A new job can be like a new relationship. Passion – a strong but fleeting emotion – can initially disguise red flags or signs that something isn’t quite right.
But once these feelings of excitement level out, you can be left feeling deflated, drained, and unsure of how you managed to stick it out for so long.
I always wanted a job in which I could help others, driven by a desire to create a fairer, more inclusive world. Call it a values-based career.
I’ve been fortunate to enjoy a rewarding career in the community development sector, and started out every job I’ve had brimming with enthusiasm, only to succumb to burnout and compassion fatigue within a year of my once-beloved role.
I tried shifting my mindset and practising self-care to combat the fatigue of trying to make a difference in a chronically underfunded sector, but after a few years of this cycle my mental health had plummeted, I dreaded going to work, and frequently couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed on Monday morning.
The harsh reality was that, while I still admired the industry I was in, it was no longer suitable or sustainable for me.
At first, I resisted this realisation. After all, I was finally in a ‘dream job’ where I loved my teammates, my conditions were excellent, and I was intellectually stimulated every day in a role that made a real difference. On paper, my job was everything I had ever dreamed of, yet I was desperately unhappy.
Katie Roberts, director of Katie Roberts Career Consulting, explained that falling out of love with your job can happen for many different reasons.
You may have reached your maximum growth and development potential and hit a plateau, the industry itself may have morphed into one you no longer enjoy, or your values and lifestyle preferences may have changed over time.
The early stages of most career trajectories are influenced by decisions made in our youth. High school electives and performance impact the types of further study or entry-level jobs available, which have a flow on effect on subsequent jobs.
By the time some people have a chance to pause and reflect on their career, they often realise that their interests, passions and preferences have changed significantly.
If you’ve fallen out of love with a dream job, here’s how you can navigate the next steps.
Take stock of your transferable skills
Making any kind of big career change is daunting and often sparks anxiety over ‘starting over’ or fear that you have been wasting time in a field you now wish to leave.
While these fears are valid, it’s important to recognise that your professional efforts to date have in fact been valuable.
Working in any professional setting facilitates the development of a range of skills that can transfer over to a new industry. Particularly non-technical or ‘soft’ skills like communication and time management can give you a huge advantage when delving into a new sector, so take the time to recognise where your strengths lie.
These insights can then guide your career exploration, inform your research, and help you engage in strategic networking.
“It’s important to do your research before choosing a career,” said Roberts.
“Find out what’s involved on a day-to-day basis in the job, speak to people who work in the field or do work experience in the industry to get a real-life perspective.”
Explore a side hustle until you’re ready to commit
Not everyone is able to walk away from their current field entirely, especially if they have financial or contractual obligations.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to explore a new career path while remaining in your current job.
Making the most of your after-work hours by exploring a side hustle, experimenting with a new hobby or seeking professional contacts and mentors can open doors to new possibilities that you may never have otherwise learned about.
This process can start to identify what it is you are seeking in a role, so that you can make an informed decision that brings you closer to your new dream job.
“Doing a short course in a field that interests you is a great way to try it out and see whether it’s a suitable career option for you,” said Roberts.
“Volunteering your time is also a great way to get a feel for whether the work environment suits you.”
Volunteers often get access to the same training and development opportunities as paid staff, so donating your time can also add to your own skill set and career options down the line, especially if you make a good impression on people in positions of influence.
Take the leap
As scary as it may seem, if your job is not making you happy, you need to make a change.
Life is too short to wait forever to find your calling, and too long to spend it in a job that doesn’t inspire you.
Many renowned leaders in their field didn’t find success until later in life, like Vera Wang who designed her first dress at age 40, or Julia Child whose television debut took place at age 51.
Don’t let fear of starting over or letting go of something you have poured years into hold you back.
If you’re still unsure, seeking independent advice from a professional careers counsellor is a great idea, as they will often be able to provide industry insights or resources to help guide your decision making.