I don’t like my job, but I don’t know what to do instead

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Aurélie Vercaempt
Aurélie Vercaempt
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Is it the job or is it you?

I was complaining to my friend over babi pangang, a dish I just discovered was a-ma-zing. “I don’t like my job.” I said.

“Again?” she answered. I changed jobs not so long ago. Six months in, I felt like I wanted to cry and flee to the other side of the world for a major backpacking vacation. Just getting away. Just stop thinking. I was exhausted. 

I had changed jobs because I was miserable at my previous assignment. If there’s one thing the pandemic taught me, it’s that social isolation shows you the raw truth about everyone and everything.

Here I was, enjoying a delicious dish, but even that wasn’t cheering me up anymore. I knew that was a sign to take this situation seriously.

“No. I don’t.”, I said, “I’m sick of it, I just want to find a job I like and stop having to think about all of this. Why does it have to be so difficult? I am working with this job coach. We have really good sessions, I’m learning a ton. But I still can’t seem to figure it out.”

Back to my friends’ conversation. I was taking a piece of my babi pangang. “Maybe the problem is not the job, but the fact that you still don’t know who you are.”, she said.

I paused my fork in mid-air.

Are your job and identity linked?

I remember when I was a student I heard people say, “A job is just a job. It pays the bills. Get a life besides that.”. I also remember I promised myself I would never become like that. You spend 40 hours or more, every week, at your job. That is, without the commute.

Personality tests

I started doing online personality tests. Tests that would tell me which job fitted me. I was looking for an answer that would fix my problem in 45 minutes, the time to take the test and interpret the results.

16personalities.com is free and the Clifton Strengths test costs about 25 euros. That felt reasonable. I did the 16personalities test three times. The first time was a joke. I just answered the question for the person I wanted to be, not the person I actually was. I had an urge to be perfect.

The second time I was more honest with myself, but some questions I just didn’t know the answer to. I genuinely had no idea. Then time passed and life brought me into situations where I understood what my answer was. The third time I had my personality test answer.

Big surprise. Those tests taught me a lot, but they still did not give me the pre-cooked answer I was looking for.

What do you want to get out of your job?

When people introduce themselves, what do they say? Hi, my name is … . Then what’s the next question coming up? “Oh, hi … , what do you do in life?” And what do we answer?

Our job.

Prestige

First of all, we should change the way we answer the previous question, but the point I want to make is, we all know we judge the person based on the answer that is coming. A doctor? Oh, that is what I think of you. Construction worker? Now I think of something else.

This tendency can seem vain, but overall, it’s a smart move. Humans everywhere pursue power, prestige and status. We want to be acknowledged, recognized and praised. Historically, persons with greater power and status have access to more resources, worry less about survival and prove to be more attractive mates[1].

When I’m incredibly honest with myself, I know it’s one of the reasons I took my new job. It looks good on my resume.

It also pays well.

Pay

Prestige and Pay. Two elements society loves about your job.

Financial security is a powerful thing. We are greedy. We are lazy. Once again, don’t be surprised. That’s also how our brain evolved for the highest chances of survival. Consume the least energy possible and leverage the comfort zone[2].

Staying at the job, merely because it pays well, is the definition of a golden cage.

Pleasure

Pay might be enough. But I need more.

I realize I’m in a position where I can afford to want more. Not everyone does. I had the privilege to go to university. I have the privilege that I am white and that I was born in Belgium, Europe.

I acquired an even bigger privilege a few years ago. I started using my brain to think. For myself.

We all want to adhere to society’s picture-perfect, so some people buy a house too big too soon. Some people increase their spending as their wage increases. They get fancier cars or more expensive clothing. They get a kid.

The bills are there, you need to pay.

I refrain from or slow down the previous examples as much as I can.

Today, I am still certain I want to find pleasure in my job. Finding 40 hours a week I can enjoy is more valuable than owning a house right now.

Progression

What I do want to own is my brain. My skills. The best investment you can make is in yourself[3]. The same way money compounds over time, so does your knowledge.

Learning takes time. So why not get paid for it? A job can be another way to learn and get paid.

I live by this, the moment I feel I am not learning anymore, or I am not learning something that matters to me, it is time to move on.


[1] Atomic Habits, chapter 9: The role of family and friends in shaping your habits, James Clear

[2] Atomic Habits, chapter 12: The law of least effort, James Clear

[3] The Almanack of Naval Ravikant, Part 1: Wealth – Find specific knowledge, Eric Jorgenson