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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.
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.
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 just 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.
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!
Kristen (& Rachel)