What to Do When You Don’t Like Your Job But You Don’t Know What You Want Next

August 27, 2012 · 9 comments

You know I believe in finding a job you enjoy. That if you’re working a job you don’t enjoy, one that stresses you out or leaves you feeling unfulfilled, you should figure out how to make a living doing something else.

But what if you don’t know what that something else is? What if you want to love your job, but you don’t know what type of job would make you happy?

Trying to figure out which way to go?

Trying to figure out which way to go?

People often ask me for advice on this front, for helping figuring out what would make them feel fulfilled.

But the truth is, I’m no good at that. I’m good at helping people make their own luck, but to do that effectively, you have to have a vision. You have to know what you want.

Perhaps this is because I’ve always known what I want on some level (even when I feel lost). It’s hard for me to imagine not knowing what I want. Having difficulty choosing between several options, that I understand. But drilling down to pinpoint deep desires and how that translates practically to your life? That’s a job for a life coach.

Yet there are tons of people in this position. Tons of people who know they’re not in the right job, but don’t know what to do instead. Tons of people who simply aren’t sure what they want to do with their life.

If you fall into this camp, I do have one piece of advice for you:

Take action.

Of course, this is the absolute most difficult thing to do when you don’t know what you want. Because if you don’t know which direction to turn, you’re often paralyzed into not moving at all.

We sit still, paralyzed (but thinking, always thinking), because we’re afraid of turning in the wrong direction, of taking the wrong step.

Yet not moving at all is the worst thing you can do for yourself. Sure, you don’t risk taking the wrong step, but you also don’t give yourself even a slight chance of taking the right step.

So if you’re not sure what you want, and yet you know the best thing to do is to take action, how do you choose a direction?

YOU GUESS.

Yes, I’m telling you to GUESS about your career. Don’t wait until you feel sure about what you should do. Instead, make an educated guess, and go for it.

Why guess? Because in most cases, our gut knows exactly what we should do, but our head has all sorts of reservations. And chances are, that guess will be in line with your gut, which is probably RIGHT.

Here’s another reason why you should guess and go: because even if you end up turning the wrong way, you are now closer to turning the RIGHT way. Turning the right way off the bat is best, but turning the wrong way can be a huge learning experience. And taking a detour is better than not moving at all.

When I say TAKE ACTION, I don’t mean quit your job tomorrow and start your own business. Sure, that could be smart if you’ve been building your business on the side and are almost at the point where you can sustain yourself on that income. But puh-lease don’t quit without putting the pieces in place. Before you leap, weave your own safety net. Put yourself in a position where you’re likely to succeed.

In other words, your action doesn’t necessarily have to be drastic. (Unless you’ve already put the pieces in place and are now procrastinating out of fear. In that case, go drastic!) Make your action a first step. What first step can you take toward something that might make you happy (even if you’re not totally sure)?

Here two ideas for steps you can take:

  • Find someone who’s involved in [your guess here] and watch how they’re doing it (if they’re doing it publicly via a blog, for example). Then ask to take them out to lunch and ask them everything you’ve always wondered about [your guess]. If you’re still interested in pursuing [your guess], find another person and repeat.
  • Start doing it. Seriously. Just START! On the side of your job, in your free time. Do it for free. Do it for a non-profit. Do it for a friend. Find a reason to do it, and start. This is the quickest and most effective way to figuring out whether your guess is on the mark.

Remember: this move will not be the only decision you ever make. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that once you step in a certain direction, you have to keep moving in that direction for life.

In fact, this is one of the greatest advantages of the new workforce, and you should use it to your advantage: you don’t have to be tied to one career for your entire life. You don’t even have to be tied to a career for the next decade. Lots of people pivot. Lots of people choose one path and another later (and another later and another after that).

The smartest people find a way to make those paths somewhat related, even if they’re not really related, and you will, too.

So stop putting so much pressure on your first step. And don’t do nothing just because you’re not sure of the right step. Instead, force yourself to take some action, force yourself to GUESS, even if you’re not absolutely sure where you want to go.

And let us know what happens.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda Gartz August 27, 2012 at 9:58 am

I would add a different twist to this. The idea of meeting with people is perfect, but rather than just guessing, be a little more strategic. I was a teacher mucho decades ago and had loved teaching, but wanted to try something else. But what? I had NO idea. Now that was before the internet, even before desktop computers were common. I got the book, What Color is My Parachute — still out there and updated for the digital world. I followed its advice, listing my skills (as a teacher I had SCORES of skills beyond just “teaching”–long range and short range planning, people skills, etc.)I started brainstorming what I thought I might like to do–combining what kinds of work environment I liked and what my skills were (There are sites now that will help you narrow down fields based on your skills and desires – even tests you can take on line to determine these). Start exploring career options, career blogs, etc.). After I found fields that seemed possible, I called people in various fields and talked personally to them (as Alexis suggests). What did they like about their jobs? Didn’t like? Skills used? etc. After months of this (frustrating, depressing months of feeling lost) I was advised to take a video production class. Bingo! It used all my skills PLUS a creative output. More networking, getting a foot in the door of a television station, getting a video produced, more networking. I transitioned into a documentary television producer. I think analyzing your skills and desires is a good starting point and narrowing the field, and start from there. Thanks, Alexis for exhorting folks to action! It all starts with that first step.
Linda Gartz recently posted…Out to SeaMy Profile

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Alexis Grant August 27, 2012 at 10:14 pm

Great advice here! Thanks for taking the time to share this.

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Samantha January 30, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Hi Linda – could you provide a few links to those sites that help you “narrow down fields” using your skills/desires? I’ve been looking but haven’t found anything concrete.

How does everyone feel about the usefulness of something like Myers Briggs?

Thanks

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Debbie Steg August 27, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Alexis,

The advice is right on. By taking action and moving forward we find our way. In my experience coaching, however, it is truly rare to find someone who really and truly doesn’t know what they really want to do. The “I don’t know” is really covering up what they really want to do. It is their subconscious protecting them. If they really voiced what they truly wanted to be and do, then all these fears would bubble up of change, what they think they would have to change in order to have what they really want and what they would lose in the process of getting that. For example, going back to school in order to make a dream come true. But there are so many ways to weave our heartfelt desires and life purpose into creating a job and a career that makes us happy and fulfilled. When we own up courageously to going deep within, we can find what we truly want to do, then we just need to work through the fears and keep taking action.

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Alexis Grant August 27, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Debbie — I like this point, that we often know what we want underneath it all. I think we need some tips on how to help those desires come to the surface!

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Ryan August 27, 2012 at 8:58 pm

If you’re looking for your “guess” and aren’t sure which direction to go, try helping someone. People need help with all sorts of stuff, so you have a variety of experiences to get involved with. This is a great way to practice networking as well.
Ryan recently posted…Beware of Investments Offering Oversized ReturnsMy Profile

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Alexis Grant August 27, 2012 at 10:14 pm

Love this!

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arash October 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm

nice but i want to add one point which you didn’t mention. people have to be realistic. we live in a real world. many times just because of the specific conditions people can’t have the nice achievements they want to have. that’s a fact.

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Lily February 28, 2013 at 8:16 am

I have to agree with Arash. It’s just not that easy. There’s too many things you have to take into account.
I myself really don’t know what I wanna do, what I would like to do. I studied something I didn’t like because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Then I worked in a job I hated and after almost a year I felt so depressed with my situation that this situation affected my health in a certain way. So I decided to quit and try to get a foothold in the media industry, i.e. radio or television because I felt this is the environment I want to work in. No sooner said than done! I served two internships in this industry to find out that this isn’t what I want to do either. So now I still don’t know what I want to do, I’m unemployed and I still meet with refusals when applying for jobs. I am almost 30 years old and lack of relevant work experience (at least that’s what the HR departments keep saying) and I feel like I am losing time, meaning I am too old and unexperienced to jumping from internship to internship or going to school again. Plus I somehow have to cover my expenses. How am I supposed to do that?

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