If you feel trapped in a job you don’t like, you are not alone. The majority of employees in the United States report being unsatisfied or disengaged at work, and many are looking to change jobs this year.
Having a job you don’t like is a very common experience, and yet, while you are going through it all, it might feel like you are alone, that there is no way out, or professional happiness will never be in the cards for you. This is simply not true.
In my work I talk to many people who want to make a change, but feel stuck. Some even wait years working in a job they don’t like before taking the leap and following their heart. Why?
In this post I am going to share some of the most common reasons why you might feel stuck in a job you don’t like and what you can do about it. This is a momentary bump in the road, and you can and will find something you like. Or even love.
Ready to dive in?
Let's explore 15 of the most common reasons why you might feel stuck in a job you don’t like and what you can do about it.
1. You need to pay the bills
We’ve all been there…living paycheck to paycheck, afraid of losing income and not being able to make ends meet. I get it. Let’s dig a little deeper.
First of all, you do not need to quit before you get another job. Even if you are already working long hours, you can find another job while still employed. It might require some late night or weekend work, or it might turn out to be easier than you think. You’ll never know unless you try.
Secondly, the fact that you are barely scraping by should be a reason to look for a different gig that pays you more, rather than a justification for staying where you are underearning and miserable.
If you are making plenty of money, but are still afraid you won’t be able to pay the bills if you pursue something you like, start aggressively saving while lowering your expenses. Be strategic. Yes, s*** happens, but if you put in the effort, manage the risk, and commit to making a change, you can achieve a smooth transition without your finances taking a hit.
2. You are afraid you will be paid less if you change jobs or careers
Well, you could also be paid more! Your salary depends on a lot of factors, including your industry, location, the financial health of the company you work for, the value a specific workplace places on paying employees well, your ability to generate income (if you are going to be self employed), your negotiation skills, your experience and skills, and more.
In other words, there is a lot you can do to increase your income or to land a position that pays you in the same range you make now.
And sometimes, depending on what you want, the job market, and/or your skills, you might choose to settle for less (for example if you are changing careers and going into a field that is less remunerative).
Working with many career changers and job seekers, here are some things I have noticed:
- If making more money is really important to you (not just something you think you have to do), you can make it happen. Sometimes faster than you think and exponentially.
- Doing what you love often makes you better at your work which can increase your earning potential
- If your deepest Self calls for a less lucrative career, you will most likely be happy with less because you will gain in other ways. Money is not everything.
- If you are not changing careers and looking for a similar or higher position, there is seldom a reason to accept a lower salary: in fact, chances are that getting a new job is the best way to actually negotiate higher compensation.
3. You've invested way too much into your current career to change it
I understand: you spent years honing your craft, forging relationships, getting to your current position. There is an actual term for sticking with something because of that: it's called sunk cost fallacy. Sunk cost fallacy is the tendency we all have to not want to give up something we already invested time, money or effort into.
But at a time when more people live to a very old age, and work for several decades, chances are that you will at some point want to do something different. Why spend several more years doing work you do not like anymore when there could be something better?
By the way, if reading the above statement you thought to yourself that there is no guarantee to live that long, that's even more reason to be happy now.
Whatever you have been doing up to this point, you learned a lot of transferable skills: why not explore what else might make you professionally happy? Chances are you will be able to carry that experience with you, plus you will find excitement and adventure in doing something new.
4. You do not know what you want to do next
It can be very painful and demoralizing to feel unsatisfied at work yet drawing a blank on what you want. If this is you, know you will not feel like this forever. It’s just temporary. The key to getting out of this funk is to accept yourself wholeheartedly and without judgment. And to get into action. Don’t just ruminate on your thoughts.
All human beings at some point get into a funk. It’s just part of life. And except for extremely serious cases which are beyond this blog, most people get out of it. It’s just the ups and downs of life. If you get scared by your own process, though, you will stay stuck longer 😉 Get in action instead.
Here are some ideas:
- Let yourself desire again
- Try out new hobbies
- Meet new people
- Explore careers you know nothing about, just out of curiosity
- Work with a coach to explore what you might like
- Join the Repurpose Your Purpose's Group Program to Change Careers
It might take a little time, but you will feel upbeat again and find what calls you next.
5. You are afraid you will go from bad to worse by changing jobs
Sometimes, if we have an unhealthy work environment or challenging relationships with a boss or co-workers, we get discouraged. The more we stick around and the worse things get, the more we might start blaming ourselves, feel insecure, and fear we will never find a good work environment. Don’t buy into your low mood!
It is incredibly common to have a negative experience at work, and you can learn from it, turn it around or move on to find a better fit. Take this as a bump in the road, and as an opportunity to grow.
I have worked with people who - through coaching:
- Learned how to show up differently at work, which led them to enjoy what was previously painful
- Found their voice and asked for what they needed - and received it!
- Were able to reinvent their job
- Were able to transfer to a different team or department within the company
- Found another job that was a much better fit
- Quit to take time to regain their peace of mind, recharge, and explore what to do next
- Started their own business
The sky's the limit! There is absolutely no set future that says you will be unhappy in your next job. What will you create?
6. You are afraid to be tricked into a different job by a description or interview process that misrepresents the company culture or the position.
Sometimes you feel afraid of quitting because you had the experience of accepting a job that was misrepresented to you. Maybe that’s even how you ended up in your current position!
This is not as uncommon as you may think. And often a position or the company culture are misrepresented out of ignorance or lack of communication skills from the hiring manager/team/recruiter rather than ill will.
Just because this happened to you, there is no reason to lose confidence in your ability to tell a good job from bad. Usually when people get stuck after something like this it is because they give the experience a lot more weight than it deserves: e.g. they blame themselves, go down the rabbit hole of imagining they can never trust another job post again, etc.
While you can never truly know what a position or company is like until you are actually working there, you can get better at guessing it. Do a lot of research, even before you need a new job, make a list of all the orange and red flags you now can recognize, and list the questions you need to ask during the interview process.
You can also work on being more centered and in tune with your gut feeling. Sometimes we feel something is off during the interview process, but cannot quite put our finger on it… Later on we find out there was indeed a reason for our misapprehension!
Learning how to be more present in your body and trusting your own deeper wisdom can make a big difference in you ability to honor your deepest needs and desires, and to pick up on red flags.
7. You lost confidence in yourself because your performance at work is spiraling down
This is a big one and something to really keep in mind. When you stay in an unhealthy environment for too long, you run the risk of losing your self confidence. Usually it goes something like this: you are excited to start a new job or happy at work for a while. Then problems start. You try to work harder, you try to manage the relationships that are not working out, you hire a coach and invest in your own self development… but nothing really helps. You stay for weeks, months, maybe even years, and in the process you lose your drive, your performance begins to suffer, you close off to others, or are not as kind or warm towards your colleagues… maybe you even get negative or passive aggressive in some interactions. This in turn leads some people to act differently around you, and now you feel bad about how you are showing up, and about how you are treated, and this keeps going on and on, and the next thing you know, you are not sure about being that good at your job anyway.
If this sounds familiar, please realize you just got caught up in a negative spiral and your thoughts are now making everything appear way bleaker than it is. You just forgot how awesome you are while going through a tough time. And you can get out of it.
The first step is to let go of judgment (of yourself, the situation, and others) and realize you are living a lot more in your head than you need to.
The next step is to take action:
- Start looking for a new position
- Work with a coach to regain confidence and reconnect with what you want to do, what you are good at, what lights you up
- Consider taking some time off to recover
Interrupt the negative spiral by taking steps to work in a healthy and supportive environment. Taking action will reconnect you to your power and will open up new possibilities. You don’t need to stay stuck.
8. You think you are too old to make a change and/or worry about facing ageism in your job search
Is ageism a thing? Yes.
Do you have to let it stand in the way of doing what you love? Absolutely not.
As long as you show up, deliver results, and contribute to the overall workplace environment in a positive way, you will always find a company that needs you.
If you choose to work for yourself, statistics show that older entrepreneurs tend to be more successful than their younger counterparts because of the extra experience they bring from either previous businesses (even if they failed!) or other careers, life, etc.
Don’t focus on those who look at age as a negative, look instead in the direction of what problems you want to solve, what lights you up, what skills you bring to the table, your network, and all the wisdom you have accumulated during the years.
The world needs you. At any age.
9. You never had a job you truly liked, so you cannot imagine finding something great
This is a little bit like saying, I have always been single so I will never get married 😉
If you had only a couple of jobs, it might have been a bit of bad luck.
If disliking your work is a long-time pattern, then I invite you to unpack your experiences and find out what needs to change. We all have conditioning and limiting beliefs that can hinder our growth. And we can shift them to experience freedom and fulfillment.
You can break the pattern and do something you like, whether that means getting a different job, changing careers, or becoming self-employed.
10. You feel overwhelmed by all you need to do to get a new job
Don’t let overwhelm stop you. Nowadays there are a ton of resources to help you in your job search. Your college or university most likely has free career services available to alumni, you can work with a career coach, ask a friend who is good at getting jobs to help you… You can join support groups, do a little every day, or take a week off and really focus on putting together what you need during that time.
If you haven’t applied for a job in years there will be a learning curve…but once you are in a new position you love, the effort it took to get there will look like it was so worth it!
11. You haven’t been at your current job that long, and worry it’s too soon to quit
This is another fairly common experience: a lot of people at one point or another end up in a job they do not like and quit after a relatively short amount of time. As long as it doesn’t become a habit, you don’t have to worry about it a lot.
The most important thing is to keep calm and evaluate your choices. For example, it might be possible to negotiate some changes in your current position, move to a different team, or you might choose to stay at your job while you look for the next opportunity. Whatever you do, do not rush into another gig out of desperation, you might not like it either and then you will find it harder to leave.
A lot of problems come not so much from our circumstances, but from our judgments about our circumstances.
Take a higher perspective: this is a bump in the road and you can handle your current situation step by step without getting caught up in blame and unnecessary fears.
12. You are plagued by comparison thoughts such as “By now I should already …”
As the saying goes, it is a really, really bad idea to compare yourself to others. There are as many different life experiences as there are people.
Avoid comparisons - it might be a good idea to avoid social media for a while - and focus instead on feeling grateful for what you have, while allowing yourself space to reconnect with your desires. Your timing is right for you. Your life is yours to live. Choose to be happy now, regardless of circumstances, grieve for what you lost or wished could have been, and set yourself in the direction of your fulfillment.
Staying in a job you dislike is not going to help you, and the comparison trap is just a way your mind keeps you stuck and focused on your fears. In other words…it’s just a trap, not the truth.
13. You think you need a “good reason” to quit your job
Ah, I hear this all the time: you cannot just dislike where you work, it has to be toxic for you to leave. You cannot simply want something different or better, you have to have a serious problem to look for a different job.
Different people do their best work in different environments. Even the same person can change and want different things at different times in their life.
Some people love to work with others in person, and in a place that is separate from their home; some thrive working remotely. Some of us like to work independently, to know what is expected of us, and to have lots of freedom to decide how to handle each task; others love close collaborations, brainstorming meetings, and sharing projects. Some feel much better at a full time job, others love the freedom of being self employed.
The more you get to know yourself, accept what makes you thrive, and bring your best self to a work environment that appreciates and supports you and everyone else, the better everyone does. When you try to fit in instead, and look for ways to make others wrong in order to have a "legitimate" way out, you create more problems for yourself and the people you work with.
Focus on doing work you love, contributing, and feeling good. If a job is not checking these boxes, or if you desire something different or better, you can choose to pursue something else. No other reason needed.
14. You believe if you were “enlightened” enough you’d be able to deal with any work environment
Argh, the self-help trap! I fell for this once upon a time as well. If you are into developing yourself professionally and on a more personal level (which is awesome!) you can sometimes fall prey to the mistaken belief that if you were enlightened enough you could handle anything.
I am afraid it doesn’t work that way. This type of mentality can keep you in unhealthy and even abusive situations, cause you to blame yourself for what is not your responsibility, increase self judgment, and lead to emotional and physical exhaustion.
By all means, it is always good to look inside and see whether we are contributing to a challenging situation, try to work things out, invest in our growth, etc. But your environment is bigger than you.
As human beings we are designed to feel each other, influence each other, be affected by the larger context and dynamics we are working within. So if after a while you notice you are getting negatively impacted and things are not significantly improving even though you are doing a lot of work on yourself, please consider the long term impact of staying in such a situation. What if you redirected all your effort and energy towards finding a more suitable environment rather that having a constant feeling of going against the flow? What would be possible?
15. You want to work for yourself, but are too afraid to take the leap
You know it took me years to fully embrace it, but once I lived it, and saw my clients live it too, I couldn’t doubt it anymore: when you are in tune with your deeper wisdom, you know what you want to do. And no matter how crazy that might sound to someone else, it will lead you to a path of fulfillment once you take the steps to pursue it.
Sometimes, you are the last person to finally embrace what you are great at. Your friends and family, or your present and past colleagues, were ready to cheer you up all along because they already recognized the potential in you. Sometimes we are our worst critics.
I love working for myself. And I have seen clients start their own businesses and become happy and fulfilled - even though it was not easy - because they love it too. I have also seen people work a full time job, then work for themselves, then go back to a full time job, then start another business, and enjoying the variety of experiences.
If you have a deep desire to create your own business, let yourself explore it. You can choose how much risk to take, and how to get started. You will know if entrepreneurship is for you because you will start feeling your energy and drive come back when you take the tiniest first step towards it.
Psst: you don’t need to quit your job to explore this path.
In my experience, getting stuck in a job we don’t like is mostly due to our thinking. Yes, there are circumstances and practical concerns you need to take care of, but when you are present, centered, and in action, new possibilities appear and you can be strategic about your next steps.
Remember that you have choices: from leaning into your current situation as an opportunity to break through old conditioning, to becoming an agent of change at work, all the way to quitting and starting something new.
Take one step today. What will you do to move towards finding fulfilling work?