More than half of U.S. workers aren’t satisfied with their jobs. But even when you hate your job and you know it’s time to make a change, it can be difficult to know what to do next. So, it’s easy to stall, do nothing, and remain unhappy. That’s a mistake, says career coach Barbara Sher, author of the best-selling Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want, and several others.
"Your heart has taste buds, just like your mouth," she says. What you may need is bit of space and a few exercises to get back in touch with what you really want to do. These six exercises can help.
Hold off on the big-picture brainstorming for a while. Sher advises people to think about things on a simpler level. What would your days look like if you had control over them? Ask yourself some key questions:
- How would your days be structured?
- How would your day’s activities unfold?
- What would you be doing for work?
- Where would you be doing it?
- What kind of people would you be working with?
Sometimes, if you’re burned out, it may take a little practice fantasizing about swimming pools and horseback riding before you feel like thinking about ideal work, Sher says. With a little practice, you’ll get there.
When you’re truly burned out, you might have lost touch with what truly makes you happy, Sher says. If that’s the case, she recommends a simple mindfulness exercise. Use a 1 (awful) to 10 (heavenly) scale to give actions, people, and things in your life a happiness ranking.
Think about what you’re doing at work. Ride your bike. Paint a picture. Notice how happy each action makes you, and give it an "H-level"—Sher’s name for the rankings. Soon, you’ll start to be more in tune with the areas of your life that are satisfying, and those that make you unhappy, she says.
"Any happiness level ranking that is a 7 or above is telling you something. And what it’s telling you isn’t frivolous, it’s scientific data," she says.
There are lessons to be learned from what you don’t like about your day-to-day, says Pamela Mitchell, founder and CEO of The Reinvention Institute, a career transition training and consulting firm, and author of The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention: Essential Survival Skills for Any Economy.
Mitchell says that observing what we don’t like about certain jobs or situations can also help direct us to a new path. In addition, look for any positive aspect, even if you hate most things about where you work. Doing so will also help you develop a clearer picture of what you want—and may make your current job a little more bearable during the transition.
Treat your new career search a bit like detectives on a crime drama, says career consultant Nicholas Lore, founder of career consulting firm The Rockport Institute and author of The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success. When a detective shows up to investigate a situation, they look for clues about what fits.
"You want to look at your natural talents, your personality traits, the kinds of functions that you won't get tired of doing that you can do all day, or a set of functions that you could do throughout the day," he says. "Then there is a relationship between the rewards that one gets at work and their values." Collect the data and start piecing together the picture that emerges from those details.
Just because you’re making a transition doesn’t mean that you’ll be making a change forever, Mitchell says. Making such a commitment can cause more analysis paralysis. Instead, look at where you’d like to be in five to seven years. Of course, you can daydream about the big picture, but having a more finite window helps you plan specific achievable goals that will help you move forward effectively, she says.
As your picture of what comes next becomes clearer, treat it like you would a business plan, Mitchell says. Think about how you’ll repackage yourself and what preparation you’ll need to do. Create a list of tasks and a timeline. How will you market yourself to get to where you want to go? What financial considerations do you have and how will you meet them? What obstacles do you face and how will you overcome them?
"That's a really big thing that a lot of people forget. You've got to come up with this whole strategy first so that you have some clarity around your actions, and then you start moving into the actual doing of things," she says. Only in moving forward can you make that dream a reality.