While it’s uncomfortable to find yourself in an ill-fitting role, it’s not as unusual as you may fear. A variety of factors can lead to this challenging situation. Perhaps your department went through a reorganization, and the job that once suited you no longer exists. Maybe new management shifted a culture that was once ideal, or you’re acclimating to a new position where the role, team, or professional climate is not what you expected or hoped it would be.
It can feel deeply disorienting to find yourself in the wrong job, but some clarity, support, and emotional discipline can help you dislodge yourself and move forward. Here’s what you need to know to stay calm, engaged, and healthy as you navigate the situation.
Be Brutally Honest with Yourself
It can be stressful to admit to ourselves that a professional situation isn’t working, but recognizing this is an important first step in working through the discomfort and forging a solution. If you aren’t hitting a comfortable stride with your work, despite sincere efforts to acclimate, be honest with yourself. Recognize and own it. Don’t panic. This experience may feel alarming and unlike what you’ve encountered in the past, but it’s not unique.
“[A]lmost everyone has at least one job during their career that inspires a ‘What am I doing here?’ moment,” explains Karen Southall Watts, instructor for human resource development, career college, Alamance Community College and author of The Solo Workday: Manage your time and gain new clients while working alone. “There can be a lot of factors that lead any one of us to wind up in the wrong job: poorly written job ads and job descriptions, job seekers without clear goals, saying ‘yes’ to an offer out of desperation or even confusion.”
While we all aspire to find a job that truly suits us, Watts points out: “We all need to work, and this often means landing a paycheck first and worrying about fit later.” Recognize the factors that led you to the ill-fitting role in which you find yourself, and know that while it feels uncomfortable, it’s also fixable.
You don’t have to feel guilty about this or keep expending emotional and physical energy trying to salvage a job that doesn’t suit you. Start by admitting that you need something different and then position yourself to pursue that.
Get Clarity and Support
You’re in a tough spot. It’s important to know who you can go to for clarity and support as you navigate this. Enlisting the support of an objective professional, a career coach, or a counselor can help you think through the emotional and logistical issues without adding weight or baggage to what you’re already managing.
Our feelings about our work run deep. Feeling like we don’t fit in or we’re unsuccessful at work can surface emotions that can be hard to understand, weather, and carry. Confiding in a professional who can help us recognize those feelings, understand them, and strategically communicate about them can be a tremendous asset at an emotionally heightened time.
Keep in mind that leaning on friends who currently work at your institution, especially those on your team, can be a problematic strategy. Fanning feelings of frustration, anger, or sadness can make it harder to keep your emotions in check. It’s important to control how your professional situation plays out rather than allowing your emotions to do that. Working with those outside of the situation can help you maintain some emotional distance and get clarity and perspective.
Create an Exit Strategy
Job hopping (spending less than two years in a role) isn’t viewed as negatively as it once was. Employees change jobs after a short stint to earn a higher salary, better benefits, or freedom from an ill-fitting role. “While the attitude about job hopping has changed significantly, and younger professionals understand that a new position is the best way to get a raise or career boost, you do want to avoid too many changes in a short period of time or gaps on your resume,” Watts explains.
If you are trying to bide your time to make this work so that it doesn’t look unfavorable on your resume, you may want to revisit that strategy. You want to avoid getting burnt out on your job or being asked to leave your position. Consider being proactive by devising and executing an exit strategy that prioritizes your physical, mental, and professional wellness.
Watts recommends using a broad approach as you make your plan: use the steady paycheck to pay down debt and bolster your emergency fund. By doing this, you “position yourself to have more mental freedom to walk away if you have to.”
Watts also favors taking an ongoing approach to networking, researching, and job seeking: “It’s wise to never completely drop out of job seeker mode,” Watts explains. “Always have an updated resume, and keep your eyes open for unexpected opportunities.”
It’s hard to show up every day to do a job that doesn’t suit you. Recognize that you’re doing something difficult, and be extra gentle with yourself. Make room in your routine for those activities that make you feel calm and grounded — exercise, sleep, and get the support you need.
Watts recommends branching out: “You need a life outside of work. It’s true that career often becomes identity, especially for those working in helping fields like education. However, over-identification with your job means that if you get laid off or fired, or if you wind up in an ill-fitting job, you are ripe for an identity crisis. Tend to your hobbies. If you don’t have any, get some. Even when you land a job that you love, you’ll need a way to destress and relax.”
Making a change is hard. It can feel especially daunting if your self-esteem has taken a hit and you’re starting a job search from a place of vulnerability. But a job search is also an exciting opportunity.
While you may have to psyche yourself up as you prepare for a search, you may know better now what will truly suit you and what you’re seeking. You’re in a powerful position to fix this and to find something better for yourself. Take the opportunity. Find the job that you deserve.