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Why you’ll end up in the wrong job

Feel lost in your career? There's hope for turning things around.

6 min read


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“I’ve been in this field for the last 15 years, and I have to admit that I’m miserable.”

I listened with sadness as Josh voiced his dismay over how he ended up feeling this way about a career that began with such promise. 

Now a 39-year-old senior accountant in a leadership position for a mid-sized firm, Josh enjoys a loyal client base and a lucrative income. He’s lucky to like his co-workers and get along well with the company’s CEO. Just last year, he built a new house in a great neighborhood, and is proud to be able to take his family on an annual vacation to a white-sand Caribbean beach. By all outward appearances, Josh has made it. 

“I know that I should feel grateful that I’ve been able to parlay my college degrees into a fruitful career, but more and more, I’m just feeling lost,” Josh shared. “It’s like I’m living someone else’s life. And the scary thing is that I’ve felt this way off and on for the last 7 years, but this time it’s different. It feels like I shouldn’t ignore it.”

Josh’s story is all too common. As I work with leaders and teams in various industries, the theme of career restlessness is echoed in the hallways and corner offices of companies across the globe. I find that, as individuals mature and become more personally and professionally self-actualized, the ache for deeper meaning in work and life only increases. So how do so many of us end up here, even after carefully executing a well-laid-out plan for a successful career? What is that we miss along the way?

My research suggests that the process begins early, and is often influenced by external and internal expectations, limitations in our systems of education, and other eroding factors that can set us off on a 20-year detour to career happiness. And, it’s a detour that’s often difficult to reroute.

Of the factors that I’ve seen land people in the wrong job, these are the 10 most common:

The good news is that you overcome the influence of these pressures on the trajectory of your career, by first becoming aware of the factors that are most at play in your own life. Here are four recommendations for crafting a better career outcome:

Focus on self-knowledge

If you’ve been a dutiful student, it’s likely that you’ve concentrated your attention on knowledge accumulation and skill-building, so it may now be most important for you to seek opportunities and experiences that will enhance your self-knowledge. Likewise, if you take little time to reflect on what you’ve learned about yourself through work and personal experiences, clarifying your future career direction will be enhanced by developing a consistent practice of reflection. 

This could be as simple as committing time each week for a walk alone in nature or as complex as daily meditation and journaling. The best choice of reflection methods is the method that works best for you, but research proves how essential reflection is for developing a sense of engagement with your work.

Narrow your net and seek the best fit

If you are searching for a new job, it’s smart to be picky. Rather than pursuing a wide variety of jobs, get clear about what you most want to do and narrow your focus. Choose work that excites you in an organization with which you share common values. In years of working with clients, I’ve never seen anything fix a flawed value match, so understanding your own values and how they align with a potential employer is critical.

Regardless of how good an opportunity appears to be on the surface, if you don’t see an outlet for your passions, skills and values in the job, it’s likely not the right choice for you. As a result, force fitting yourself into a job that’s devoid of the qualities that you need to thrive will set you off on an arc for failure. You’ll perhaps exist in the job, maybe even live a quiet life of daily desperation within it, but you will surely fail to grow the job, which is what leads to future success.

Pay attention to your instincts

I find that most of my clients who end up leaving a job or are considering doing so had a sense that they might be making mistake when they were first offered the job. There were signs early on that all might not be as advertised, yet many of them talked themselves out of the wiser counsel of their instincts. We all have an inner voice that stems from a primal drive for survival. How many times have you kicked yourself for failing to listen to yours?

Determine your lifestyle goals

How do you define success? Is it based on the amount of money you accumulate and the possessions you collect, or do experiences carry more meaning for you than money? What’s the balance that you need to strike between the two? Understanding what’s required for you to craft a happy life can prevent you from becoming a slave to the lifestyle monster’s insatiable appetite for more, and trapped in a job just to feed that monster. I’ve met more than one executive with an extravagant lifestyle and enviable possessions who felt empty from the very things that were supposed to bring fulfillment.

Here’s a sobering thought to consider: You’ll spend more than 85,000 hours of your life at work, and you can’t get those hours back. So, it’s worth choosing your work with a clear eye on who you are, what you want to offer and what you need to thrive.

There’s no refresh button on moments.


Alaina Love is chief operating officer and president of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw-Hill). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well … passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer and Healer. You can learn more about how to grow leaders, build passionate teams and leverage passion to create great customer outcomes here.

When she’s not working with her Fortune 500 client base, Love is busy writing her next book, “Passionality, The Art and Science of Finding Your Passion and Living Your Bliss,” which explores the alignment of personality, purpose and passion, and the science of how it contributes to our well being. Follow Love on TwitterFacebookYouTube or her blog.

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