3 Tips for Knowing when to Quit your “Dream” Job
When I was in college, one of my best friends had dreamed of being a lawyer since she was in grad school. She did everything she could to get into a top ten law school. She participated in the high school debate team, she worked really hard on earning good grades throughout college, and she managed every single “legal” related extracurricular she could fit into her schedule. She studied her butt off for the LSAT and took it several times until she got an optimal score. Eventually she did get into a prestigious law school, and passed with flying colors. She took the bar, and then landed the corporate law job of her dreams.
After a few years, burned out and disillusioned, she realized it was not what she wanted after all. The long hours, gruesome competitiveness, and overall hostile environment completely broke her heart. She eventually found legal work that was more fulfilling, although not as lucrative. But she wasted years of her life pursuing a dream she realized did not fit her personality or talents. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here’s how to tell when to jump ship.
1. Pursue your own dreams, not your culture’s or your family’s.
Most of the time, when we develop our career dreams, we have other people’s opinions in mind. Of course, this is only natural, but when you allow others to dictate your dreams, you will be destined for unhappiness. Sometimes, it’s not even a particular person that influences us. For example, corporate law jobs have always been esteemed in this country, simply because they are lucrative and the hustle-and-bustle seems high-powered and exciting. This is our culture trying to tell you what job you want to have, and you may not even realize it. Always assess your career goals based on your personal tastes and talents. If they don’t match, don’t cling to the myth of the “respectable profession” like doctor and lawyer.
2. Understand the concept of cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance occurs when you hold two, contradictory beliefs in your head. Not being able to resolve these contradictions causes stress and anguish. The only outcome is to eventually dispose with one belief or change it in some way. For example, smoking often gives rise to cognitive dissonance. A smoker often believes, like the rest of us do, that she’s a reasonably intelligent human being and wouldn’t do anything to harm herself. At the same time, she is aware smoking poses health risks. To reduce cognitive dissonance, a smoker may convince herself that the risks won’t affect her.
In terms of your career, be aware that when you spend years of your life, say, going to law school, you may not want to quit simply because you believe that you’re a grounded individual who wouldn’t waste years of her life pursuing something that you didn’t want. It’s important to stop here and realize the cognitive fallacy that just because you spent tons of time doing something, doesn’t mean that you must continue on with it at the expense of your happiness.
3. Create a more holistic understanding of career happiness.
Most young people understand career happiness in terms of money and prestige. Even if you think you are above such considerations, we all, in one way or another, participate in this meaning of success. It’s important to look at other factors that contribute to career happiness, like work environment, relationships with your colleagues, work schedule, and, most importantly, the actual nature of the work you do on a daily basis. For example, “corporate lawyer” sounds like interesting work, but most of it long hours of painstaking paper-pushing. This may be just what you love to do, but always remember to fall in love with the work and not with the job title and its aura of prestige.
Are there any other tips you would add to this list? Have you ever quit your “dream” job and if so, why? Let us remember that like everything else, career goals and “dream jobs” are dynamic and you can (and sometimes should) change them.