tripping, and political moves more than their strengths and talents.
4) Low Energy – In general you find yourself loading up with caffeine, sighing a lot, and a bit lethargic. This is in contrast to the energetic boost that comes from being motivated and engaged in what you are doing.
5) Job Searching – You use your spare time looking at job postings online. You notice you are spending more time than usual considering parallel realities like becoming a ski instructor, moving to Argentina, or enjoying a good read in a café in Paris.
6) Leakage – You are trying really hard to fit in and be on your game but you keep finding yourself saying or doing things which represent how you authentically feel, but are not exactly appropriate given the situation and context. For example, in meetings you may blurt out that it is (insert profanity here) that the team needs to drop everything to accommodate yet another unrealistic client request. Your true self starts “leaking” out at inconvenient times.
7) Poor Performance Review – All of a sudden your powerful and high flying career starts going down the tubes and you get feedback that you need to improve quick, or you might lose your job. This is usually linked to low motivation and the reality that you can only drag your heels so long.
8) Day dreaming – You find yourself day dreaming in meetings, usually fantasizing about the 1001 other things you could be doing with your life in that moment.
9) You have no friends at work – You are at a point now where you have to spend all your lunch hours and breaks alone because it takes so much energy to interact with people. You know you should be networking, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it.
10) You complain a lot – Your loved ones are getting sick of your complaining and the people who care about you keep saying, “you should quit.”
Keep in mind that when you are happy you are motivated to do well, and you are energetic and enthused about work. This “passion edge” is what differentiates top people in their field. If you are unhappy, be mindful that it usually gets worse over time, leading to even lower motivation. The best thing you can do is make career decisions with your happiness and values top of mind because in the end this is what will lead to the greatest amount of success.