Feeling trapped? How to break free from your unhappy job

My friend John texted me the other night to tell me how much he hates his job. He had been promoted into a more senior role with management responsibilities and had, from the offset, been unsure whether this was the right move for him. However he was persuaded by the complimentary persuasion of friends, his family, and not least by the fairly large salary increase.


As a career coach I have come across many similar stories from clients who say they are stuck in jobs they dislike, often for years. However, as the saying goes, I tell them to be wary of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

Changing career is a massive decision to make and, particularly as you get older and have commitments such as bills to pay and family to provide for, it becomes even harder. However I passionately believe that given the amount of time we spend at work, these days increasingly so, we should make these hours as pleasant and enjoyable as possible.

So what can you do about it?

Explore your core values

Often clients I work with have drifted into jobs without fully considering whether the work they do is aligned with their core values. When you define your values you discover what is truly important to you and this will help you make the correct career decisions. 

  • List your core values, e.g.  a healthy work life balance, honesty and integrity, security, positivity, creativity, being valued.
  • Determine your top values, based on your experiences of happiness, pride, and fulfilment.
  • Look for careers that are aligned with those values.

If, for example, you have a strong core value of honesty and integrity, are you going to be happy working in a career where you are selling a service or product you are not fully committed to?

Evaluate current and previous careers

Your job cannot be all bad. It can be helpful to look at the aspects you do enjoy and those you really dislike. 

Starting with your current job, and on a separate piece of paper for previous jobs, write down a list of pros and cons, for example: location, people you work with, your boss, level of responsibility, the hours, the clients, etc.

Could you make changes to your current job to give it more meaning?  

Make a detailed list, or timeline of what you do in an average week. Are there any activities you could change, perhaps delegate to others the tasks you find less inspiring, ask for more varied work or responsibilities that will be more challenging?

Think about what pleasure you get from the tasks you currently do. By focusing more on the positive aspects these tasks will become more meaningful and you will experience more happiness at work

Explore your skills and attributes

This will help to identify more career options or identify gaps that can be addressed with further training. 

Make a list of your hard skills (specific, sometimes technical activities that you do well), e.g. IT skills, driving, using equipment, analytical evaluation and problem solving. Make a list of soft skills (qualities and strengths that are specific to you as an individual), e.g. able to influence, take responsibility, adaptable, able to work under pressure.

Make a list of transferable skills (those that can be transferred from one job to another and can be hard or soft) e.g. good communication skills, good organisational skills.

Update your CV

Perhaps you have been in the same job for many years and don't even have a CV. By putting together or updating your CV, outlining your experience and skills which you have identified as above, you will gain the confidence to start the process of exploring other career options.  

  • The National Careers Service offers guidance in CV writing and also an excellent on line skills health check. 
  • Ensure you tailor your CV to each job you apply for.

Make a vision board

Write down specific goals relating to your career, e.g. the money you want to earn, the hours you want to work, the location you want to work in, the type of clients you want to work with. 

Gather images that inspire you e.g. from magazines, and arrange on the board.

Place the board in a prominent place where you will see it every day and reflect on your goals. This way you will imprint on your mind what you want to achieve. Many top athletes use this technique, having a vision of themselves winning and if you copy them you too can be a winner.

So what did my friend John do? He is fortunate in that the promotional role he is doing is only temporary and it gives him an opportunity to try it out and see if it is for him. In the meantime he has done some self analysis, exploring his core values to help him identify what it is that makes him happy at work. At the moment he thinks he will complete the contract, saving the additional money he is earning and then return to the less stressful job he had before – but who knows!

If you're looking for support with your career, coaching could help. Learn more and connect with a career coach today.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, E4 7SQ
Written by Pat Hayden, ILM level 7 Certificate in Executive Coaching
London, E4 7SQ

I am a qualified life coach specialising in career development. I believe in taking a holistic approach with my clients, helping them achieve a healthy work life balance.

As well as helping clients with issues such as confidence and motivation I also provide very practical help on how to get an interview and interview skills.

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