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How can you tell if your job is fine or “F.I.N.E.”?

There is a high rate of dissatisfaction in the workplace, and there are plenty of economic, social and political trends that can explain the big picture, but for a moment, let’s discuss the individual experience. Why do people get stuck in jobs they don’t like until they are so desperate they quit or have a breakdown or simply resign themselves to a career of misery? And more importantly, is there a way to avoid this?

The Slow Drip

When we find ourselves in a miserable job, in many cases, it didn’t start out that way. Think back to when you first walked in the door and met your co-workers for the first time. Recall what it was like getting settled at your desk and tacking up a couple photos to make the space your own. It was exciting and full of possibilities, right? But at some point, a small leak formed in this once seaworthy vessel. Months or even years might have gone by before you even noticed it.

Maybe your favorite co-worker got transferred or moved on to another opportunity. You were thrilled for them, but you felt their absence. Then the economy took a hit and the organization decided to forgo a few perks you enjoyed. But in both cases, you tell yourself, “The pay is more than fair, the health benefits are great, and I really have nothing to complain about.”

Every few months there are more changes: your offices move to a new location increasing your commute; you get passed over for a promotion; your boss and mentor retires; etc. The accumulation of these events that you have been minimizing and rationalizing eventually hit you. Your boat has taken on too much water and you are sinking. Your job has gone from fine to F.I.N.E. (Feels Inadequate, Need to Exit)

Facing the Great Unknown

Acknowledging that you are not happy in your job, especially if you have been there for several years, can be scary because you can’t unring that bell. Now you need to decide if you have what it takes to get out there and find something new. It may have been a long time since you’ve even allowed yourself to dream about a better career path and what you would do if you left your job. But you brush off your resume and maybe start reaching out to friends and acquaintances to network. You spend some time browsing LinkedIn and job sites to see what’s out there.

But as you take these first steps towards change, your Inner Critic Gremlin arrives on the scene.

“All these job postings require a master's degree, should I even apply?”

“I’m dreading going to interviews.”

“Are employers going to wonder why I stayed in this job so long… or not long enough!?!”

“Am I really going to find anything better than this?”

Job hunting requires courage and vulnerability, and it’s hard to quiet these inner voices. So it’s perfectly understandable that you might start to have second thoughts. It makes sense to start downplaying the downsides of your current job. Why give up what you have for something that might be worse?

After much hemming and hawing, you determine there are lots of benefits to your current situation (rationalizing), that you should be grateful you have a job (toxic gratitude), and that your career is not that important (denial). You settle for the fact that your job is fine. For a while… but everything you felt before is still there…festering…until another change or set back and you start questioning your job all over again. 

And there you are oscillating between fine and F.I.N.E. Constantly settling for what you know then yearning for something better. But maybe there is a way to avoid this?

Getting out of the fine/F.I.N.E. trap

Take notice of changes in your workplace and within yourself

It’s many people’s inclination to ignore small changes and minimize the impact they are having, but if you pay attention to these minor shifts, you’ll be better positioned to respond proactively rather than react out of fear or anger. You will be able to adapt to changes and prevent problems from getting worse, or develop an exit strategy before you reach a point of desperation.

Be honest with yourself about what is happening?

You can’t fix or prevent a problem that you are not willing to acknowledge, and as hard as it might be, you need to own any part you may have played. Maybe you didn’t set boundaries or ask for the help and resources you needed. It’s also entirely possible that there is no villain in your job dissatisfaction story. Consider that maybe it’s just not a good fit for you anymore.

Believe something better is out there

Limiting beliefs can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you believe you won’t find a better job in the same pay range, it’s bound to impact your outcome. You put less effort into your search. You procrastinate getting your resume ready. You don’t prepare as much as you should for interviews.

What would you do differently if you trusted there was a great opportunity out there waiting for you? Neither belief is objectively true, so why not go with the one that will make you feel better?

How do I tell if my job is fine or F.I.N.E.?

This isn’t always as black and white as I presented it. Lots of times it’s hard to know something is wrong with a situation when you are in the middle of it. So if you know you are not in your dream job, but you aren’t sure it’s reached the point of F.I.N.E., here are few things to ask yourself:

  • In one sentence, how do you feel emotionally and physically at work?

  • When a good friend asks how your work is going, what do you say?

  • Is the answer different from when your boss asks?

  • If you weren’t afraid of your next job being worse, would you leave your current job?


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