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When your dream job is a nightmare

June 03, 2016 by Jackie Lauer



Imagine landing your dream job only to discover you hate everything about it. There’s a dread that comes with the realization. You may worry what others will think if you give up. You may feel like a failure for not living up to your expectations.

Your dream job may turn out to be all wrong for any number of reasons.

  • Maybe you’ve convinced yourself of what you “should” be at this point in your career, such as a people manager or at a certain level in a company – only to realize it’s not what it’s cracked up to be.
  • Perhaps the role sounded better on paper than in person.
  • Your talents or preference may not be the right match for the role.

Whatever the reason, it’s not a failure to decide it’s not what you want.

The danger of “fake it until you make it”

In some cases, a steep learning curve or adjusting to a new team or company may be throwing you off. It may be that with more confidence and a bit of time, you’ll shine. In those cases, “fake it until you make it” can work out just fine.

If, however, you know deep in your heart that the role is just not right for you, faking it can make you miserable. When you rely on “faking it”, you are borrowing behaviour to get by. You are not being authentic. Instead, you are wearing a mask around your colleagues and direct reports.

Have you ever worked with or reported to someone who came across as inauthentic? Could you ever completely trust them? Is that how you want to be seen?

Moving from wrong to right

The best way to find your ideal job is to match your strength and skills with the type of work and environment that bring you joy.

You can find your strengths by examining the peaks and the low points of your life:

  • What are the moments of joy that stand out?
  • What made you happy about those experiences?
  • What strengths did you leverage?
  • At the low points, what values weren’t honoured?
  • What strengths did you not leverage?

Think about how you work:

  • What can you do easily that seems difficult for others?
  •  In what part of your work do you get the best results?
  • What makes you feel great at work?
  • What tasks make you feel the most engaged and energized?
  • What do you do differently that makes you stand out?

A theme always emerges from doing these exercises. The answers will reveal your strengths and what gives you joy. With that information you can look for roles that will offer you a challenge and bring out your most valuable strengths.

Helping others move from wrong to right

You may recognize that someone on your team is struggling in the wrong role. It doesn’t mean they’re not a terrific person or very talented, they’re just poorly placed.

If you believe the person has the right skills and wants to remain in the role, consider if the approach to the role is the issue. Is there another way they can succeed in the role by leveraging their skills to achieve the outcomes they’re responsible for?

For example, if you have a sales person who hates making cold calls, can the sales process be changed? If you remove the barrier and they are successful taking a different approach, don’t let rigid thinking and processes get in the way.

On the other hand, if it’s clear the person is just not right for the job, but they have talent to offer, look for ways they can fit in the organization. Use your network to place them where they will succeed. It’s a win-win situation for them, for you and your organization.

Don’t stay where you don’t fit

We spend more than half our waking hours at work. Don’t clip the wings of your reports by keeping them in a role where they don’t belong. Don’t hold yourself back worrying about what others think.

Will people judge you? Maybe, but who cares? They don’t have to live your life. It may be difficult to leave a job that seems great. It may mean giving up a great title, perks and pay. But consider the alternative. Staying in a job you hate will affect your mental health and your job performance. You may end up losing that prestigious job just the same – along with your professional reputation.

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