What to do when your current career isn’t working for you

Feb 08, 2023

Since sophomore year of college, I had dreams of working for the UN. I wanted to work to empower under-resourced communities to create positive and equitable change, especially in the area of education (Angelina Jolie might or might not have been my hero growing up). 

Seven years later, I landed a role working for UNESCO’s Regional Bureau for Education in Bangkok. It was a dream come true. I had an amazing boss and a supportive team. My role was in the HIV Prevention and the Health Promotion Unit, where I contributed to reports and initiatives that aimed to reduce school-based violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity throughout the Asia-Pacific region. 

And, while all looked LinkedIn-worthy on the outside, something felt off. I soon realized that the nature of the work didn’t align with my skillset, and that there wasn’t a role for me to grow into that made sense for me in the long run. I felt lost, and at the time was quickly approaching 30, which only added to the anxiety and pressure. 

People thought I was fulfilled. But I wasn’t. People thought I had it together. But, I didn’t. More than anything, I was just burnt out and confused. 

I had spent both money and time investing in graduate school to be able to make this dream come true, so I tried ‘fixing’ the way that I looked at the situation. Even this reframe didn’t seem to help; it proved to be nothing more than a band-aid.

This is when I realized that it was time to move on.

I used to like the idea of working for the UN, but now, I don’t. Sometimes, no matter how many times you try to 'fix' your relationship with an idea or dream, there are times in life when even this won't work. And that’s okay. 

It’s okay to change your mind about your career and find something else that you like. That’s the point of life: to try things on, and when you no longer like them, you’re allowed to move on. 

Here’s what you can do once you decide your current career is no longer working for you:

1. Take time to reflect: More often than not, I see professionals jump from one unhappy job to the next. Then they blame themselves and they wonder why they’re still not happy. It’s so easy to act without taking the time to understand. 

When stepping back, give yourself permission to change by reframing this shift not as one that will set you back, but instead as one that will allow you to grow. 

Here are some questions to help with this reflection:

  • What are two highlights and lowlights from your previous professional experience?
  • What have you learned from the experience and about yourself?
  • What do you wish to leave behind?
  • What do you hope to make space for with this next opportunity?

2. Get curious: It’s so easy to get stuck in a cycle of analysis paralysis. The sooner you pick one thing, the sooner you’ll realize whether you like it or not and then can move on. Research a career and talk to other professionals who have chosen a similar path, interviewing them about their experiences. 

Commit to exploring an interest for at least a month, tell your friends and family about your plan, and then embody that identity to see how it feels. 

3. Explore your interests, while working part-time: Take advantage of the free time that you have. Before quitting my full-time job, I used my lunch and after-work hours to explore what it would look like to be a full-time career coach and entrepreneur. While you have the security of your paycheck, interview others who have made similar pivots to ensure that you have a clear idea of what a particular career might look and feel like. Quitting your job without confidence and clarity is never a good move. 

As you weather the storms of change, remember that transition is the “natural process of disorientation and reorientation that marks the turning points in the path of growth” (Bridges). Just as there can be no spring without winter, it’s only through these changes that you will experience growth. 

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