Work is a major part of life. If your job makes you miserable, and if you can find something you like better, there’s no reason to stay.
Q: I’m in a job I really don’t like. I feel like I’m stuck in a rut and not one bit motivated to get out of the bed in the morning. I’m sick of being trapped behind a desk for nearly 50 hours a week. Ideally, I’d love a job that would allow me to travel more.
I was wondering if you have any advice for people mired in a career they no longer feel inspired by? Should I quit? Is freelancing a good option? Is traveling while working all that it is made out to be? It would be amazing if you could address these questions. — Anonymous
A: First, I assume you know you should probably quit. Work is a major part of life. If your job makes you miserable, and if you can find something you like better, there’s no reason to stay.
Second, you certainly should know that the trick is all in the phrase “if you can find something you like better.” These aggressively vague questions about freelancing and travel suggest you haven’t faced up to that. (Freelancing is good for some people but not for others.
Work-related travel might be fabulous if you’re Anthony Bourdain, or it might be a chore if it means endless sales calls to cities that you don’t care about. It really depends.)
What you need to do is spend serious time investigating options, and weighing them against your personality, needs and other factors only you can really understand.
One route: Talk to people who actually do the sorts of jobs you might be interested in — or, rather, listen to them. This may sound suspiciously like “networking,” a concept many people justifiably find icky. But there are other ways to think about it. Bill Burnett and Dave Evans offer one in their book “Designing Your Life,” which is based on a famously popular class at Stanford University. They instruct students trying to figure out the mystery of a calling to practice “life design prototyping.”
Designers love the prototyping metaphor, but here it boils down to having conversations — essentially interviewing people doing things that interest you to get “the personal story of how that person got to be doing that thing,” and what it’s really like to do it, Burnett and Evans write. Remember that you’re there to learn, so don’t launch into a soliloquy about your dream life. You might try to come up with “prototype experiences” — volunteering, shadowing someone for a day, whatever.
Cast a wide net. Plumb your contacts, and their contacts. Even a slight connection is always better than a cold email, but “Designing Your Life” mentions a student who had 200 such conversations, half of which she found through LinkedIn or other online sources. Sure, this is a lot of work and is likely to involve people saying “no.” But deciding what to do with your life is worth the effort.
Moving on from a mentor
Q: I resigned from an earlier job to pursue a different professional direction. I’d lost the passion I had for my industry and felt it was time to move on.
Then a mentor and former employer of mine offered me a position at a really good company — in the same industry. I decided to take it because I thought it would better position me in the job market overall. I’d learn some great skills, be around smart people and rekindle my interest in the industry.
Fast forward almost a year and I’m ready to leave. It’s a great place, but my interest in the industry is not there. I don’t expect work to be fun, but I expect to want to come to the office. It’s time to move on.
Any words on how to best exit without insulting my mentor, and avoid having the company view me in a negative light? — Michelle, Sacramento, California
A: It sounds as if you made a mistake, but your motives were pure. So I don’t think your mentor, or the company, should feel too insulted or negative about this — or at least, they should get over it quickly. You might offer to stay on longer than the standard two-weeks’ notice to ease the replacement process, but I’m not sure even that is necessary. What’s more important is making sure you strike the right tone.
You’re doing it here: You appreciated the opportunity, liked the company, respect your mentor and all the rest. You believed this would be a great fit. Turns out it wasn’t, but all your positive feelings remain and you are grateful for the opportunity. I would de-emphasize the degree to which you had concluded, well before taking the job, that you wanted out of the industry: This makes it sound like you should have known better. (And maybe you should have. But that’s not the impression to leave.)
Beyond that, just don’t overthink it. People leave jobs all the time, and everyone should understand that you have to do what’s best for you.
Submit questions to Rob Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.