You’re so done with feeling unhappy at work. You know you need a change. But how do you survive in the meantime in a role you can’t leave (yet)?
Small, powerless, trapped, afraid.
Anxious, frustrated, bored, tearful.
These were all feelings that made up my day-to-day emotional vocabulary when I was stuck and unhappy at work.
Just being at the office drained my energy, sucked the positivity out of me, and left me feeling empty.
And today I’m wondering how you’re feeling in your work.
Because while it’s all very well for me to remind you that getting out of work that makes you miserable is possible, that you deserve work that feels like you are finally, blissfully getting to be the real you and getting PAID for it, that doesn’t help you to feel better when you’re unhappy at work in the ‘right here, right now’ does it?
So, for those of you who are trying to have hope about what next, AND dealing with the shitty, day-to-day reality of work that feels like your soul’s being sucked out of you, this post is for you.
Here are some powerful techniques that will help to make the day-job more bearable, so that you’ve got the energy, headspace, and mindset to contemplate your next move
1. Create emotional distance
One of the things that used to cause the greatest pain for me in my old work was that I wanted to do my best.
I wanted to go above and beyond, to bring excellence and diligence into every task I undertook.
And as my sense of dissatisfaction intensified, that became harder and harder to do.
The jarring sensation of wanting to do my best work and also feeling such apathy towards it created a near-constant state of anxiety.
I have a strong work ethic, and yet there I was basically struggling to give any f**** whatsoever.
There was also the direction of the team as a whole.
I wanted us to have better goals. To strive for something amazing. To care deeply for the people in the team — our most-valuable resource.
And yet there was management happy to throw its own supposed values under a bus for a quick sale.
If you’re unhappy at work, no doubt you’re experiencing your own emotional dissonance too.
(It hasn’t been a waste, by the way, but that’s a whole ‘nother post…)
The first technique I want to share with you for feeling better when you’re unhappy at work is creating boundaries around your emotional capital at work.
Specifically, sit with the idea of ‘creating emotional distance’.
What does this look like?
It looks like not engaging in office politics. Excusing yourself from toxic conversations.
Holding the phrase ‘Not my circus. Not my monkeys’ in your mind.
It looks like knowing that good enough is good enough.
It looks like clocking off when you’re supposed to clock off, and leaving work at the door.
If you’re reading this then chances are your work is profoundly not you. That means it’s not likely to offer much of a return on your emotional investment.
So, reduce your investment.
Take a moment to think about specific areas of your work where you could be over-investing your emotions…
Some examples to help you out:
- Wanting to do your best work
- Trying to supply everyone with what they need
- Trying to get more done than you can reasonably achieve
- Trying to keep everybody happy
>> How could you create clear boundaries around those things, to protect and reduce your emotional investment?
>> How could you hold your work ‘at arm’s length’?
2. Shake things up
When you’re stuck in a Groundhog Day of work that doesn’t fit, it’s easy to slip into mental ‘autopilot’.
It’s not fulfilling, but it does help to conserve your energy. Actually, it’s quite a savvy defence mechanism.
But, the problem with being on autopilot is that you reduce your ability to influence your environment. You ‘zone out’, along with your sense of agency.
In other words, you give away your ability to create change.
That stops now.
Because even though you’re feeling stuck and lost, you’re not.
Even though you’re unhappy at work, you have the capacity to craft positive change, exactly as things are right now.
You look for ways to introduce new inputs into your life.
And then you introduce them.
It starts now. You’re going to shake yourself out of autopilot and start crafting change.
And what does this look like?
Start by looking for opportunities at work to change things
>> Change your perspective (literally). Could you move your desk; rearrange your things; sit with a slightly better view out of the window?
>> Shake up your lunchbreak. Could you try some new meals, take a walking route you haven’t tried before, or invite a colleague you trust out with you for a conversation and a bite to eat / Zoom lunch?
>> Gain new knowledge. What training opportunities are available to you? Could you volunteer for, or make a case for taking, a particular training course, to get you learning something new and shake up your routine for a while?
>> Bring something of the real you to work. Interested in mindfulness? Run a mini-workshop for three interested colleagues, and teach them what you know. Love making things and crafting? Make something at home to keep on your desk.
>> Make a point of striking up a conversation with someone you meet each day: the barista when you get your morning coffee; the cashier at the supermarket; Karen in accounting; the dog walker you go past at the park…
Start a home project too
Introducing new inputs doesn’t just stop at work. The more new information, inputs and experiences you can introduce at home too, the better.
>> Start a DIY project you’ve been itching to get started on: want to redecorate the spare room? Get going. Want to replant a flower bed? Do it.
>> Dedicate some time to a geeky topic of fascination. Are you secretly fascinated by aliens and UFOs? Watch that Netflix documentary and indulge it! Wondering how radios work? Google it and find out. Curious about growing your own vegetables? Look it up.
Read that book about code cracking that you bought on Amazon three years ago, sign up for that pottery course at the local college you had your eye on, make that thing you’ve been wanting to make.
“Ummm, whoa there, tiger,” I hear you protest. “This all sounds a bit exhausting, and I’m feeling drained already! How do I find the energy to do new things?”
I hear you. I really do. And I’ve been there.
And I know that the lack of energy you’re feeling at the moment is massively due to the misalignment you’re feeling at work. It’s down to the inability to live out your values, the fact you have to hide who you really are in some way, and the sheer energy requirements of showing up every day to a role that doesn’t feel like you.
But listen, here’s the thing. The moment you introduce new inputs, you do three things:
- You increase your capacity for change by shaking off your autopilot and reminding yourself of own power to create it, even if only in a small way.
- You create an opportunity to receive new information which could be valuable to your career change journey.
- You introduce areas of interest, fascination and focus which go on to give you energy instead of taking it away.
Pursuing small changes which feel good is energising. By allowing yourself to indulge in something you find inspiring or fascinating, you will feel inspired or fascinated.
And your brain will wake up and start contemplating solutions to the challenge of your career change, even if you’re not aware of it.
This is about cultivating a mindset.
Energised, inspired, and able to pursue the things you’re curious about are exactly the mental conditions you need to make a successful move into more fulfilling work.
And, more importantly, that mindset is going to help you feel tons better, right now. Even when you’re still in the work you want to move away from.
3. Create your self-care protocol
Feeling drained and unhappy at work is a recipe for poor self-care.
You’re exhausted at the end of the day
and you just want to flop on the sofa. You mindlessly scroll on Insta or Facebook. You have a couple of drinks too many to help yourself unwind. You over-indulge on things you know aren’t good for you, because it just takes too much energy to find the mental discipline to do anything else.
And you stay up too late, because it’s the only time in the day you really get to drop the work mask, so you don’t get enough sleep, and the whole cycle starts again the next day.
This self-care technique supports your efforts in technique 2, above.
It supports your body and your mind. And it’s an absolutely essential part of your career change toolkit.
But it doesn’t necessarily mean face masks and pamper sessions.
It’s about tuning in to what you need at any given moment and then providing it, much like a loving parent would do for a child.
It’s about stepping into and being that loving parent, for yourself. And it looks a lot like this…
>> Make a list of all the activities you know right now help you to relax: e.g. reading, walking, exercising, yoga, a hot shower, going for a drive in my car with music on.
Think of things you can do at home, but also think of things you can feasibly do at work too: e.g. Taking 5 minutes to make a cup of tea; stretching my legs; stepping outside for a few moments, doing some stretches at my desk.
>> Add to this list the messages you’d like to give yourself — positive messages that you’d love to believe, even if you don’t believe them right now: e.g. I am moving into work that feels like a great fit, I am getting closer and closer to finding my dream career.
>> Now add all the ways you physically care for your body that you sometimes forget to do, or don’t do as regularly as you’d like: e.g. stretching, getting a great haircut, going to bed by 10.30pm, taking regular breaks from your computer screen.
>> Once you have your list all written out, on a new piece of paper design your own self-care check-in process…
Start with writing the question: How am I feeling right now?
Then: What do I need right now?
Underneath these, take each item you wrote on your self-care list and turn it into a question:
Do I need to do some yoga?
Do I need to hear the message “I am moving into work that feels like a great fit for me?”
Do I need to have a hot shower?
Do I need to take a break from my computer?
Keep going until you’ve phrased each of the items on your self-care list within a question.
>> Keep your list with you, somewhere you can access it easily and regularly.
And check in with your list multiple times every day. Especially when your feeling unhappy at work really hits you. You won’t always be able to take a hot shower when you need to, but if you’ve a variety of self-care techniques on your list, you’ll be able to find something that suits any given situation.
Remember, you deserve self-care. You deserve to feel good
. Your work may not be nourishing you, but that’s no reason why you can’t.
4. Build your supporting army
Feeling frustrated and unhappy at work can be a lonely place.
I used to beat myself up regularly at the peak of my career change misery: how I could have sleepwalked into a career that was so out of tune with who I was, and (even worse) trapped myself there thanks to my mortgage and bills?
I felt like such a failure. And a flaky, wobbly mess.
I didn’t know who to talk to about it. The only work colleague I did feel I could confide in felt like a no-no given that it was work that was the problem. Meanwhile, everyone else I knew seemed to have their career shit together and I didn’t want to admit that mine was falling apart.
It didn’t even occur to me that other people could be feeling this way. I felt like the only person I knew who was so unhappy at work.
My husband knew what was going on, of course, and he took the full brunt of my venting (with an utterly heroic level of understanding).
But I didn’t know where to get help, or any other kind of support.
Then there came a day when a new friend I’d made on my coach training course introduced me to a secret Facebook group that was full of people just like me: unhappy at work, looking to escape their ‘cage’ jobs, and trying to build careers that felt more deliciously them.
That was a gamechanger. A milestone moment in my career change.
I actually cried when I saw the kinds of things that were being posted in this group. People were supporting each other, cheering each other on, laughing with each other, offering ideas, introductions to useful contacts, information, resources, comfort and shoulders to cry on.
I suddenly realised that I’d been carrying the weight of my career misery around on my own for far too long. It was HEAVY. But it didn’t have to be.
There were others ready and waiting to help me carry the load. And we could even have fun together while doing it.
In my client work now, I see time and time again, that when people build out a support team, they make their career changes faster, easier and lighter, regardless of where they’re at in the journey. They find connection and deepen relationships in all kinds of new ways.
But a true support team is made up of more than one kind of support. You need multi-layered emotional support, companions on the journey, and a guide to show you the way.
So who’s in your support team?
Let’s take a look at the 5 most important kinds of supporters you could benefit from having. Who comes to mind for you when you read these?
>> 1. A partner or family member who gets it — Someone really close, who’s seen you at your best, your worst, and everything in between, who can recognise and be with you in what you’re going through. This is a crucial and core layer of emotional support, which will provide solace for you after a tough day.
>> 2. A friend you can trust — A supporter who knows you well, who’ll check in with you and lift you up when you need it. Someone who really gets it and wants you to feel happy at work. Sharing what’s happening for you with a trusted friend will remind you you have people in your corner, and boost your resilience.
>> 3. A colleague or industry contact who’s got your back, and your privacy, every time — It’s not always easy to find one of these rare gems but if you can, hold onto them with both hands. Your work contacts know you in a different capacity, which adds another facet or layer to your supporting army, and it can be hugely useful to have a work perspective on why your role is feeling like such a poor fit. Plus, they’ll know the organisation too, so you can feel out the extent to which your experience could be organisation-wide (indicating an organisational issue), or unique (more suggestive of a values mismatch).
>> 4. A mentor / coach — If you’re able to secure professional support, do it. You’ll gain structure and experience from someone who’s helped clients to change career countless times before. They can offer a framework for the journey, ask you the right questions, provide wisdom to get you unstuck, build on the insights you’re gaining and develop your confidence so that you know without doubt that you are capable of making the change. Even if you can’t stretch to 1:1 support for your preferred mentor / coach, get on their mailing list and make use of their free resources. Many (including me!) have a range of offerings to suit different budgets but you might not be able to find out about them if you’re not on their mailing list.
>> 5. A group of peers who are at different stages of the same journey — When a number of people gather together for the same purpose, it can create a powerful collective energy and momentum, which is something you can harness for your own career change. Not only will you be able to bounce around ideas with people in a similar position to you, but chances are there’ll be someone in the group who’s already experienced or is currently experiencing exactly the same challenges as you. Share your wins, ask for advice or introductions, as well as being a source of support for others. There’s nothing like the experience of being in a team, to keep you on track and moving towards your goals.
If you don’t yet have your supporters in place, take time today, this week, to think how you get some of these different kinds of people on board.
5. Strengthen your brain for work you love
“What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.” — Robin Sharma
The human brain is wired to support our own thinking.
Every time we have an experience, the neurons that are relevant to that experience are fired. With repeated firing, a connection is formed. And the more an experience is repeated, the stronger that connection becomes.
Karen Young, writing at heysigmund.com, explains more…
“The neurons that aren’t as needed will eventually wither away. This withering away is normal and healthy and is one way the brain grows into its most efficient self. You can’t grow the edges of your head so your brain occupies some precious real estate. The space is reserved for the neurons that you need the most – the ones that will best support you given the life you’re living.”
If the life you’re living is one where you’re unhappy at work, and that’s what’s reinforced to you every time you go to work, your brain will adapt to support you in your experience of being unhappy at work.
In other words, what you focus on grows.
Ever noticed how what you dislike about your work seems to intensify over time? Every time you feel rubbish at work, the experience gets filed away under a rapidly expanding file of ‘reasons why work is rubbish’.
Now listen, I’m not going to try to tell you that it’s not rubbish. Or that you can somehow flick some kind of magic switch to make it feel not-shit.
But it’s also true that we get to choose where to put our focus. And that in doing so, we can start to forge neural connections that support the way we want to live, not just the way things are…
“First, we have to switch on to the good and be deliberate in noticing positive experiences. This might be more difficult than it sounds, particularly if you have a brain that, like many beautifully human brains, is well-trained in noticing the bad.
“When you have the good in your radar, let your mind settle on it for long enough to start the neurons firing in your brain. Don’t just notice it, feel it. Hold on to it for at least 20 seconds. After this time, the experience will be hardwiring into your brain, firing neurons and strengthening the connections that will ultimately shape your experience.
“This will start to grow these parts of your brain and shape a brain that is able to notice the good, respond to the bad and move forward, rather than stay stuck.” — Karen Young
You can also choose to feed your neurons constant reminders of how work you love will feel when you get there, even if you don’t know exactly ‘what’ that career will be.
>> Make a conscious choice to notice the positive, even when you don’t like your work. Write out ten things each day that have been good, enjoyable or exciting.
>> Make a list of five words that embody how you’ll feel when you find work you love. Every morning or every evening (and whenever else you need to), take out your list and savour each word. Roll it around on your tongue and in your mind, visualising yourself embodying that word in your new work. Notice how this version of you looks and feels. What’s different about them?
Making a conscious choice to advance towards the positive will not only support you in feeling better right now, it will help your brain to actually grow to support you in finding and creating work that feels like a much better fit.
So start your mind workout today.
Are you unhappy at work? Which of these techniques are you going to test out first? Let me know in the comments!
If you’re unhappy at work and ready to add a coach / mentor to your support team, I currently have limited availability for my Elite Squad VIP Coaching Programme. To find out more and book your free, no-obligation discovery call, click here.