Q: I've been at a new job about three months and don't like it at all. It's not what I expected, and I'm not sure what to do. This isn't the first time this has happened to me.
A: This dilemma raises sharp questions both about your expectations for your work and the steps you take to find opportunities.
First off, do you know what you want? If your answer stops at making a living, then you have not thought deeply enough about what's important to you. If you're repeating the cycle of "hired, disillusioned, move on," it's time to stop and think.
Think about your core values. When you look inside, which are most important? Dig deeply into this. If you say success is most important, what does that mean? Money? Title? Influence? Then take it to the next level, by thinking about the possibilities it opens for you: "If I become a [insert title here], then I can …" This can — and should — go even deeper until you get to some emotionally resonant levels. It's not the easiest thing to figure it out, but it's worth it. Be creative about how you approach it, drawing pictures, writing it down, talking to people. Give yourself time — say, a month — to commit to this, and see how much you can learn about yourself.
Then look at jobs you've had, and map them in terms of fit with your values. Notice both where they align well, and where they run directly counter to the things that matter most to you. If you have a bad fit and it's been unconscious, this could explain a lot of your dissatisfaction.
Other aspects could be contributing, too, of course. The serial nature of your dissatisfaction suggests that maybe you're forcing yourself into a mold that may not fit. Are you always dissatisfied with your boss? The level of structure in your work? The type of tasks you have to do? Maybe you're a free spirit trying to fit in a cut-and-dried role. Or maybe you crave structure but have to make it up as you go. Think about the more day-to-day aspects of your job to see if this may be the issue.
If you conclude that the values are OK and the day-to-day seems reasonable, try turning your attention to what specifically would need to be different for you to be happy where you are. Have conversations with your boss about what you're looking for and the disconnect you're feeling. And then try to make the changes that you can, or work on accepting things that could be acceptable, even if they aren't perfect.
Finally, turn your attention to your job search process. If you move to a new job — any job — because you're sick and tired of what you're doing, you're going to end up in the same situation. Resolve now that you're not going to change again until you're going to something instead of running away.
Bottom line, you deserve to be happy at work and it's worth it to do the work to make it happen.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.