I’ve been in the wrong job a couple of times. It’s not all bad, you can learn valuable lessons about yourself and about work from realizing that where you are is not for you. Recognizing what you don’t want your work life to be like can be a powerful motivator to go out and achieve the circumstances that you do want.
In my late twenties, I was hired as a travel writer for a guidebook company. I thought I was done. Hello, dream job achieved at 27. I have arrived.
It turned out not to be the case for me. Being a travel writer is a lonesome experience. You move from hotel to hotel, town to town, mostly eating alone or with tourism reps. You have to cover so much ground in such a short period of time that you end up writing about attractions you haven’t visited based on the brochure, or reviewing restaurants based on the menu without actually trying the food. So I felt like a bit of a fraud.
Also, you’re on a per diem while traveling, and most of your accommodations are complementary from places hoping to make it into your guidebook, but you have no income. You only get paid in a lump sum when you hand in the finished draft of the book. Which means when you get back from traveling you have to spend weeks poring over your notes and brochures, hammering out the copy with no money coming in.
Some people would love the adventure of this. Periods of feast and then famine, always going somewhere different, living by the seat of your pants.
I always saw myself as the outsider, the lone adventurer, but I learned from this experience that I like to work with other people. I crave a creative team, a community. And I really need to know where my next pay check is coming from and when. I value security more than I had thought that I did.
I’ve used those valuable teachings in making all subsequent career decisions.
Except once. There was the time I quit well-paying full-time job with nothing else lined up even though I am the sole bread-winner for my family, simply because once again I was in the wrong job.
I was the Senior Front Page Editor of a portal. (In the olden days those were websites that featured the latest breaking news, entertainment, business, sports, etc. stories all in one place. People don’t visit them as much anymore, but they were among the web’s most trafficked websites in their day.)
A new boss out of the US was appointed to run our team remotely. She immediately started to exert influence over editorial decisions. When the Canadian management team pointed out that they had gone to some effort to acquire me from a competitor, and that I had been the most successful front page editor in their history, she replied with the clearest sign I was in the wrong job: “I don’t care about success.” Wait, what? She cared about being agreed with.
She cared about local editors publishing the stories and the spin that she thought were important regardless of whether or not they generated actual measurable success: audience engagement, page views, traffic distribution, advertising revenue, and all the things that keep the lights on.
I knew that I couldn’t be successful while being second-guessed and micro-managed from afar, and I would have been despondent watching my reputation and track record reduced to rubble. So when she explained how the department would work under her “hands-on” management style, I said, “Yeah, you’re going to need a new Front Page Editor.”
Even though it might seem to have been a rash decision because I didn’t have another job lined up at the time, this is still the career move I am most proud of making. Because it was scary. However, the only reason I would have stayed on in that demoralizing role would have been out of fear. And that’s no way to live.
Here are the signs that you’re in the wrong job:
You’re only in it for the money. If you think about quitting every day, and it’s only the fear of the lost revenue and finding another job quickly enough that keeps you going to work, you’re in the wrong job. We all have bills to pay and responsibilities to meet, but if that is the only thing that motivates you to show up to work, you should be actively looking for something more fulfilling or enjoyable.
You don’t enjoy the work itself. When you actually find the stuff you’re paid to do all day uncomfortable, boring, or distasteful, you should probably try something else. The way to succeed is to excel at something, and hopefully to do it with a positive attitude. Both are impossible when you hate what you’re doing. In a recent Workopolis poll, 29% of our users said that “Enjoying the work itself” was their most important career goal. (Ranked as more important than becoming wealthy or even just achieving financial stability.)
You dread the idea of going to work. When work has become so unpleasant that you dread the very idea of having to go in, you’re in the wrong job. Having it weigh on you that much means that you can’t even enjoy your time off because of the looming return to work. This can lead to depression, substance abuse, stress-related illnesses and other health consequences that are just not worth it. Stay healthy and go someplace else.
Your manager – or the team – is out to get you. This can happen when someone above you is looking to replace you, or when you are just not a good fit with the team and they have formed a clique to oust you. Either way, it’s time to start looking for another gig. Signs that your coworkers are aligning against you include:
- – Credit for your accomplishments being given to others.
- – Blame for any setbacks being directed to you.
- – Feedback or comments on your work being sent to people over your head rather than to you directly.
- – Team members routinely passive-aggressively putting down or questioning every decision you make.
- – You receive long feedback emails criticizing your work on which many other people are copied. Good leaders coach, they don’t cc the world their complaints. This isn’t about you – it’s about your manager creating a paper-trail for dismissal.
- – You’re told that your new boss doesn’t care about the things you’re good at (or about success at all) if it means contradicting their opinion (Okay, maybe that just happened to me.)
The rest of your life is no good either (because of work). If you don’t enjoy your job, but it pays you enough money for you to enjoy the lifestyle you’ve always wanted, and affords you the work/life balance that you crave, it might be worth staying. I think that people limit their potential by engaging in careers they are not passionate about, but not everyone is passionate about work. Sometimes it’s just a job. If you can like your lifestyle – without liking the actually job you may be okay. However, if you don’t like it, it doesn’t pay enough to support your desired lifestyle, and you don’t have the work/life balance that you need – it’s probably the wrong job. That’s what I learned from travel writing: the lifestyle itself didn’t mesh with how I wanted to live.
There is no growth or learning potential. When the position you are in is a dead-end, you’re probably in the wrong job. The trouble with dead ends is that even if it seems safe where you are currently – everything changes. When things change and you have nowhere to go, you’re in trouble. And if you haven’t been learning along the way at work, your skills will eventually become dated and less valuable on the market.
Because everything changes, we have to as well. The real wages we garner from any job are the experiences we gain, the skills we acquire, and the connections we make. These are the things that a career is made of. And a career spans many jobs: sometimes the right ones and sometimes the wrong ones.
(To bookend my quitting story – When a VP of Marketing whom I had worked for years earlier heard that I had left my job, he called me up and said that he had recently changed companies as well. He was working on a project to reinvent and relaunch a major Canadian brand, and he wanted me to join him and become the voice of the website. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, and that’s how I came to Workopolis.)
Of course, you could also watch for these six red flags in job postings that warn you not to apply to try and avoid ‘wrong jobs’ in the first place.
– Peter Harris