When I was in school, I had the chance to sit down with a designer who was a rising star with considerable credits to her name. I was in a demanding conservatory program and at a low point in my confidence as a young designer. It took so much courage to say to this person: “you’ve had such a varied career and such success, I’m struggling a bit with my time here. Do you ever wake up and not want to do it?”
Her reply: “I’ve been lucky, I’ve never not wanted to do this a day in my life.”
I tell this story because, frankly, this is the least useful thing anyone has ever said to me. Now, potentially this is true for her, but I’m willing to bet that it’s not true for the majority of people. I am 13 years older now. As a freelancer, I’ve had roughly 37 jobs working on over 100 projects. Sounds crazy right? I’ve not wanted to do jobs that I love and I’ve not wanted to do jobs I don’t love. I’ve had jobs I love turn into jobs I don’t love overnight and, though I’m going to talk about my experiences at work, this is not just about business.
When you find yourself not wanting to do it, ask yourself these 7 questions:
1 | How did I get here?
Why did you want to do this in the first place? What drew you to this? A certain passion? Money? An interesting boss? Prestige?
What made you want to do the thing you are doing and is that reason still true for you?
After working freelance from home for a year, then having a breakdown, I realized that I started my career as a designer not because of recognition, or prestige, or notoriety, but because I was a kid in high school who loved making things with other people. That love continued in college, but started to dissipate as the work became more isolating. I ended up chasing a title and a job description that was more prestigious instead of what I enjoyed about the work: collaborating with other creative people.
2 | What specifically do I dislike about the current situation?
Is it a co-worker? Is it the environment? Is it a particular task you have to do?
Personally, I discovered I am horrible at working alone long term, but I’ve also had projects where, despite having authority, no one listens to me. I’ve been in situations where I don’t feel my time is respected and I’ve had to work with unpleasant people. Identifying what specifically you don’t like will guide you in either fixing it or avoiding those situations in the future. Recognizing the actual problem (instead of having an attitude of “work sucks” or “my boss is an idiot”) will help you put everything into perspective and make it feel more manageable. “Work Sucks” is not a fixable problem “I don’t feel my time is being respected” potentially is.
3 | Are any of these problems fixable?
If you’re unhappy for a specific reason, see what you can do to fix it; one problem is not necessarily a reason to leave. Chances are, they don’t want to lose you. Can you talk with that co-worker you have a conflict with or find a way to avoid them? Maybe move to another project or team.
4 | Am I making my life harder by dragging tasks out?
Remember, you don’t have to feel like it to do it. Yes, we all have tasks that are unpleasant or just not our favorite, but the key to dealing with them is to get them over with. Make it a game, or time yourself, or just put in some headphones and power through. Put away your phone, close your web browser, and just do it.
5 | What do I like about it?
When you’re in the depths of something, it can be hard to see the forest for the trees, but there must be positives. Identify them. What are they and how important are they to you? Are they enough to keep you there? Can you replicate these positives in another scenario?
But what if none of the problems are fixable and the positives do not outweigh them?
Well it seems you have two solutions: quit or be miserable. If there is no way the situation is going to change, your options are do something or do nothing.
6 | What would I rather do?
Take the time to daydream.
What would make this better? Of the things you like about your current situation, which would you like to replicate? What is your ideal environment? Write it down, make a plan, set a timetable. Test the waters on starting what you want to. Take a class. Read blogs and info about your preferred options. Educate yourself.
7 | Am I willing to sacrifice money?
Money, unfortunately, is a necessary part of most people’s lives, but if you’re miserable, what is any of it really worth? What is it you’re thinking of doing instead and what are the earning options for that? Take a look at your life and your lifestyle; what do you really need and how much money would it really take to achieve that?
Try an exercise: put yourself on a budget your dream job would afford and see how it feels. If you live in expensive place, would you rather try your hand at happiness someplace cheaper? Any way you look at it, if you are thinking of making a life change, starting to save money is extremely helpful.
And, after answering all of those questions, if you’re still unhappy:
Quit. There’s nothing wrong with quitting. There’s nothing wrong with leaving a job you just started. There’s nothing wrong with leaving a career you’ve been building for 20 years. If you’ve thought about it, identified the problems, tried to fix them, thought about what else you can do, assessed the money situation, and you’re still miserable, get out!
Now, I was mostly talking about work, but I think this holds true for a lot of situations. Relationships with friends, your partner, or your family. Even if it’s with a city you live in. Remember, if you’re unhappy with your situation:
1 | Remember why you started.
2 | Identify the specific problems.
3 | Try to fix the problems.
4 | Consider whether you’re making yourself more miserable because you’re dragging things out.
5 | Think about what you do like.
6 | Peruse other options.
7 | Assess the financial side of things.
So get up, stop doing nothing, and start doing something.