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The Cost of Being Unhappy at Work

When you graduate from college wide eyed and ready to take on the world, no one ever tells you that one day your career choices will be dictated by a mortgage or daycare payment. Whether we realize it or not, at some point in our lives we are forced to make decisions about our priorities, and sometimes career fulfilment is put at the bottom of the list. We are forced to choose between work that matters to us and work that will pay us what we need to survive. A dream career is not only hard to find, but sometimes it’s simply not feasible.

From a young age, we are taught to follow our dreams and pursue our passions. We are not taught, however, that sometimes our dreams will be put on hold to support our parents, to pay off our student debt, or to prepare for future plans of buying a home or bringing a child into the world. Sometimes, it feels impossible to find a job that is able to support your financial goals as well as your intellectual and emotional needs for growth and fulfillment.

While there is no one size fits all solution, there are some strategies that can help you navigate what can feel like an irresolvable conundrum.

What I’ve found particularly helpful in managing the competing interests of life is to recognize impermanence and seasonality. Your life and the variables you juggle, to some degree, are evolving. And so should your personal career goals and plans. Be on the lookout for opportunities for flexibility and change. Even if you feel bound by the monthly payments, don’t stop searching for jobs that offer comparable if not better pay and benefits. As your kids get older, and you have more time on your hands, pick up freelance work or attend local community meetings for issues that you used to devote time and energy to in the past. If you’re not happy, don’t settle in. Your present situation should never mean forever unless you want it to.  

The other thing that has helped me to find a path to professional happiness is to set trip wires or deadlines for when I need to make a change in my life. Don’t let unhappiness persist with no end date. Succumbing to your current circumstances as the way things have to be is perhaps the most fatal thing a professional can suffer. At some point, you must draw a line in the sand and prioritize your self-care and happiness over other commitments in your life. Over time, your unhappiness is not just costing you short-term stress; it is having a lasting impact on your self-confidence and viability as a professional in the marketplace. When you are dreading work every morning and Sunday night always turns into an emotional break down, set a deadline to quit your job and prepare for it. Start applying for jobs and begin contributing to a savings account to set yourself up for a smooth transition process to your next role.

It is absolutely true that sometimes we will not have the privilege or luxury to afford a career that we love, but it is critical to remember that through a good plan, anything can be achieved. Unhappiness should never be a way of life. It can and sometimes will be a forced pit stop, but it should never be the long-term plan. 

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