9 Signs You’re in the Wrong Career—and How to Find Work You Love
Some three-quarters of employees would jump at another offer. Here's how to know if your career is screaming for change—and ways to find a better fit.
You start calling in sick more than a little bit
Everyone needs mental health days, wellness weeks and holidays, but if you’re calling in sick when really, you’re just sick of showing up at your job, that’s a red flag. “If you find yourself wanting to be anywhere but at work, you may need a vacation, sabbatical, or career change,” says Evan Pellett a recruiter, hiring expert, and author of Cracking the Code to a Successful Interview. But being unhappy at work can also kind of make you sick—it can make you less productive, less healthy, and miserable in general, according to a recent Inc. magazine article.
You’re simply ignoring some areas of your job
People don’t always ace every aspect of their job, says Pellet, but that doesn’t mean you can blow off tasks that you’re not naturally skilled at, or that you don’t enjoy. “Technical ability, organization, details—these are things that some people struggle with,” Pellet says. “Also being sales-oriented or spinning the truth may not feel right in the gut to some peole. If you’re not careful, your silent or hidden self may begin to sabotage your success or resist areas you’re not comfortable with,” he adds. About once every six months, check in with yourself about how you’re feeling at work. “We all have tasks we don’t enjoy doing, but at times the job itself just isn’t a sustainable fit,” Pellet adds.
People keep saying you’d be great at something else
This kind of feedback can be a genuine compliment or a hint that you’re not thriving in your present role. “Often those closest to us see our gifts better than we do,” Pellet says. “Learn to listen and welcome feedback from nontoxic, positive people.” Career cushioning and learning new skills for alternative roles can be a positive thing.
Your body is protesting
One sure sign of being in the wrong career is when your body starts complaining. “Your back goes out a lot, or you have digestive issues, or work brings about migraines or chest pain,” says Laurie Battaglia, CEO and workplace strategist with Aligned at Work in Scottsdale, Arizona. “When our jobs are out of alignment with who we are and our natural strengths, the body talks, and most of us ignore it. We may know other people who get the same symptoms, so it seems ‘normal’ to us. Or, we blame it on aging.”
You’re mentally exhausted
Another silent sign of being in the wrong career is that you go home every day exhausted mentally, and maybe even feel like you didn’t accomplish anything. “It’s normal to have days like that some of the time, but when it’s most of the time, it means you are mismatched to the type of work you are doing,” Battaglia says. “The work you do should make you feel like you are ‘in the zone’ more often than not. You’ll be tired from work, but not that ongoing, drained feeling that sometimes happens.” These are the telltale signs you’re more stressed than you realize.
A sign you need a career change is if you’ve plateaued, stopped growing, and see no future growth opportunity in your current role or industry. “If you are bored and lack passion, it’s probably time to shake things up,” says Lori Scherwin, an executive coach and the founder of the NYC-based Strategize That, a firm that works with professionals to build winning strategies for their careers. “Growth is critical for your ongoing success—take the initiative to find it.”
You’re more focused on your hobby or adventures
Often, the lack of a satisfying job means we look elsewhere for meaning, according to Nicole Casanova, a work coach and professional development strategist based in the San Francisco Bay area. “For most people, that takes the shape of planning vacations and finding new obsessions and hobbies, like salsa dancing or furniture making,” she says. “While creative ventures are useful and exciting, they become limiting if we are using them as a substitute for something missing in our life.”
Business is business and personal is completely separate
While professionalism is vital to a successful career, says Casanova, if there is no freedom in your current gig to express who you are, beyond your work persona, then you’re likely in the wrong position. “Work we love is directly created by valuing who we are as unique individuals—what we offer that no one else does,” Casanova says. “If you can’t bring who you are—your sense of humor, your enthusiasm—to work in even small doses, this reflects the fact that who you are is literally missing from the equation,” she adds. To be in a job you truly love, there must be room for at least some personal self-expression, even if it doesn’t happen every day. “This is highly critical to finding soul-satisfying work,” Casanova adds.
You’re not doing your best
If you let others seize opportunities you could have had, or if you no longer feel nervous before a big meeting or a major deadline, this could be a sign that your heart just isn’t it. “You get less upset when failure occurs,” says Sandy Gould, Yahoo’s Head of Culture, Coaching, and Communicating, based in Yahoo’s New York City office. “High performers can handle any amount of challenge and difficulty, even setbacks, as long as they are making forward progress. Once you think forward progress has stopped, your being starts to crave change and will send increasingly louder signals demanding and forcing change.”
Consider hiring a professional
If you suspect you’re in the wrong career, take an inventory of the aspects of your career that you do enjoy. “Consider working with a career coach to help you retool your skills and strengths and interest to find a better fit,” says Monique DeMonaco, an emotional intelligence expert in the greater Pittsburgh region who specializes in helping clients communicate more effectively. A great way to “try” a new career is to volunteer in that field. “Consider a ‘volunteer vacation’ to get hands-on experience doing work you think you would enjoy,” she adds.
Discover your passions
Before making a move to what could be another dead-end job, take time to figure out what makes you tick. “Take a deeper look at what your interests are and how your skill set and experiences align with them,” says Heather B. White, Ed.D., director of the University of Florida Career Resource Center in Gainesville, Florida. “You can also ask friends, a mentor, or a career coach for their perceptions of your interests and what they’ve noticed that you enjoy doing or are good at.” To kick off the process, ask yourself: If all expenses were paid for the next year and I had to be productive with my time, what would I do? To find a job you actually love, make sure you don’t make these common mistakes when looking for a career.
Identify your transferable skills
Those are the talents you can take with you to a new job, like communication skills—from on-phone rapport to social media, organizational ability, project management, sales acumen, and more. “Just about everyone has a robust set of transferrable skills,” White says. “It’s a matter of identifying what they are and how they can be applied to different careers.”
Embrace social media
Turn to social platforms to build up your business network. “Use your social connections to meet with professionals in jobs you think may be a better fit for you, and offer to buy them coffee to discuss their career,” advises DeMonaco. “I’ve had several clients successfully transition careers through social connections because they realized retooling themselves was easier than they thought.”
Form an action plan
Create a plan to move forward based on what you’ve discovered matters to you. “Whether it’s a job title, compensation, experience, or people that are your priority, focus on that because it’s what will make you happy,” Gould recommends. “It’s what you need.” Tune out any conventional wisdom that says otherwise.