I had two majors in college: Biology for my parents, French for me. After undergrad, I started a masters program in public health (parents) and landed my dream job of teaching French to kids in an afterschool program (me!). I had wanted so badly to use my French, especially after everyone said it was a useless major. The job was everything I wanted. It was part-time so that I could still focus on my graduate program, used my French language skills so that I could put my degree to use, included purpose-driven work because I was teaching kids, and promised to be fun and engaging as the program used artwork and other creative resources to teach. I was thrilled! I told everybody who questioned what I’d do with my French major about the job and started it with gusto. Only to realize, within the first few weeks, that my job was as a glorified babysitter. I hadn’t signed up for that.
So, what do you do when you realize that your dream job isn’t your dream job? Whether you’re three weeks, three months, or three years into the job, don’t panic. This is more common than you’d think. It could be that you take a job that doesn’t match up to your expectations or you grow and develop as you work and realize that you want different things than what your job can offer. Once you start pressing snooze 8 or 9 times in the morning and negotiating or downright bribing yourself in ways to get out of bed and to work, you know it’s time to regroup.
First off, the fact that this is a job that you call your dream job makes it hard, embarrassing, scary, and hundreds of additional negative adjectives that make it difficult to admit you are unhappy. This is the job that you searched for months to find, researched like crazy, made connections when you hate networking, and spent hours on producing a polished cover letter and resume. You prepared for your interviews and knocked them out of the park. You got the offer, and you shouted it from the treetops. But remember that the only person that gets hurt if you don’t own the fact that the job no longer is working for you is yourself. You owe it to yourself and your career to reflect and explore the problem.
Before taking any action, get clear on what you don’t like about the job. What makes it not your dream job anymore? For example, if your response to that question is there’s a negative work environment, then spend some time breaking that down and identifying what elements makes a positive environment for you. If your response is that you’re not doing the type of work you thought you’d be doing, then write down what work you want to be doing. If your response is that you’re working way more hours that you thought you would, think about what an ideal work-life balance looks like for you. It’s important that you go beyond the superficial in your investigation. For example, if you don’t like your manager, get specific about what attributes you do want in a manager that you’re missing.
Considering Next Steps
Once you have a good understanding of what it is that’s making your dream job no longer your dream job, then your next steps become much more clear. Generally, these steps will fall into three categories:
– The issue is temporary and may resolve itself
– The challenge you’re having is potentially fixable if you take steps to address it
– The problem is intrinsic to the job and it’s time to go.
After your reflection, you may realize that the problem is temporary. If you’re miserable because of a specific project or a particular client, then you know that the job will get its shiny glow back soon enough. In the meantime, consider ways that can make this period of time more palatable. Could you communicate your challenges to your manager so that your workload could be shifted allowing for it to be more manageable? Could you ask co-workers for help? Could you plan something you love doing on the weekend so that you have something to look forward to? However, if these periods of time start adding up and outweigh the times that your dream job is still your dream job, then you may want to reevaluate.
After you are clear with the issues you’re having, you could see that they can be addressed and resolved. Say you no longer find the work you’re doing to be challenging since you’ve been doing it for three years straight. Are there opportunities at your company to get involved in other work which would allow you to learn something new and develop in another area? Perhaps you’re a new manager and you’re really struggling with your direct reports. It’s keeping you from doing your own work and making you miserable. Ask management if there’s a new leader program you can attend. Consider exploring some online classes that could provide tips and tools of how to manage employees. Or maybe there’s an opportunity to work with a coach to help you navigate being a first-time manager and develop your authentic management style. If, however, your attempts to develop or shift things are not or cannot be addressed, then you may want to reassess.
Lastly, after you get clear on why you’re unhappy, you could see that the answer is that it’s time to search for a different job. This could be a tough realization. Like in my case, after evaluating why the French teacher job wasn’t working for me, it was clear to me that I had to search for a new position after the semester ended. It took a little while to admit that to myself because I was so proud that I found a position that used my French language skills, especially when I had so many people saying I wouldn’t. In the long run, it was for my own happiness that I knew it was critical that I let go. It’s okay if your dream job isn’t your dream job. It may feel discouraging, but it has only helped you become clearer on what makes for a fulfilling job for you. Now it’s your responsibility to apply everything you’ve learned through the process of evaluating why your dream job isn’t your dream job so that you can identify a position that could be a better fit, or your new dream job.
Admitting that your dream job is making you miserable can be challenging to do. However, staying in a negative work situation can be intolerable. Be reassured first that you actually did identify and secure a dream job. That in itself is a huge accomplishment. The fact that you’re unhappy takes nothing away from that. Now take the next step in your success to acknowledge that in its current state, it’s not your dream job. This step is just as important and worthy of respect. Next, reflect and assess the situation and lastly, take action.
If you would like some help in evaluating why your dream job isn’t your dream job or in taking the steps to recapturing the dream, please feel free to book a complimentary consult.
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