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Questions to Ask Yourself When Unhappy at Work

Job satisfaction is often a key piece of feeling satisfied with your life as a whole. Of course you want to feel good about your career and feel fulfilled when you come home after a long day at work. Unfortunately, that may not always be how you feel at the end of the workday. It is important to examine what is going on beneath the surface when we are unhappy with work. As is the case with most emotional health issues, we need to remember that intentional thinking and balance is often the path to clarity.

Let’s examine this a bit further: you have a job at which you spend the majority of your time, you often spend more time with co-workers and managers than you do with your friends and family. You may have spent many years studying and exploring what you wanted to do for and with your chosen career, you may have known right away what you wanted, maybe it took you some time to figure it out, maybe you are still unsure. All of this time and energy you give to this pursuit means it should ideally bring you some level of joy. You, however, have to decide for yourself what that joy is, and you must be mindful of the balance of frustration and joy you get from your work often, because it is so easy to catastrophize when we have a bad day or week. Below are some helpful questions to ask yourself when trying to understand what is making you unhappy at work and if it is a big enough concern to start looking for alternative employment:

  • Am I miserable everyday I am at work?
  • Is it possible you just had a bad day, or is it every day?
  • What is making me unhappy in my job?
  • Is it something that is changeable, such as needing to address a concern with upper management or needing to advocate for yourself more? Is it something less easily changed such as entrenched culture at work, or complete disinterest in primary work tasks?
  • Does this job take from me more than it gives?
  • You are exhausted at the end of the day, but was it worth it? Did you make enough money to buy the thing you have been wanting? Did you help someone in a way you found to be rewarding? Did you learn something new? What do you get out of this job, the tangibles and intangibles?
  • Is there room to grow?
  • Sometimes we become disinterested in our work because it may be time to move up. Have you learned most of what you feel is necessary for the job and are looking for a new challenge? Maybe it’s time to ask about that next step at your company.
  • What brings me joy about my work?
  • What aspects of your work do you love? Are the benefits as good as you would like? Do you like your daily tasks? Do you enjoy the creativity? How do the positives stack up against the negatives?

What these questions aim to do is take stock of what is making you feel dissatisfied and what is most important to you about your work. Often times, we equate temporary frustrations with complete dissatisfaction and begin to catastrophize. Perhaps more time is needed to learn new tasks you haven’t gotten comfortable with, or you simply need to be proactive and address concerns or advocate for yourself. There is a lot that is needed at times to maintain satisfaction in any facet of our lives. We monitor our eating habits and exercise, and when we feel like our physical health is off track, we adjust. When we feel a relationship is stagnating or veering off course, we seek to understand why and try to adjust. The same is needed of our careers. If we give these processes the time and room that they deserve to develop, it is possible the problem will be resolved.

Most people do not feel they are setting the world on fire all day, every day, but that doesn’t mean you have to be miserable. Look for the small successes in your day — maybe today you saved a young couple from making a poor financial decision, or you helped build a process that will make everyone you work with’s job easier. Maybe you made a client’s day just a bit better, or were able to engage the creative process you crave. This may not happen every day and it may not happen at a level that would make you feel like you are changing the world, but that doesn’t mean it was a waste. If your job gives you what you want in an amount you are satisfied with, then consider refocusing on excelling at what you are doing now and taking a tally of what you are able to do with it. Don’t forget to give yourself grace — maybe this is just a first step in the direction you want to go and you just need more time to get there. If this isn’t you, if you feel deep down that what you are doing in your work is not what you want, then you owe it to yourself to explore other options, and it is never too late to do so. If you would like to dive into these and other thoughts about your career more, please reach out to one of our therapists at Symmetry Counseling to schedule counseling sessions to discuss further.

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