This post is part of a series by Shannon Kaiser called Live Your Life — a primer on finding your passion and living with purpose. Each day this week, we'll post one article offering the foundational elements you need to go deeper in the search for your life's true meaning. When you're ready to take the next step, check out Shannon's course: Get Unstuck: How To Find Your Calling & Live A Life With More Meaning.
One of my co-workers, soon to be married, proudly taped his engagement photo onto his cubicle wall. He looked over at me and asked, “Have you ever noticed that what people put up in their office space is a reflection of what they care most about?” I took a quick mental snapshot of the office and realized that my cubicle was the only one not overstuffed with chubby baby photos and cherished significant others.
In fact, I didn’t have any family photos on display. My show-and-tell was a flooded collage of postcards from cities I longed to visit and places I had already been. Puzzled by this opposition, I asked him what my area said about me. He matter-of-factly responded, “You want to escape.”
How is it that a work acquaintance I barely knew knew me better than I knew myself? On the outside it looked like I had it all: a fancy job title at a fancy office in downtown Chicago, a gorgeous loft, and a boyfriend who wanted to marry me. But on the inside it was a completely different story. I would cry myself to sleep every night, thinking that was normal, until my doctor diagnosed me with clinical depression.
I had a choice: I could continue to mask my pain and just go through the motions, or I could set out to find my happy. I chose to follow my heart, which led me to the dream life I have today. I left the corporate world and became a writer, coach, and course leader.
I spent years pretending there wasn’t a problem. If I could speak to my younger self, the one stuck in a job because of security and fear, I’d tell her to leave sooner. I would tell her it all works out as soon as you let go of what isn't working.
You owe it to yourself to find a career you love. Here are 10 signs your career is crushing your soul, and what to do about it:
1. You keep getting laid off (or you can't find a job in your field).
In a period of six months, I got laid off three times from different jobs in advertising. At first I kept trying to make it work because it’s all I knew to do, but by the third layoff I saw it as a blessing and decided never to go back. Sometimes the Universe will close doors that aren't meant to be open. Getting laid off or not being able to find work in your field could be the universe nudging you into a new direction.
2. You struggle to hold conversations with co-workers because you no longer relate to them.
You might avoid water-cooler discussion or just plain chitchat with co-workers, not because you don't like them but because you feel exhausted after talking. You crave deeper connections and more soul-filling adventures, and your current workplace can’t offer that.
3. You daydream about other possibilities.
You might be at your current job physically, but mentally you are long gone. You might be dreaming about possibilities, researching online, or journaling about goals you have. This is all part of your bigger picture. Your future self is guiding you.
4. You're secretly happy you got passed up for a promotion.
If someone else gets the job you were going for and you secretly rejoice, it's probably a sign you no longer want to be in this job. You’ve outgrown certain aspects and you're ready to move on.
5. The work you do feels meaningless and superficial.
It might be a chore to make it through the day. You may find your day–to-day work mundane and meaningless. You may be distracted by boredom. These are all signs it's time to get out.
6. You numb yourself with distractions.
Overwork, overeat, over-exercise, over-shop, over-drink, oversleep — overdoing anything is a sign you're avoiding the real issue of feeling unfulfilled in your life. Instead of numbing yourself with distractions, address the real issue by finding what really brings you joy. More on that at the end of this article.
7. You see people who have found their purpose and feel envious because you don't have that.
I've seen performers like Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé cry during a show because they were so in alignment with their life's purpose. They ooze passion, and everyone who watches them (fan or not) can sense it too. I wanted that. If you see others who have found their passion and you feel sad or jealous, it could be because you don’t like your chosen career. It’s time to look for something more fulfilling.
8. You feel trapped.
Chances are, you invest a lot of time, money, and energy into your current career. You may feel that changing directions will put you off track or behind. But the reality is that you're stuck because what you are currently doing isn’t working. It is time to change it up.
9. It's a struggle to get up in the morning.
When I was in advertising I would cry on my way to work, in the bathroom stalls during the day, and in bed at night. My anxiety was that intense. If you have a difficult time getting up and motivated for work, it could be time to change careers.
10. You've changed jobs but the problems persist.
You may have left that old job with the frustrating tasks and difficult co-workers, but here you are in a new job, same industry, and the same issues are popping up. The problem wasn’t your last job — it could be the career. If you keep trying to escape your problems by changing jobs, locations, or areas of the company, it might be time to go in search of a new career path.
Instead of freaking out or falling into a depression like I did when I realized what I was dealing with, take clear, guided action to pull yourself into a happier state. Start by thinking about what brings you joy. What are you passionate about? What do you value?
The first step to fulfillment is to recognize you are unfulfilled. You are in a perfect place to move forward and find your life's purpose. Let the resources and inspiration that come your way guide you.