Why you feel unsatisfied in your career (and how to solve it)

We sure do a great job of covering up our anxiety. Our stress. Our feelings of self-doubt, frustration, not fitting in and general dissatisfaction from the workplace, don’t we? The question that’s worth asking yourself is — at what cost? Now, trust me, this isn’t some treatise that you can just sift through that culminates in me telling you to, “Quit your job.” That’s trite. And it’s often not the best advice.

What I’m saying is, you have to be smart about identifying what’s holding you back, and how to equip yourself to transform your situation and build what you really want on the foundation of your current situation. Many of us in the workplace aren’t finding meaning in what we’re doing, despite some of us having cool perks like a ping pong table, soda machine or ability to drink happy hour beers on Fridays.

We want more than just the token amenities or feeling that millennials or young adults have to be specially catered to in some contrived way. We want a calling, a reason to keep moving forward and growing where we are, or that impulse to move on and carve out our own niche elsewhere, or on our own, will emerge even stronger.

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s extremely difficult to be your best, think creatively, have a strategic mindset and contribute confident, bold ideas when you’re stressed and full of doubt about your upward mobility in a job. A substantial portion of millennials (and many employees for that matter) are living with a lot of workplace anxiety.

“A BDA Morneau Shepell white paper discovered that 30% of working millennials have general anxiety.” Source: Psychology Today

We all have to start somewhere, and sometimes survival and financial means need to be satisfied at the risk of some lesser pleasures. But we should never sacrifice the meaning of our job or the opportunity for advancement in the name of just treading water. “Just getting by.” Because just getting by can snowball into far worse things.

It leads to anxiety and poor “hygiene factors” like dissatisfaction with our supervisors, low pay and nebulous job statuses — you know, where we never quite know where we fit in an organization, and we’re too far down in the hierarchy to even be privy to those whispers, much less conversations.

We’re also overworked and far too often, underpaid for the workload we’re asked to tackle. Take this Work Stress Survey finding and let that sink in for a minute:

“A 2013 finding from the Work Stress Survey showed, “more than eight in 10 employed Americans are stressed out by at least one thing about their jobs. Poor pay and increasing workloads were top sources of concern reported by American workers.” Source: HuffPost

What to do about it

One thing I believe is that you forfeit the right to complain if you’re not at least spending some time pursuing that thing you truly love, even if it’s on the side. That doesn’t mean your feelings or reasons for being unsatisfied don’t matter. But I can tell you this — I’ve continued to hold a full-time professional job throughout most of my career, while I build my entrepreneurial life on the side. And I know many others who are living this life.

I’ve been successful. The time spent writing, coaching others, speaking, and also coaching high school basketball has enabled me to become the man I’ve always wanted to be. Maybe you’re already doing this, or observing the lives of many peers, or success stories like Ken Jeong, Andrea Bocelli or Joy Behar. These are all people who started in much different professions than the ones they’re in now.

Joy Behar was still teaching high school English at the age of 40!

Ken Jeong became a medical doctor in his late 20s, practicing medicine, and didn’t appear in his first film until his late 30s!

Andrea Bocelli was a defense attorney who worked into his mid-30s in the legal profession before leaving and letting his beautiful voice take him to the top of the musical world.

When you feel unsatisfied, you have to first look inside of you and think about why this is happening. Identify the things in your environment that are contributing to your feeling of inadequacy, stress or worry. How much of this is self-inflicted, and how much of what you’re experiencing requires you to make a change and move to the outside?

Sometimes leaving a job is the right move, and sometimes the adversity you’re facing in the moment is an immense opportunity and test designed to get you to overcome your emotions or an external challenge that will refine and strengthen you.

Pay close attention to the behaviors that are causing you stress, worry and concern. Observe what they are and understand them. Consciously plan your day around minimizing these and also facing your fears head-on.

Here are 5 Ways to Solve the Unsatisfied Problem and Begin Making Bold Progress Toward Your Ideal Career

  1. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, determine whether there’s a more productive and efficient way to tackle your workload. There may not be, but maybe through your attitude, confidence and self-encouragement you can embrace your situation and make it competitive in a fun way. It’s not ideal, but embracing the struggle is sometimes the surest sign that you’re maturing and growing, while having the self-awareness and stamina to strive for something better.
  2. If you feel underpaid, if you feel undervalued and that you’re not a part of the strategic conversations where you are, then start leveraging your voice in a unique way with leadership at your company. Be proactive and take initiative — start first by testing your ideas out on social media and among friends.
  3. Assess your value by leveraging tools like Glassdoor and web research that will help you explore both entrepreneurial, consulting or traditional path positions. The right fit is out there. It just might not be via the conventional ways of thinking that existed 10 years ago. Be creative and start by imagining and planning for what you truly want.
  4. Leverage your skill set and use tools like Gallup’s Strength Finder to determine what you’re really good at. Invest in your strengths. Take a professional development course, learn a new software skill, get a certification or hands-on experience around a skill that inspires you. Then, begin researching how you can utilize that skill for higher monetary value.
  5. And don’t forget to take a deep breath. The end of your career is not near! It’s just beginning. One thing I’ve observed in high achieving millennials is that we put so much stress and burden on ourselves so early on. Be patient. Keep working. Play the long game. You have to let time play its part, while grinding and staying positive in your pursuit.

Be willing to take a shot! Indecision is crippling. So many people don’t understand why they’re not climbing the corporate ladder, or why they’re so unhappy in a job they thought would open new horizons and doors. This predicament is likely to continue when you don’t act — when you stay right where you are. Because then, you’re not growing. You’re not learning.

To feel satisfied and happy in your career, you’re going to have to take chances and get to the “Why” of what’s holding you back. From there, you need to build the ideal career in your mind first, then begin to act on it. It’s not going to happen immediately — it takes small steps. But when you do the work and design your future, you will reap the rewards you dream about today.

Find your breakthrough

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This article first appeared on Medium.