Updated on 07.14.11

Switching Jobs / Switching Careers

Trent Hamm

About three years ago, I essentially switched careers.

When I look back on that decision now, what I see is that I loved my job, but I hated big aspects of my career, at least in the direction it was headed.

I spent more time than I would like away from my family on trips that felt unimportant. At the same time, I very much enjoyed the people I would spend time with on those trips and in my workplace. I still miss the daily interactions with most of them.

Although my job offered some creative outlets, I couldn’t help but feel that my career path didn’t offer many creative outlets at all without going back to school for some intense graduate work. The future held repetitive grunt work – and a lot of it.

I loved my job and felt reasonably secure in it, but if the project I worked on was eliminated, I could have wound up in a place I really didn’t want to be had I been reassigned.

I loved my job, but I hated my career. It took me some time to realize this, too.

There’s really a big difference between the two. I often get emails from people who describe a situation where they seem to hate their job but love their career. They don’t get along with their boss. They feel as though they’re being pulled away from what they should be doing by workplace forces. None of these elements were ever true for me.

Some people, of course, seem to dislike both their job and their career. They don’t like their boss or their working situation and, at the same time, they don’t see leaving their current situation as a solution, either.

Of course, each of these situations demands a different solution.

If you hate your career but love your job, as I did, you need to look at a completely different career path. For me, I switched from a research-oriented job to writing – a radical career shift. For a few years, I spent a lot of my spare energy on writing as a release and I realized that, when the writing finally took off, that this was the path I wanted to follow with my time and energy moving forward. I miss my old job, but I don’t miss my old career path and where it was seemingly headed.

If you hate your job but love your career, start polishing up your resume and your skill set now. Don’t worry about the pressures of your current work environment. Instead, focus your energy on your exit path. Don’t sit there and stew and let the stress of the situation make you become strongly bitter and, eventually, unemployable. Make a move, and move on. If your work environment is so dysfunctional that it makes Office Space seem healthy, it’s time to move on.

If you hate both your job and your career, switch to a “transition” job – and quickly. Look for employment in an area where you can easily get into that doesn’t demand too much of you and get out of the stressful situation. Once you’re in this new position, start evaluating where you want to go from here. Preferably, it’s in an entirely new direction.

Two final notes. First, security isn’t everything. Many people are afraid to move on because they feel their job is safe. Very few jobs are truly safe these days, and if you’re in a situation where you’re miserable, others are probably aware of it and you begin to slowly look more and more expendable the longer your misery continues. Don’t wait for the hatchet – take action and move on to something that excites you and makes you want to go into work, do a great job, and move forward in your career path.

Second, money isn’t everything, either. If your job or your career path is making you deeply stressed, it’s likely also making you sick, reducing your current state of health and also possibly reducing your long-term health. No amount of money is worth actively sacrificing your health and well-being. It is far better to live a frugal life with your sanity and your health than have a well-paying job that’s sapping your vitality away.

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  1. JS says:

    Whenever I’ve been in jobs that I hated, I always was so miserable at work that it bled to the times of day I wasn’t working. I place a high value on having a job I love, and I’ll give up a lot of things to be able to have it.

  2. RC says:

    “If you hate your job but love your career”

    Thanks for summing up the feelings that have been building up inside me for awhile. Even though I am in the position I’ve always wanted I am still miserable.

    I have been with the same company for 9 years and generally speaking it isn’t too bad. I can’t name just one thing that I hate most. It’s just this overwhelming desire to get out and start fresh with a new company. Does anyone else know what I mean, where you want to do the same job but you want to do it somewhere else?

  3. valleycat1 says:

    For those who are in any of these three situations but can’t yet find a way out, or in the process of making the change, I’d like to recommend an older book called The Joy of Working. It’s kind of sappy at points, but reading the daily thought about a small way to find some good in your job helped me learn to put a more positive spin on a period of job frustration.

  4. Telephus44 says:

    I had never considered the idea that someone might love their job, but hate their career. Maybe this is why some people never seem to advance in their careers? They stay where they are because they like their jobs but don’t like the career path?

  5. krantcents says:

    As someone who has had multiple careers, I hated my job, career or both along the way. It is always best to do something about it. If not your performance will deteriorate and your employer will fire you.

  6. valleycat1 says:

    I’ve been in the position before where I enjoyed my job but there were no advancement opportunities (& it wasn’t that high level a job). So although I didn’t ‘hate’ the career or the job at the time, I knew that if I didn’t do something, I’d be doing that one job at that same company the rest of my life.

  7. Adam P says:

    I’ve had great jobs in that I loved my boss, the work wasn’t too challenging (but others thought it was) and co-workers very nice. Also pleasant environment and office space etc.

    But…if your passion is elsewhere and you’ve been just following the path you started when you signed up for something at career day in the 9th Grade without any prior research…well. Yeah, you could love your job and be good at it but still hate your career.

  8. Larabara says:

    When I was a lot younger, I worked in a large national company where the work was a lot like assembly-line type work. I was young and just starting out, and I hated the job and the career path I was on. But it paid well, so I did it.

    At the company there was a number of people who happily did the same (mostly assembly-line type) job for decades. Most of them rarely or never took time off for work or sick days, and had stockpiled a lot of time off by the time they reached retirement. I thought that was crazy–I used all of my vacation every year. When the opportunities for promotion came up, they either didn’t take them or declined them when their managers offered promotions to them. I thought that was crazy too, because (I thought at the time) that everyone’s goal should be to grow in the company.

    After decades of work, they had to retire, not because they wanted too, but because they had reached a mandatory retirement age in the company. We’d have a retirement party for them, and they’d collect their severance and a great pension for their years of service. I thought they were on easy street, and would enjoy their lives in retirement.

    Later I would hear that they had died suddenly, some within months of retirement. Some of the people who worked with them spoke of how the deceased person loved working at the company, and would talk about how they wanted to keep working, but the company made them retire. And their widows and widowers would share about how miserable they were in retirement.

    This didn’t happen with every retiree, but it happened on a somewhat regular basis with the long-time workers in this company, particularly the ones who never sought promotion. I ended up leaving for health reasons (the stress of the job was literally making me sick), but I was glad to have an excuse to stop working there–I really hated it, but at the time I didn’t have the guts to leave a well-paying job that I hated.

  9. Alan W says:

    I believe that our jobs are important but I’ve noticed that in this era, jobs are often elevated to the position of an idol.

    Yeah, sure jobs shouldn’t bring you down but a job that’s just a job – where you help people or do something that’s value additive – without it being the core of your being is fine too!

    If you find your life’s fulfilment in your job that’s great! But I don’t think that it should necessarily be the aim for Everyone… just my 2 cents!

  10. Bill says:

    @Alan #9,

    Companies now have this rah rah team attitude that is sickening. HR people and managers must be so burned out from being full time phonies. Also while I rant, I remember when people did not end every single interaction with have a nice day.

  11. jim says:

    Just a side comment abut ‘loving’ a job or career: I’d say that you shouldn’t feel that you have to ‘love’ your job or career. That could lead many people to always feeling that their job isn’t good enough just because they don’t ‘love’ it. Its OK if you simply ‘like’ your job. Expecting to ‘love’ your job or career is setting the bar too high.

    If you hate your job or career then you should definitely do something to fix that. But sometimes a new job or different career isn’t the only answer. You need to look at what you hate about the job or career and figure out how to address that. Sometimes you can fix things by changing your own habits or even an attitude adjustment.

    I neither love nor hate my job or career. I would bet most people are in between those two emotional extremes as I am. And thats OK.

  12. kristine says:

    @ Bill,
    You would really enjoy Barbara Erenreich’s book “Bright-Sided.” It’s about how the culture of positive thinking in the workplace is undermining authenticity, experience and circumspection in corporate America- opting instead for positivity gurus like Bezoz, Godin and Robbins, and “celebrity” CEOs instead of seasoned pros within a certain industry. It is a byproduct of expecting unreasonable and unsustainable market growth each year. It is the crystal pyramid of the 21 cen.

    While I am in favor of breaking outmoded paradigms, and the outsider can offer a lot, the underlying reason for all this positivity seems to be less positive- how to keep morale (and hence productivity) up in a climate that has left loyalties between company and worker in the coat check room. It’s false and forced, and people are afraid to say no, I really do not want to stand up, clap an chant the company motto.

    It is an interesting read, and I went in expecting to totally disagree, as I prefer positive thinking. The first chapter is too personal and emotional to come off as anything but aggrieve-it deals with her sense of being infantilized as a breast cancer patient, and some around her being dropped from support groups who did not recover as it was some their faulty they could not “positive” their way out of it.

    But by the middle of the second chapter she starts to make a substantive and logical case that some of this cult-like rah-rah is designed to further exploit workers by demanding emotions and off-hours mental immersion that may not be genuine, in the pursuit of dividends. Her sense of timeline of the motivational movement (a HUGE industry of rah-rah paraphenalia) paralleling the chaos and breakdown of responsible management, and the change from company as an institution at least trying to benefit both shareholders and society, to exclusively shareholders, is quite interesting.

  13. kristine says:

    @Jim- I agree. Not everything has to be an extreme. Ands there will always be jobs that are essential, that no one will ever love- like cleaning the toilets at Grand Central station.

    And I think most people do not quit a job- they quit a boss.

  14. MattJ says:

    I’m lucky in that I’ve enjoyed almost every job I’ve had, but for one. A big part of that is, though, that I like to work.

    Many people will never enjoy their job or their career, because they don’t like to work. If you are one of those people, changing jobs or career tracks will not help you. Find something you can bear to do 40 hours / week that pays the bills, and be professional getting it done.

  15. Telephus44 says:

    I agree with #11Jim. I think too often we get trapped into thinking that we’re need to find “Job Charming” and spend the rest of our working lives in blissful harmony. I like my job. I like my company. I like my boss. Am I totally excited about getting up every day just to go work? No. Would I do this in my spare time for free? No. Are there aspect of the job I dislike? Yes. But overall, it makes me fairly happy most of the time.

  16. Micki says:

    I needed this post today. I actually cried as I got ready for work this morning, because I hate my job. It is a high stress, right-now-everybody-wants-answers-yesterday sort of job. I want to go back to school in a couple of years when my daughter is older, but I hardly see her now, I commute so long to work.

    My husband has urged me to take a low key job for now-Cashier, Receptionist, ect, to decompress and give myself some time to heal from the burnout. I am afraid, thinking we can’t handle the drop in income.

    Screw it. I am putting in an app at WalMart this weekend. No paycheck is worth missing your family for 50+ hours a week, while stressing out because I cannot keep up in a job I am not suited to.

    Trent, you are my hero! I admire all sorts of people who are true to themselves, and you and your advice are always genuine!!!

  17. kristine says:

    Good luck to you Micki. Misery and stress are no way to live.

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