Why we stay in jobs we hate - Part Three: Self Doubt

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This blog posting is the third in a 3-part series on why we stay in jobs we hate. Links to the first 2 articles are at the bottom of this page.



How we end up in our work has a lot to do with circumstance, happenstance and being in a certain place at a certain time. Then it is easy to see how we stay where landed; it’s the path of least resistance. Have you seen the opportunity to do something different but don’t act on it? Do you want to make a change but don’t know how? Deep inside of us is a belief, a belief that holds us back. How it shows up is self doubt.

Here’s the story of my crossroad and how I wrestled with trying to find my road.

 

I was paying for groceries with my credit card the day I was invited to a party, my bank account with only enough funds for the next month’s rent.

A plan needed to be made. Soon.

A single parent of 2, out of a long-time invigorating gig which sopped up a good deal of my energy and focus, I had no idea of where to turn. After several months of EI, I hadn’t figured out my next step. My claim had ended. CI felt like I had squandered my time.

Up to this point, everything was about something or someone else. Parenting. Changing the world.

What do you want to do with your life? I kept asking myself.  I had no idea how to answer that question.

My parents had a totally different life. When my dad was only able to make a piecemeal living in southern Manitoba, my parents decided to go up north where there was the promise of many jobs and lots of opportunities.

My father never had a career plan. With a Grade 8 education and a strong body, his opening appeared in the construction field.  Which he did until he died. I didn’t ever know if he liked his job. Since he was an unhappy man, I am leaning towards no.

My mother worked in the family business, kept a busy family clothed, organized and fed; she went into the workforce when we were teenagers, having found the opportunity through a friend in the community.  

What I had learned from their role modeling was that you keep your eyes and ears open and grab those opportunities where you could.  

I wasn’t seeing any.

I had been doing financial management, having learnt the field from on-the-job training. Was that enough to land me a job? Before that I was self-employed as a typesetter for a recipe book company. Were there any jobs like that?

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Confused and lost

I realize now that the approach I was using was taking me in circles. By focussing on what I could do or where the jobs were, I was confused and lost.

What was clear is that I needed to get a job.

Unemployed and no prospects, I was questioning my ability to find work even though my job search was meager and unfocussed.

Later I would hear that 80% of people who found jobs were already employed.

Confidence was the ticket I heard from employers when they talked about how they chose their candidate.  That wears thin the longer you are unemployed.

Self doubt and fear

Self-doubt and fear are poor companions on a job search journey. Not only did I have a lot of confusion about where to go next, I had these other two responsibilities along for the ride. They needed me to get in gear. 

All of that self doubt and fear resulted in me being paralyzed. I wanted to make decisions but I couldn’t. I wanted to leap into my brilliant future but I couldn’t even imagine it. 

Many years later, there was an incident that shone a light on what was happening for me.

As a young employment counsellor, I met a former client on the street, a fellow who I hadn’t seen for a long time, not since he dropped out of the course he was taking and then vanished. He said he had wanted to talk to me for a long time.

He said to me, “Do you know why I didn’t follow through with that program?”

“No,” I said.

“Because you believed in me more than I believed in myself.” 

I realized that this is what happened to me long ago when I was scrambling to find work. I didn’t believe in myself.

What we hope for when we are struggling is there is someone who believes in us enough to get us going. What we need is to understand what is holding us back.

At the party, I saw people I hadn’t seen in a long time. Inevitably the question of what I was doing came up.

“Nothing.” I wanted to crawl out of the room.

One of my former teachers in a women’s studies program asked if I would consider working for the magazine where she was on the editorial board. “Yes!” I said. We set up a time for the interview.

Start where you are

Here’s what I learned from that situation (and others). Parties, as a job search tool, work.

And even amidst self-doubt, I had a lot to offer. I couldn’t see it. But my former teacher could. She believed in me. 

I ended up staying in finance, not an ideal match for me but it allowed me the flexibility to be with my homeschooled children, pay the rent and I gained some pretty useful skills.  The pressure was off.

This allowed me to have space to really think about what was a good fit for me. And to address the real elephant in the room. There was a core belief that was tripping me up.

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What holds us back

What I had brought along from my childhood was a belief that I didn’t matter. This threaded its way throughout my life but those threads formed a massive screen when it came to thinking about what it was that I wanted in the work scene. 

I didn’t know. Because it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter that I find work that was a good fit for me. It didn’t matter that I enjoy myself at work. It didn’t matter when I dragged myself to work and felt like there was no hope for anything different.

That translated into not going to school to get the skills I needed.

Like my client, I did not believe in myself.

Someone to believe in me would have been helpful. But now I understand that you can have a lot of people rooting for you and that is not enough to dint the wall of not believing in yourself.

Believing in yourself is not something you can just decide to do. It means looking closely at that screen to see what is behind there.

Self doubt is the screen. What is holding that up is a belief, a core limiting belief that has been playing in the background for a long time. Once I saw how it operated, everything changed. 

Why we stay in jobs we hate - Part Two: The Comfort Trap

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This is article is part 2 in a 3-part series on why we stay in jobs that are not a good fit.  I see each of these articles representing a legacy that is passed on to us through our communities, workplaces and cultures. This one is the legacy of comfort. The goal of work, it appears, is to get the highest pay with great benefits and where we can stay for a long time. We have the illusion that here we will be protected. In a world full of uncertainty, comfort feels…. comforting.

But what if comfort becomes a trap? Here’s what I learned about being in a comfortable job.

 

 

As I cut into the gluten-free cake, I looked around the room at each familiar face. We had been through a lot in the last 2 years, stretched to immense proportions.  Now we were solid. Or perhaps less jiggly.

I couldn’t imagine a day without these good people.

Having been a part of this work group for 7 years, I was comfortable. I knew the people well, appreciated their many gifts and talents and I had a sense of what needed to be done in my role. A bit of challenge. A bit of familiarity.

And I knew I had to leave. My farewell party was full of great reminiscences, laughter and of course gluten-free cake.

The road to this milestone moment was twisty. During the Christmas break 6 months prior to the party, finally feeling ease around the demands of the previous 18 months, I had a sense of needing a change.

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The first day back from holidays, it felt glaring. There is nothing like the fresh perspective of time away to cast a light on what we really want in our lives. How many people have come back from holidays and then handed in their resignation?

As the week unraveled with routines and the ease of working with the team, I settled down into daily tasks. This is an earmark of a comfortable life – the intensity of wanting to stay or leave rises and falls, enough that we are lulled to stay where we are.

The following week I was assigned a new directive – quality assurance. My new task was to make sure each staff member was entering the information into the computer in a certain way.  I was told that this was my strength. (This is one crucial red flag – someone else telling you what your strengths are. If you think other people know your strengths better than you, head for your nearest career coach.) 

What I knew for sure was that amount of detail and looking for errors that other people make was not even remotely a strength of mine.

Still, this is what was needed at the workplace. A good worker, I took it on.

Not too long after I started my new assignment, I noticed heaviness. It felt as if cement forming around my ankles. I started to feel it harden in me and I imagined heading into retirement, tired and miserable.

The need to move on hurled back to the top of my mind.

I had doubts. Though I was quite clear about the urge to do something different, I was also aware of what I would be giving up. Great salary. Six weeks of vacation a year. Special workmates.

Making a tough decision

I stewed and brewed.

Decision making does not come easily to me. Part of it is the “pressure prompted” nature of my personality type – I like to make decisions at the last minute just in case there might be another option. The other part was about making the right decision.

I remembered a strategy for dilemmas like mine. I would make the decision, not tell anyone and see how I felt about it. I sat with the decision for a month. What I noticed is that nothing felt wrong about it. There were parts that were exciting (and scary).

At the end of the month, I decided to move forward. With the new momentum, I had an idea of not only quitting my job but moving as well.

Listening to what matters

The first step, I realized, was being able to truly listen to myself, to not get caught up in all the fears that were arising and to embrace the excitement of new possibilities. Once I started telling people, there were lots of opinions. Isn’t it too late to start over? What if you don’t get a job? I started to recognize the difference between my fears and other people’s.

Taking yourself seriously

The second step was taking myself seriously. As much as all of those reasons for staying were important to my own well being, there was another that was bigger.

Regret.

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I didn’t want to have that in my life. I didn’t want a life where I looked back and said, “what if?” Hidden dreams had begun to surface. I wanted to feel alive. There was so much of the world that I hadn’t experienced, that I wanted. And then, there was the clincher. Time was not on my side. I didn’t have forever to go down a new road. Or to do everything on my life list.

I was ready to leave my comfortable behind.

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If you liked this article, you might also like:

Why we stay in jobs we hate - part one - Golden Handcuffs

Why we stay in jobs we hate - Part One: Unhappy is the Norm

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This is the first article in a 3-part series on why people don’t pursue their dream jobs and stay in ones that are a horrible fit. It could be you. It definitely was me.

In this first blog posting, I look at how our culture rewards us for staying right where we are. I begin with my story.

The server placed our drinks on one side of the table. We reached over for our own. It was that bar. The kind where the servers are street tough and the windows are covered with dark paper so no light would enter.  It was shortly after 11 am.

Four of us had come together from our midnight shift at the factory, worn out and exhausted but doing what many do after their work – head out for a brew. Except of course this was morning.

 We all shared one thing – nothing about our jobs intrigued us.

 In fact, we were bored. Everything I learned when I first started the job several months before I learned in the first 15 minutes.  There was nothing I looked forward to except the machine breaking down. Something to break the monotony.

 How did I land there?

When I first moved to the city I was 18, no experience and no one willing to hire me to get the experience. My aunt, who had worked at the factory for over 40 years, vouched for me under the condition that I not quit because she was doing me a favour.

The midnight shift looked more interesting than the evening shift where I first started. Everyone who worked during the day seemed to take it a bit too seriously. My transfer was immediately approved. No one wanted the night shift.

Mostly I worked alone or with one other person. Our middle-of-the-night lunch hour is where I met my buddies, guys who liked to have fun, exactly what an 18-year-old was seeking. 

We had this attitude: “We get the work done.” So if we took extra time at lunch or during the breaks, well, we worked hard to get it done. If that meant during our breaks we added a little vodka to our thermos, well, that was on our time.

To say that we needed to leave our jobs was an understatement. I was the new kid on the block. A couple of those guys had been there for decades. That their off-work coping strategies spilled over into their work time became more and more justifiable, as their spirits withered.

Quit?

It was inconceivable. They had worked a long time and were getting pretty high wages. Even I was getting well over minimum wage. Some had come straight out of high school and had done nothing else. Where else was there to go? Another factory? Start over?

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Later I heard the term “golden handcuffs,” a phrase that encapsulates those high-paying, low-stimulating jobs that people work hard to acquire and are loathe to quit because of the pension plan, benefits, more paid time off and the pay.

Why would you quit such a job?

The fact is the work world rewards its workers for putting in the time. Whether it is pay raises or the freedom promise that comes with a pension plan, there is plenty in our culture to keep us tied to staying in a job.

In the midst of the inner turmoil of an imagined life and how it is really playing out, any glimpse of freedom is a beacon of hope. Vacation time is packed with adventure, or as much as can be mustered given how worn out a person is from the demands of their job. Weekends become a recovery and preparation for the next onslaught.

Or as me and my buddies were demonstrating, sometimes waiting for the weekend isn’t enough.

One of those fellows, a very likable and engaging guy, was a well-managed alcoholic though one might question his ability to contain it. When he talked about electronics, that’s where I saw the spark.

Misplaced

I could imagine, even then when I was young and hadn’t many ideas of what a person could do with their life, that he was somehow misplaced. Like a Star Trek transporter, there was a malfunction that placed him where he did not belong and he had no idea about how to get to the right place.

There was a whole lot keeping him where he was, in that tedious factory job where he was using a fraction of his abilities. The older he got, the longer was his list of responsibilities. Mortgage. Family. Children going to university. All of it was tied to him keeping the wage he was earning. He felt like he had no choices.

And no encouragement to change his circumstances. My comment to him, “Why the hell are you staying here?” I wouldn’t classify as support; it certainly wasn’t the first time he heard that from others and it reinforced an idea that he was incapable of doing something different. And he also felt shitty about why he wasn’t leaving.

According to work studies, 70% of people are not engaged with their work.

When I think of my other co-workers at the factory, I would have said it was a higher percentage.

Everyone was in the same boat.

Which is both compelling and horrifying.  What we have is a cultural norm. Staying in a shitty job. We hardly notice when people complain about their jobs. We commiserate.

The problem feels so big and beyond our ability to solve that we shelve it for future consideration with a dash of hope that along the way something will happen that will eject us out of our limited life into the big life we were meant to live.

But it is all okay because the same thing is happening to our next door neighbour, our co-worker and our friend. We are soothed by the idea that we are not the only ones experiencing a void of meaning in our work lives.

We are part of the herd.

When we stray from the herd, the new territory feels unfamiliar. The people who we used to commiserate with, we suddenly have one less thing in common. Complaining on a Friday night doesn’t have the gusto it did when you were all talking about what you hated. Straying from the herd can be a lonely venture.

That is how I ended up being in a seedy bar at 11 am. With my herd.

Saying farewell to 2018 and howdy to 2019

Isn’t it perfect when you notice a gift right when you are in the middle of it?

Mine was time. Between Christmas and New Year’s. Where there were things to do but nothing that had to be done. Where I could move at my own pace. Where there was a settling after all the Christmas excitement.

There was breathing space.

What a gift it was to just sit with what is. I continued my daily practice of writing down “10 Things…..”  One day I wrote 10 ways I would like to focus my energy in the next year.

A few hours later, it was clear that there were items I had left off the list. That is the gift of breathing space. A time for percolation.

On this last day of 2018, I am thinking ahead and back.

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Later today, I will do my last-day-of-the-year ritual, writing about what happened in 2018. Tomorrow I will move on to 2019.

I have already begun the process.  I reviewed the goals I set for 2018. My achievement rate was 56%. This is a pretty low. If the percentage is in the 70s, I see that as pretty successful. But 56% is not. According to the Internet, a 56% rate is a F.

Some of the goals were pretty lofty (doing 2 presentations) but then I didn’t really try. Others didn’t make sense. Anymore.

As one who has a dislike-hate relationship with goal setting, here is some thoughts for others in the struggle:

1. Moving Targets

Life changes. Where you want to focus your time and energy is anything but static. I still like the idea of writing down goals at the beginning of the year. But if they don’t make sense down the line, they need to be shucked.

I have a thought for my next year – looking at the goals that I set at the beginning of the year a few times during the year (no more than 4). What needs to be brought to the surface. What needs some amending. I am going to try that. And let you know how that works.

2. Pick a word or a phrase for the next year

What resonates with me is using a guidepost for the upcoming year. For sure, I want it to be inspirational and in alignment with where I am. 

One year I picked the phrase, “Be courageous and be brave.” There was a lot of upheaval ahead, some difficult conversations and serious letting go. I carried that phrase with me every day. 

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I so appreciate the work of Danielle LaPorte who says that what we are seeking is a feeling. Her book, The Desire Map, outlines a process of uncovering your Core Desired Feelings. Our CDFs will ignite us.  

Here’s what she has to say about following what you love:

Your pleasure is your power. In relationships. In business. In service of the greater good. Doing more of what you love helps you be more loving, think more clearly, and be more resilient.

 

Previously in this blog, I have talked about my end of the year process. It is a compilation of ideas that I have gathered over the years that works for me. I have done some tweaking but the format works.

Here is the blog posting:

Year End Review

I have a journal devoted totally to the purpose of year-end review. 2018 is the 24th year of me writing in this book. After 24 years, I would say that is a strong attestation!

What do I get from writing the process?  I see birds-eye view of what happened in the last year. Lots of revelations!

Recently I heard that one of the great abilities of being a human is our ability to reflect. That makes a lot of sense to me. It is through our reflections that we can see:

  • our mistakes – what we have learnt, what not to repeat and what we might want to adjust

  • what needs improvement

  • how far we have come

  • what is most important to us – from an experiential perspective

In the spirit of that reflection, I found a cool tool for year-end reflection and planning for the next year. It’s a free downloadable booklet Check it out here: 

Year Compass. 

 

I would love to hear how you end one year and begin another. Any traditions??