…or vice versa.
You may be thinking about changing your career path. Maybe your “career” – the actual work you do – no longer appeals to you. Or maybe the work environment (long commutes? corporate offices? 9-to-5 hours turning into 9-to-8 hours?) has lost what little fascination it once held for you – we’ll call this “the job”. People often confuse the two; I did. You may love your career but dislike your employer or the location of your office. You might be a graphic designer who works for a big firm in a large city with a long commute; you still want to work in graphic design but you want to work from home or you want a freelance structure.
You might, however, dislike the career but enjoy the job. One of my ex-colleagues fit this mold. He was dismissive of the actual career we had (working in the finance area of a Fortune 500 company) but he loved the corporate environment – the business travel, the office politics and most importantly being able to tell people he worked on Wall Street. He was willing to endure his career so he could enjoy the job.
There are two more categories, of course – people who hate their career and their job, and people who love their career and their job. If you hate both, what are you doing reading this article? Get your resume out there or start studying for a new career, but do something. You don’t need to quit today – in these tough times everyone needs to be putting away as much money as they can to prepare for a long job search – but if you hate where you work and what you do you’re going to be miserable; if not tomorrow, soon.
If you’re lucky enough to love where you work and what you do, you probably aren’t reading this article, either! I am sure that a minority are lucky enough to love their career and enjoy the job environment they work in. Those happy few have what the rest of us want (even if we don’t know it yet).
What to do if you like your career and hate the job
If you like what you do, but you hate your co-workers or the commute’s too long or the hours are too long or the pay’s too low, the solution is easy: find a new employer or go out on your own, but stay in your field. I did this about five years ago; I thought I was good enough in finance to stick with it as a career, but I wanted to slow down on the hours and the travel and the politics. Becoming a contract consultant let me continue in a familiar field but detach from the parts of the job I didn’t like. If you like what you do but you simply hate the environment – for whatever reason – the job is easier to change than your career. Get a new job – find a new employer, find a non-traditional way to earn a living in that field, even start your own business. But there is no need for additional education, or starting over in a new field, or rebuilding your network. All you need is to move on to a new job.
What to do if you like the job and hate your career
If you enjoy the office, but you don’t like what you’re doing while you are there, you are in a much tougher position. If you like your employer, but you don’t like your career, you have to ask yourself what you like about the job. If you like the work environment because of your co-workers or the comfy cubicle you’re sitting in or the good pay, you are in a position that most people would envy. If you bothered to tell anyone that you wanted a change from a “great job” just because you didn’t enjoy the actual work, most people would tell you you’re crazy. “Suck it up!” “Everyone hates their job! Be glad you have a nice-paying job! And you have a Dunkin’ Donuts in the building!”
Don’t let that stop you from making a change – that is not the way to think. Letting people tell you that you should hammer away doing something you hate just because it pays well or you enjoy Thursday drinks with your co-workers is a dead end. You will never succeed at something you hate; it is hard to face 30+ years of toil at something you do not enjoy. Many people do it, of course. In America, the Protestant work ethic has created an image of selfless toil – the idea that work is meant to be endured, not enjoyed. We are fortunate in the Western world that we don’t have to believe this image. You can find something you enjoy doing. You can recreate that environment you love, but this time you can do something that you love in an environment you love. Just reading that sentence ought to fill your mind with possibilities – how could you not succeed if that were the case?
How do you know which is which?
For years (I think) I disliked my career but I didn’t mind my job, and sometimes I even enjoyed it. The travel and the business perks were enjoyable. I didn’t enjoy what I did, but I never realized it until I had been doing it for years. I never got “in the zone.” I never stayed a few minutes later out of interest. I never read about my field in my spare time. When I switched from being an employee to being a consultant, all the trappings of “the job” were gone. The staff, the title, the business class travel, the business dinners at fine restaurants – they disappeared. I was a consultant – no staff, no title. Nothing was left but my career, and when I looked at it I realized the only thing about my career and my job that remained to motivate me was the money; nothing else.
If you can’t bear to look at a magazine about your field, or read a few news articles about your career you don’t like your career. If you can get caught up in what you do (you can enter that mythical “zone” by talking about what you do or preparing for a big meeting) but you can’t get out of bed in the morning because you dread seeing your boss one more time or listening that idiot Larry in the next cube drone on in the staff meeting or eating in the commissary with your co-workers, you hate your job. Get moving, and get out.
Don’t ever despair. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the decision to build it probably was made in a day. If you let each day echo into tomorrow, soon your life will be filled with nothing but echos of your yesterdays.