When we’re young, we often bring along baggage and bad ideas about work into our first few professional opportunities. We assume the problem lies with the job, the people with whom we work, our something else outside ourselves and we rarely ask whether we are the problem.
Our work becomes unfulfilling and unenjoyable, and we wonder why we aren’t progressing as fast as we thought we would. At this point we often quit, thinking the answer is in removing ourselves from a situation. We pass up on great opportunities that once excited us because we can’t see that we’re the cause of what is wrong.
When this solution doesn’t work we end up in a vicious cycle.
I’m reminded in this case of the story about Socrates, who, having been told of a man who was unchanged by his travels, responded: “of course he wasn’t — he took himself along with him.”
Avoiding this starts with recognizing common things people tell themselves that derail great opportunities before they can take off. Here are three of them.
1) It’s not my passion (you just started working)
It’s all about passion these days. “Follow your passion.” “Passion over profit.” It’s easy to say this in the abstract. It’s far harder to make it happen in practice, and often it sets unreasonable expectations. A person might get into a new role and decide quickly that “they aren’t passionate about it.” They quit and look for another, and the cycle repeats itself.
When I talk to young people right out of college, I’ll regularly hear something like this: “I need a job where I can explore my passion for photography, music, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, marketing, and one in which I have time to work closely with people but also have ample flexibility to disconnect.”
The truth is that rarely will a job check the “passion box” perfectly. Employers don’t create jobs so they can pay you for following your passion. They create jobs that they think will help them grow their business.
If you want to have a job that checks more boxes, you need to create it. You need to take charge of your position and find opportunities to combine your goals and interests with the goals of the business. It’s unreasonable to expect this to be an overnight process. It can take months, even years, to turn the bland, entry level position you have into something you’re passionate about. Most people give up early because they don’t see the long-term potential.
If you’re just entering a job, you shouldn’t be looking for something you’re immediately passionate about. You should find people you enjoy working with whom you can learn a ton from and create as much value as possible. Create so much value that you gain more control and freedom over your work. Look for the potential to follow your passions over the long term and find opportunities to bring those passions into your job.
2) I’m being ripped off or cheated out of money/undervalued.
It goes something like this: you enter a new job and start creating some value. You get rewarded with praise from your coworkers, and very quickly you start to assume you deserve more money. Maybe you ask for it, maybe you don’t, but either way, you feel undervalued. This feeling grows into resentment which can either boil over into a confrontation or lead to you quitting a job that is otherwise fantastic.
Here’s the thing you weren’t told in school: feeling “cheated” is easy. It requires a lot more work to put yourself into the shoes of your coworkers and your employer. For example, what you don’t see is the fact that the founding team put in years of work at low pay to afford to hire you. Maybe you don’t see all the expenses that go into running the business. Maybe you don’t realize how replaceable you are even though you’re creating value.
Whatever it is, pause before you let the indignation take hold and ask yourself “do I have all the information?” There is nothing that will destroy your reputation with your coworkers and your boss more than acting like a victim.
But to play devil’s advocate, let’s assume you are being undervalued. What does being indignant or playing the victim do to solve this?
A much smarter play is to work to show your value more clearly. Conversely, find opportunities to help others be more valuable. Frame your compensation goals with the goals of the business and the goals of your employer and coworkers in mind. You’ll be far more likely to get what you want.
3) I don’t get along with my coworkers.
“I loved my work, but I quit because I didn’t enjoy my coworkers.” I hear this often and, without a doubt, a bad work environment can be a reason to leave. However, I always wonder whether the person put enough effort in to make the environment better.
In my life, I’ve found many times that my problems with other people was an error of judgment on my part. Often to solve this problem we just need to find ways to simply help the person.
A friend of mine once told me a story about a coworker who was particularly nasty to him. One day he ordered her a gift box to thank her for a task she helped him with. She became a huge ally of his and remains a friend to this day.
Why was she nasty to begin with? Who cares? Maybe my friend had done something once that rubbed her the wrong way. Perhaps not. Maybe she is a nasty person. It doesn’t matter.
My friend would have accomplished nothing by letting her get the better of him.
Before you quit, ask yourself whether you’ve done enough to make the situation better.
Can you help someone else look good for a change rather than yourself? How can you contribute to making someone’s day a bit better? Can you change something about yourself that will make your colleagues treat you more fairly?
As a general operating mindset, when something is wrong with your work — it is not as fulfilling, if it is not as lucrative, and if it’s not as enjoyable — the first question you ask should not be “what is everyone else doing wrong?” It should be “what am I doing wrong and how can I improve, so I see the results I want?”