How to transform knowing what you DON’T want into knowing what you DO want

don't want

{Psst … Make sure you scroll down to the bottom of this post to get a FREE downloadable worksheet on this topic.}

I hardly ever share this story because, well frankly, it’s not my proudest moment. But here goes…

I quit my first full-time “adult” job after only 5 weeks.

I’m not a total jerk, so I did give 2 weeks notice, but that only put me there for a whopping 7 weeks total. {That was not a fun conversation with my boss, let me tell you.}

I’m sure I confirmed all of my boss’ worst fears about Millennials. He already suspected that we were all disloyal, selfish, lazy employees, and unfortunately I didn’t exactly prove him wrong.

But almost immediately after starting that job, I realized I’d made a big mistake.

In my impatience to get a “real” job after graduating, I said yes to the first offer I got. And on Day 1 — walking around that tiny government office, surrounded exclusively by men three times my age, sitting in subcommittee meetings about topics I can’t even care enough to try to remember now — I already had an unsettled feeling in my gut that was warning me, “Uh oh, this isn’t right. You don’t belong here.”

A few weeks in, I’d just sat through my third hour-long meeting where we debated — inconclusively, once again — whether or not to create a company LinkedIn page (seriously?? This is LinkedIn, you guys, not a strategy for world peace), when I checked my email to see that I had another job offer.

The company offering me this new job was about as opposite as you could possibly get from the one I was already at. Where my current office was small, old, stuffy, and maddeningly slow-paced, this new company was large, young, casual, and fast-paced.

A total 180-degree contrast.

I figured that if I hated this place, then I’d probably love something that was the complete opposite. So I jumped at it.

YEAHHH, IT DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT…

I made that decision the way so many of us make decisions in our lives — completely reactively.

I was miserable where I was, so when something came along that was totally different, I assumed I’d be happier there.

Wrong.

Sure, I started out liking my new job significantly more than my old one, mostly because I was so grateful to be in a different environment. But it only took a few months for me to realize that this new place still wasn’t right for me. I was all-too-quickly back to that “Uh Oh” sensation in my gut.

At that point, I honestly didn’t know what to do. I’d gotten as far away as I thought I could from my miserable first job, and I was still unhappy. So what was I supposed to do now??

THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT YOU DON’T WANT ISN’T THE ANSWER

While it’s totally normal to want to leap out of a situation that’s flat-out not working and into the waiting arms of its complete and utter opposite (ahem, rebound relationships anyone?), that’s not a long-term solution.

It’s like treating the symptoms of an illness without addressing the root cause. You feel better for a little while … but ultimately, the sickness comes back again, worse than ever.

twitter-bird Just because something’s the opposite of what you don’t like, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. 

So how do you break this cycle? How can you stop bouncing around like you’re in an old-fashioned pinball game, ricocheting from one thing to its apparent opposite, over and over again?

THE FIRST STEP FOR USING WHAT YOU *DON’T* WANT TO FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU *DO* WANT

When you’re in a situation that’s miserable, unhealthy, boring, unfulfilling, or just generally not working — before you go careening off to pursue it’s total opposite (like I did by immediately accepting that new job offer) — I want you to pause and ask yourself this one big question:

“What do I value that this situation is at odds with?”

For me, my first job was completely at odds with my values of freedom, autonomy, self-expression, personal growth, 1-on-1 connection, open-mindedness, and creativity.

I wasn’t unhappy because I was working in a small office — I was unhappy because I had to work in an office at all.

I wasn’t frustrated just by the slow-paced office — I was annoyed by the closed-mindedness and lack of creativity that caused things to move at a mind-numbing pace.

I wasn’t annoyed by the lame meeting topics — I was agitated because I wasn’t experiencing any personal growth or building deep connections.

The reason I felt like I didn’t belong in my first job wasn’t because of the more surface-level reasons that I’d thought at the time, but because of a serious values clash.

If I’d realized that at the time, it would’ve been obvious that my next job — no matter how different it seemed on the outside — still couldn’t give me those things I craved so much. Once I got clear on those values, it was clear to me that I, personally, wouldn’t be able to find them (in the quantity I wanted, at least) in most traditional jobs. So eventually I opted out of the 9-to-5 workplace altogether and created my own thing that is totally aligned with my values.

HOW TO FIGURE OUT SOME OF YOUR VALUES, BASED ON WHAT YOU DON’T WANT

When something feels really awful, it’s almost always because it’s conflicting with something you value and care about. So use that thing you dislike so much to unearth what you REALLY want.

If you hate working in isolation, then maybe you value connection and collaboration.

If you can’t stand having a rigid working schedule, you probably value freedom and flexibility.

If you’re miserable because you’re not being challenged enough, you likely value creativity, innovation, and growth.

If you’re resentful that there’s a cap on how much you can earn, you may value autonomy and limitlessness.

Once you’re clear on these values, then you’ve gotten to the heart of what you actually want, instead of focusing on the easier-to-define, surface-level stuff. Then you can use those values as a filter for any opportunities that come your way to make sure it’s really aligned with what you want.

Look, I know this isn’t always the easiest thing to sort out on your own — we spend 4 solid weeks helping people figure this out in our Passion Plan Virtual Experience — but it’s the very best place to start if you’re totally stumped about what to do next.

And to help you figure out some of your core values, we made you a FREE downloadable worksheet that will walk you through 5 steps to use what you don’t want to get clear on what you do want — particularly if what you do want is a dream job (though honestly, this process applies to anything and everything).

If you can name even a few of your core values, you’re well on your way to making quality, intentional decisions for yourself … which means you’re WAY far ahead of the general population who’s still reactively bouncing around, treating symptoms instead of finding a lasting cure for their dissatisfaction.

Tell me, how many of you have jumped from one extreme to another, like I did? What do you think are some of your values, based on what you know you don’t want? Leave a comment to let me know!

Enter your name and email below, and we’ll send the worksheet straight to your inbox!

Much Love,

Kristen (+ Rachel)

34 Comments // ADD COMMENT

34 comments

  • nil

    This is totally me! After collage, I thought that I dislike office and want to be outdoors, with animals. So I became a horse riding instructor. Then I saw how challenging it is physically, and I jumped to another extreme. This time, I was sitting in a small cubicle and can’t even stretch my legs and see the sky! I think, “outdoors” meant I value “freedom”. Or cubicle meant “safety”. Now I get it…

    • Kristen Walker

      That’s a huge insight! Yes, it definitely sounds to me like you value “freedom” — so now you’ve got to define what freedom means to you (since, as you’ve found out, it can take SO many forms). The best part is that, now that you can clearly see this pattern you’ve been in, you can break it and stop bouncing from one extreme to another. You’re so on the right track!

  • L. Wallace

    After college, I literally made it a reoccurring-monthly goal to apply to 100 jobs until I was hired ANYWHERE! Started a bank gig, that lasted 8 months because of no creativity, innovation or flexibility !! I resigned, and became a nanny, it offered me flexibility and some creativity, but as I am reaching my mid 20’s not much limitless for income and growth. This is where I am now, trying to find my calling!

    • Kristen Walker

      100 jobs a month?!? Damn. I’m sure you’d be happy to never see another job application in your life after that!

      I love that you’ve already transformed the parts of your most recent jobs that you didn’t like into a few of your most important values. It’s like you’ve been gathering data little-by-little about what you really want, and now you can combine it all to get clearer on what kind of job you want next.

  • Serene

    I can totally relate to this!
    I am currently in my 4th adult job and it took me so long to figure out what the core problem is. I spent 3 months in my first job, 10 months in the second, 2 years in the third and on my 10th month in the current one. Each jump from one place to another was highly reactive because i felt so out of place even though the work environments were all quite different. I was merely trying to escape. I also chose to take up job offers based on advices of people who hardly know me, let alone my values! Although I have not reached where I would want to be eventually right now, being aware of my values really helped me so much in setting the direction. Thanks for the post, you guys are so inspirational 🙂

    • Kristen Walker

      Thanks, Serene, for such a great compliment!

      Bouncing around like that, across all kinds of different environments, is SO normal, but it’s also exhausting and confusing until you start asking yourself these deeper questions about what’s REALLY going on. And you’re so right — other people’s advice about what you should do with you career (or life, for that matter) is, more often than not, incredibly unhelpful. When someone is giving you advice, they’re essentially saying, “If I were you, I would do this” … which is basically irrelevant because they’re NOT you! I’m really glad to hear that getting clear on your values is helping to point you in the right direction.

  • Jennifer

    I have bounced, although I waited years to do so at first. Now I am caught where I do not align with the core values of management and feel absolutely stuck. 6 months, and I can’t do it. So, I’m about to bounce again. So unsure of what to do to find happiness.

    • Kristen Walker

      Jennifer — I’m sorry to hear that you’re in a job right now that doesn’t align with your values at all. I’ve found that, as much as it sucks to experience total contrast from what you want, it teaches you things about yourself that you never could have known otherwise. I know that’s probably not what you want to hear right now, but I really believe that you’re going to come out on the other side of this with SO much more understanding about yourself, which is invaluable.

      I’m curious — based on the things you KNOW you don’t like about your current job, what would you say some of your values are?

  • Ann Marie Robinson

    I’m 19 years into my “calling”, or so I thought. I’ve given my all to a profession that does not really suit all my values. I’m working and worked for sexual harrassers, bullies and unethical professionals in the system where I currently teach. I want some autonomy to be creative, to help people in my own way without government policies dictating how I do that, to be valued for my skills and to be able to experience some financial reward for my hard work ( beyond the soul food I get from just helping others). Is this too much to ask? Some days I think it is…

    • Kristen Walker

      Sounds like you love to teach, Ann Marie, but the toxic people you work with are (understandably) stifling your passion for it. It is SO not too much to ask to work with good, quality human beings who aren’t unethical, sexual harassers, or bullies! You absolutely deserve that.

      I have so many questions I wish I could ask you about how you’d most love to teach and express your innate creativity, but for now I just want to ask you, what’s it going to take for you to leave behind this awful work environment? Easier said than done, I know, but it sounds like this place isn’t likely to change anytime soon, so it’s time for you to go someplace where you can fully expand.

    • Linda

      Anne-Marie, There are a number of charter schools being started up all around the nation. You might be better off in one of these. Here is one in New York that is paying very well that is actively looking for teachers.
      As a professor, you have taught hundreds of current and prospective teachers.Please think about the very best of your current and former students and take a moment to forward them this unique teaching opportunity:

      Earn an annual salary of $125,000 by joining a team of master teachers at The Equity Project (TEP) Charter School. Currently a successful middle school, TEP is expanding by opening a Kindergarten in August 2016. Teaching positions are currently open for our new Kindergarten as well as for all our middle school subjects.

      Thinking about applying for a teaching position at TEP? Attend an in-person information session at TEP’s campus on Tuesday, April 19th at 6 PM led by TEP’s Principal, Zeke Vanderhoek. Take a tour of the school, and learn more about the teacher application process and teaching at TEP.
      RSVP for the info session or see a list of open positions and submit an application

      Here is another for Pre-K that is also looking:
      We’re hiring 12 full time teachers in Seattle and we need your help! Please spread the word!
      Tiny Trees Preschool gives children a quality education and a joyful, nature rich childhood: one full of play, exploration, and wonder. Through the use of outdoor classrooms in Seattle city parks, Tiny Trees eliminates the cost of a brick and mortar facility, making preschool affordable and accessible to all families and allowing us to invest in what really matters: empowering great teachers. An official partner of Seattle Parks and Recreation, Tiny Trees is opening six schools in September of 2016. With the support of the Seattle Preschool Program – Pathways – half of our students receive free or discounted tuition. More information is available by watching this video from our win of SVP’s Fast Pitch Competition, listening to this KUOW interview, reading this recent article on Medium, and at TinyTrees.org.
      With the help of a courageous board of directors, a capable CEO, and a gregarious director of education, we’ve built the organization needed to bring affordable, high quality, and culturally responsive preschool to scale at parks across Seattle and Puget Sound. We have hundreds of families pre-enrolled, and a plan to take us to opening day in September of 2016. What we need is capable and culturally responsive educators to help make it happen. We need you!
      Lead Teacher – Hiring 6 Full-Time Positions

      Assistant Teacher – Hiring 6 Full-Time Positions
      Substitute Teacher – Hiring 6 On-Call Positions
      We are especially eager to hire individuals with backgrounds similar to those of the young people we serve. Multi-lingual and people of color encouraged to apply. We practice an anti-bias curriculum and strive to provide a culturally responsive education for every child.
      Make preschool affordable for families.
      Give children the joyful childhood they deserve.
      Join the Tiny Trees team.
      Courageously yours,
      Andrew Augustine Jay
      Chief Executive Officer
      Tiny Trees Preschool | 458 202 9960 | Tinytrees.org
      Winner of SVP’s Fast Pitch competition for best non-profit start up and the 2015 Sustainable Seattle Leadership Award.

      • Kristen Walker

        This is awesome, Linda! How cool is it that you can find great job opportunities for someone you don’t even know through the comments section of a blog like this?? Makes me love the internet! 😀

  • Shadz

    Omg! This is 100% me. After leaving university I found a job I hated and only stayed a month (if that!), I realised I didn’t want to waste any time doing something that didn’t allow me to do the things I like and be myself. But sadly, I’m confused about what I want to do now and can’t seem to find a job I want to do. But this post seems super helpful and I’m going to definitely try and figure out what I don’t want to do first! I’m also really looking forward to the hangout! As always, thank you for the inspiration! xoxo

    • Kristen Walker

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s done this! 😉 I’m also glad that you got out of that place quickly and didn’t get stuck somewhere that stifled who you are. You may not know exactly what kind of job you want next, but I’m willing to bet that you’ll open up to some new possibilities once you get clear on some of these values. I’m happy you’ll be on the hangout with us next week!

  • K.Assir

    Studied for 4 years after high school. Had no idea what I wanted to do so studied Hospitality. Later I added HR to my degree. Couldn’t find work for two years. Finally found a HR job and have been in it for 4 years and now I feel stuck, unfilled, unmotivated. Honestly it’s taken me 18 months to realise that I should be doing something else. The office environment is not for me and neither is 9 to 5. I spend a total of 2 hours driving to and from work each day and it’s so draining. I feel like my creativity and drive has been blocked.Wings have been clipped!

    • Kristen Walker

      Sounds like you’ve gotten really clear — especially over these past 18 months — about what’s NOT working for you. And that’s seriously valuable info! Now you have a much better picture of what you will and won’t tolerate in your next job. So what would you say are some things that you value, based on everything you don’t like about this job? I’m sensing something along the lines of freedom and creativity…

  • Jessica

    Hi Kristen + Rachel,

    One thing I’m struggling with ( and you can tell me if I’m crazy or not, ha ) is that I won’t be able to get a job in the area I’m passionate about because I don’t have a degree. The experience I’ve gained the last few years in a corporate setting is not in the area that interests me at all (Accounts payable… and I HATE numbers! Just did it for the money). I would like to go back to school to pursue a degree in an area I’m passionate about but I want to also be working a job I’m passionate about while I’m doing it. Can I have the best of both worlds?

    • Kristen Walker

      Jessica — First of all, you’re so NOT crazy … not even a little bit! 🙂 And this is a question I obviously hear a lot. Since I don’t know what kind of career you want to pursue next, I can’t know for sure if you do, in fact, NEED a degree. While there are certain professions (doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc.) that absolutely require a specific kind of degree, I honestly don’t believe it’s necessary for way more career paths than you might think. I also know that, if you DO decide to go back to school, you absolutely feel great about your in-between job while you’re getting that degree. Your passion can take SO many different forms, and I’m certain that not all of them require you to have a degree first.

      I would seriously encourage you to consider enrolling in our PPVE program when we open it next week because it gets to the root of exactly the kinds of questions you’re asking!

  • Keshia

    I did that a couple of years ago. I was discontent and unfulfilled, doing routine work and not being challenged in my job, and after a few months of being there, layoffs were announced and it seemed that the leadership did not care about the employees and helping us find new jobs at all. It was in a traditional corporate environment, too. When job searching, I found a younger, fast-paced startup company to work for and I got enticed by all of the fun perks like free food, events, casual dress, etc. and I jumped as soon as I got the offer from them (even taking a pay cut for it). I ended up being miserable there in a high-pressure sales environment and felt like I was suffocating under the pressure to reach the sales metrics by working tons of extra hours. I value freedom and flexibility and thought I’d get more of that there, but I ended up with less. I left after 9 months. I’m back to a traditional corporate environment now, but I have my free time now to work towards my dream career and towards building a business, too. It’s taking longer than I’d like since I have to work full-time, but I’m making do for now while I polish my skills and save up.

    • Kristen Walker

      Keshia — It’s crazy how similar our stories are! I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s done this. (I also went back to a more traditional corporate environment for a little while after that young, fast-paced company, just like you did.)

      As someone who also started pursuing her dream career and building a business while working full-time, I know that it can take longer than you want it to … but I also know that it’s completely worth the time and energy you’re putting in now. You’ve got this! 🙂

  • Vanessa

    This question may be too in-depth for you to respond to here, but I’m curious about how this blog post works with the “Not This” re-post you shared on Instagram this week. The idea that the next thing may be better or worse than your current situation, but at least it it’s “not this” seems to be kind of reactive to me, which is not what you’re advocating for here. Are you suggesting that identifying “not this” is step one, and that figuring out your values is step two?

    • Kristen Walker

      Such a good question, Vanessa! You nailed it in your last sentence. I absolutely believe that being able to clearly say “Not this” HAS to come first, and then identifying your values is part 2.

      I totally see that Instagram post and this blog as being complementary. The truth is, anytime you’re making a change — even after you’ve identified your values, done your research, and taken all of the best precautions — you can never REALLY know what it’s going to be like until you get into it. As much as you hope that it’ll be better than where you are (and there are, of course, ways of being more certain of that), there’s always a chance that it might be worse. All change is risky, to some degree. But ultimately, it’s better than staying stuck, trapped, and unhappy indefinitely.

  • Maya

    Kristen I want to thank you so much for this blog post!!!! I probably have a break down twice a year about finding this dream career or passion. I never thought job dissatisfaction was linked with values but it makes so much sense. I’m totally gonna do this exercise to align my values with jobs and a career that’s right for me, thanks!!

    • Kristen Walker

      You’re so welcome, Maya! I’m so happy this gave you a new perspective about what job dissatisfaction is REALLY about. After you do this exercise, I’d love for you to come back and share some of the values that you uncovered!

  • Katie Hansen

    Hi Kristen,
    I especially connected with one thought in particular in this post. “…it was clear to me that I, personally, wouldn’t be able to find them (in the quantity I wanted, at least) in most traditional jobs. So eventually I opted out of the 9-to-5 workplace altogether and created my own thing that is totally aligned with my values.”

    My core value in life is working with my hands to create. I am artistically-minded but struggle to find jobs in today’s world that let you be creative and work with your hands (not on a computer) in which you make enough money to live. I have bachelor’s degrees in Studio Art and Business and have bounced around in my 3 years since graduation. The idea of breaking out and doing something of my own like you have is appealing but terrifying.

    Just yesterday I let my boss know I was cutting down to part time (and cutting my income in half!) to pursue my creative endeavors. I’m not sure there is a predefined “job” out there that works for me completely, or if I can succeed as an entrepreneur, but I know for sure I’m not happy now and need to keep pushing!

    • Kristen Walker

      Hi Katie — First of all, congrats on cutting down to part-time so you can pursue your creative endeavors! I’m sure that was a bit scary and took some serious courage, but it’s the first step to building the creative and artistic career/lifestyle you’re so wanting. It’s also a demonstration of your belief in yourself and your talents, and that’s huge!

      I know it feels like hand-made art is a dying craft, since everything seems to be done on computers these days, but I’m positive you can find proof to the contrary. There are absolutely people who still appreciate fine art (maybe even MORE so in contrast to all of the digital creations out there), which means there is very much still a need for true artists like you. Start looking for people who are making a living from their art to collect “proof” that the career and lifestyle that you want are possible. Use them as inspiration!

    • Lezlie

      I know exactly how you feel! I love to create things. I’m not necessarily traditional arts sort of person, but I love to create things. I also love working with dogs, so that’s a whole other animal *lol*. It’s so confusing.

  • Clarity on Fire

    […] Earlier this year, Kristen wrote a blog called how to transform knowing what you DON’T want into knowing what you DO want. […]

  • Lezlie

    While I was in college, I worked once a week as a deli employee from my home town. Unfortunately, I literally worked for 9 months due to only being worked once a week and getting $40 each one. I began my own business in direct sales and LOVED it for about a year. Now, I’m job hunting because my ‘business’ became more of a ‘hobby’ that I made no more than $50 a month at or nothing then would make $600. I feel like I’m supposed to be in business for myself, but what I should do is the problem. The area I live in is an issue as well. I don’t know what I want.

  • Liz

    Such a great post/worksheet! I’ve bounced around a little bit in my 3 years since graduating college, and am still unhappy in my latest gig – I think mainly because I hate the 9-5 structure. I feel stuck though since my first job wasn’t quite 2 years and the one after was only 9 months, feel like I need to stick this one out for at least 2 years unless things become terrible (and I feel like I have a lot of personal growth to get out of this position – learning to manage up, etc.).

    I see a lot of people commenting about opting out of the 9-5 system and I’m curious as to what that looks like for people? Is everyone turning their side hustle into a full time gig? I can’t afford health benefits except through an employer and have too much debt (debt free by 2019 is the goal!) to leave a steady pay check right now, but am hoping without debt to be more flexible. I worked remotely half the time at my last job and there was a lot of freedom, but that was a double edged sword as everyone was expected to always be available/”on”. Not an ideal work/life balance!

  • Lo_Ren

    Wow, somehow you ladies are in tune to my current life situations with every article so far!! Im so glad I’m not the only one feeling this way. Before reading this article about a month back, when i started absolutely hating my previous career situation I did exactly what you speak of in this article. I went out to my favorite hiking destination and sat at the top of the lake listening to music and compiling a list in my phone of my dislikes career wise and relationship. It gave me at least a foundation build upon. So glad you ladies are like minded!

    • Rachel East

      It’s really cool that it already occurred to you that you could start by making a list of things you *don’t* like, and working from there! And of course, bonus points for doing it on the top of a mountain! 😉 I think you should take this experience as proof that you have great gut instincts, and that you can trust those as you move forward!