A Job that Works Can Stop Working

Sometimes things just drift.

When my museum career came to a screeching halt a few years back during the recession (and my first pregnancy), I made a very calculated and deliberate decision to come back to higher ed as my workplace of choice. A decision that came after a lot of processing of my feelings about my career and my work, and a lot of soul searching and reflection. If I had been able to be honest with myself (instead of clouded mind after having been laid off), I would have been able to say, “You know what? We’re just not suitable for each other anymore. It’s time to move on” to the museum profession.

I wish I had known this a long time ago, but just in case you don’t, a piece of advice.

Your Feelings about Work Can and Will Change

Your feelings about your job can change and probably will change, and that’s not only normal, it’s also okay. This happens. A job that works for you can stop working for you.

It can happen slowly, over time, as your work responsibilities and commitments grow. It can sneak up on you, as you find yourself wondering why you are so consumed with intrusive work thoughts when you’re trying to enjoy your personal time and relax. It can happen suddenly, when you realize that a job that you once loved because it was demanding tilts too far toward overwhelming when you return to work as a new mom. Or when you find that you need a lot more flexibility when you have to take on a family member’s unexpected health needs.

Whatever it is, I just wish I had heard more often that this happens so I could at least expect it.

Why My Museum Career Stopped Working

For me, working in museums had stopped working, and I just hadn’t realized it.

  • I was working really long hours,
  • at places that required long commutes,
  • with very few resources for my work or myself,
  • and no sense of a work support community because it’s a very small industry where others face those same drains on their time and resources.
  • I certainly wasn’t getting great pay or benefits!

The Pull of Career Identity – and a Feeling of Being a Failure

So what was it that kept me coming back (until my layoff)? I think it was a lot of things, but namely that it was a career I had always wanted, that I had always envisioned. I had a lot of work self-esteem and identity wrapped up in my chosen profession and a lot of pride that I had made a go of an extremely competitive field. 

I had always dreamed of working in a cool, funky, creative, and quirky profession, and had found one that was tailor-made for the insatiably curious part of me. I felt rejected, burned out, exhausted, and adrift after my layoff. It felt like my career had chewed me up and spit me out.

What I didn’t know then but know now was that things were shifting out from under me, slowly over time. What work was giving me had shifted; I was feeling less fulfilled and more drained, the exact opposite of what I wanted from such a creative job.

What I thought I wanted out of work had shifted; I cared less about what I could tell people I did for a living as I began to long for practical adult things like a livable salary and benefits. My self-awareness of what I wanted and needed changed; I gained a lot more clarity on what kind of relationship I wanted with my job, what role it needed to play in my life.

My (career) needs had evolved – and yours will, too

Now I can be alot less harsh on myself. It wasn’t that I failed in my chosen career or wasn’t cut out for it; it was that I had changed while work had also changed, and together we grew in different directions. So, more accurately, I can now instead say that it’s not that things were shifting out from under me, it’s that we were both evolving at the same time.

Deciding your job isn’t working out happens, more commonly than you might think. One thing that isn’t said enough in the workplace, especially when you’re working in a field that required a lot of schooling, training, and specialization, like, say, higher ed –  is that you’re allowed to change your feelings about your job.

Something that you so passionately pursued can lose its shine. Or maybe it starts eating into your work-life balance, and that’s a deal breaker. Great! Go forth and broker a new deal that works a lot better.  You might need a hot minute or two to process your feelings, to mourn what has passed, to fear what’s to come, to put one chapter to rest, and to let that job go.

And then dust yourself off and ask me if what you’re going through is normal? Yup. Totally. You’ll dream new dream jobs and work towards one that will work better for you.

Just like you change over time, your feelings about and relationship with your work will change over time, too. It took me forever, but I finally realized and processed that it was okay that my feelings towards my once dream career had faded. I hope this post helps it not take forever for you if you’re facing similar circumstances.

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