Realising that you are in the wrong job, or even career, can feel soul-destroying at first, especially if you have invested time and money getting to your current position. A job, like any relationship, has to be a good fit, else it can bring stress, misery, and low self-esteem. Deciding to leave primary school teaching (and begin my departure entirely from the UK education system) was the best decision I ever made for both my mental and physical health. However, I avoided the signs for years and almost hit breaking point.
Don’t make the same mistake.
Here are six signs (red flags, if you will) that it’s time for you to take your skill set elsewhere.
1. You wake up each morning with a sense of dread
It’s 6AM and your alarm goes off. You silence it, but continue to lie in bed, staring vacantly at the ceiling. You feel paralysed, unable to move. You eventually make it to the shower but keep giving yourself ‘one more minute’, finding any excuse to stay a little longer. You space out.
This is not normal if it’s happening every day. Your job should not make you feel this way. That aching feeling in your chest is your body warning you that something isn’t right. Not every day should bring the same level of anxiety as a life-changing event.
2. You are stressed but you don’t see it
Stress is not the typical depiction of throbbing veins in your forehead and a red face. It is more subtle and damaging than you realise. Noticing the signs is important.
Stress is your body’s natural response, telling you that you are in danger and need to either run away or fight. It is not a state you’re supposed to stay in for long periods of time. The long-term effects of high cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) include irritability, fatigue, high blood pressure and physical aches and pains.
When I was stressed, I developed a sharp pain in my right leg and found walking up stairs agonising. It was there for months. The day after I resigned, the pain went away.
Do you feel you are in a constant state of fight-or-flight every day while you’re at work? Unless you work in a dangerous field (anything that legitimately risks your very life), few jobs that bring you such anguish are worth fighting for.
3. You withdraw from your partner, friends and hobbies
Our time and energy are finite resources; water in a glass. Every action empties the glass until there is nothing left. If your job has you stressing out 24/7, you will have no energy or drive to do anything else when you get home. Anxiety can be a full-time job on its own. If you are coming home with no desire to spend time with loved ones or pursue your passion project, that is not okay. Something needs to change.
Are jobs tiring? Of course they are. But there is a fine line between physical exhaustion and feeling like you’re on the verge of a total breakdown.
4. You are more argumentative at home and work
If you are withdrawn and have less energy, you will find yourself in a more irritable mood. I would come home from a day of teaching so totally exhausted that anyone trying to talk to me would piss me off.
I wanted to be alone. People found that hard to understand because I refused to talk and express how I felt. My tolerance for everything was lower, and everyone became my enemy. I said things I am not proud of. I became someone I hated.
5. You think less of yourself
Having an awful job and not performing well (for any reason) can have a disastrous impact on our self-esteem.
When I had mounting deadlines and a never ending to do list, I convinced myself that something was wrong with me. That if I was competent, I wouldn’t have this vast mountain of tasks to do and they’d have been completed ages ago. I’d get called out on it, and then feel even worse about myself. This began to seep into my life outside of work, too. A slippery slope.
We all think negatively of ourselves from time to time, but if you are constantly putting yourself down (and have been more resilient in the past), that is a sign that maybe your career could be the cause.
6. You’re not putting the effort in (and your colleagues are noticing)
The most obvious one to spot. Not all jobs are created equal, but it is possible to find some slither of enjoyment in our work, so long as it’s something we’re interested in. Something will inspire us to always give 100%.
I knew it was time to go when I was coming into work each day and half-arsing everything. I just didn’t care anymore.
People noticed. I argued with colleagues when they called me out on my substandard performance. Staff actively avoided me. Nobody wants to absorb that sort of negative energy, and let me tell you; it is a downward spiral that can be hard to escape once you start.
The good news is that your life isn’t over (as I thought mine was). There are other jobs, other paths to explore and a career out there that is undeniably you. Will it take time, effort and a great deal of introspection to get there? Absolutely. Is it a terrifying process? Without a doubt.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Deciding to leave is the most important step.
Put yourself first.