Should I stay or should I go? Make it better or change jobs?

If you’re unhappy at work but not sure if you should put in the effort to make it better or change jobs, you’re likely to feel unmotivated to do anything. Here are some good questions that might help you get unstuck and feel better.

door ajar: make it better or change jobs
Photo by Jan Tinneberg

Making any sort of work change, even ones you know will improve your life, is daunting. You’re not alone if you find yourself procrastinating, getting distracted, or tackling smaller, less meaningful tasks instead.

Why you procrastinate when it comes to your career

Procrastination is not a character flaw. It’s not about laziness, it’s all about avoiding negative emotions–like fear.

Based on existential psychologist Irwin Yalom’s “ultimate concerns,” we all have four fundamental fears: death, abandonment, confinement (or lack of freedom), and insignificance.

Our vocations have the potential to give us relief from each of these fears. A job or career can provide security, a social network, autonomy, and identity.

Thus, career questions become big and weighty in our minds:

  • Should I stay at my current job (security) or go out on my own so I gain more flexibility and control (confinement)?
  • Should I stay at my current job where I know my boss and like my colleagues (isolation) or should I move to a new job with better pay (security)?
  • Should I go return to work (insignificance) even if it means I’ll have less time with my children (isolation)?

What we often forget is that we don’t need to satisfy all of these concerns or address all of our fears with one job. Moreover, our “work,” does not need to be paid work or employment to be meaningful and important. We can also gain so much from a creative project, volunteer work, or even providing care to loved ones. In my work (as a researcher and a coach), I know that…

Meaningful work and deep connections are the two critical ingredients that bring us lasting and authentic happiness.

If you have perfectionistic tendencies, however, you are likely to be placing high expectations on your job to give you fulfillment. But, it’s unreasonable to think a single job or activity should alleviate all four of these fears. This is why I don’t like discussing “dream” jobs with clients.

Better questions to ask yourself

So, instead of asking the big, daunting career questions, try the following. Even better, set a time for just 10-20 minutes and tackle some of these by writing down your answers. Then, set them aside and come back to them tomorrow. You’ll find more relief, and be more creative if you do a little but often rather than doing this in one long session once.

In order to move forward with a job search or try to improve your current job situation, you have to first address those negative emotions by taking stock of what you already have going for you:

  • Wath are the parts of your job that you like?
  • What are you good at?
  • What would my boss, colleagues, clients say I’m good at?
  • Who knows, likes and trusts you?
  • What do I enjoy doing?

Next, show yourself some compassion:

  • What kind of fears are you experiencing?
  • might you need to feel less fear?
  • Whom can you call to get some comfort or encouragement?
  • What can you tell yourself to give yourself some encouragement? (Try using your name and “you” when you talk to yourself to reduce chatter.)

Finally, ask questions that can generate a variety of small action steps:

  • Who has a job that you find intriguing? Whom do you admire? What would you want to learn from them? (Then, schedule a call or coffee with them.)
  • What are you most curious about?
  • What are some tweaks that could make your life a little easier?
  • What kind of tasks would you want to do more of? Which do you want to avoid?
  • What are the different components that make up your definition of success? What could you do to move forward on one of these?
  • What might give you a small win right now?