Expectation Hangovers® at Work

10/24/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Dear Christine,
I read in your book about "Expectation Hangovers®" and I feel like I am having one because of my job. I enjoy the work and environment less and less everyday, which is disappointing because I thought I'd really love working in this field. I notice that I am feeling really down and have totally lost my motivation. How do I know whether I am just having an Expectation Hangover that I need to get over or if what I am feeling is a red-flag for continuing down this career path?
- Career Slump, 24, Michigan

Dear Career Slump,

I define an Expectation Hangover® as the "group of undesirable feelings that arise when a desired result isn't met." Simply, things don't turn out the way you planned and you are experiencing symptoms that are as miserable as those from a hangover from alcohol (lethargy, depression, regret, and so on). From what you are describing, it sounds like you definitely are having an Expectation Hangover® - but that doesn't necessarily mean the career path you are on is wrong for you.

First you have to determine if your expectations were (or are) too high. Think of it this way, if you throw back five cocktails, of course you are going to have a killer hangover the next day. But if you only have one drink, and you feel awful the next day that may be a red flag that something is wrong - like you are allergic to alcohol. Similarly, if you expect to be jumping out of bed everyday to head to work, or expect a significant increase in salary or promotion before you've been at the company long enough to prove yourself, then your expectations may be too high.

Often the first year at a job is not exactly thrilling because you are learning the ropes - and because your boss is getting to know your work ethic and style as well. The more you dive in and embrace and accept that you are just beginning on your career path, the less "hungover" you will feel. I see many Gen Y'ers come into a job with grandiose expectations of consistent increased responsibility, validation, and fun which fuels the stereotype that this generation is entitled. So evaluate your expectations before you decide to change course. And don't be afraid to speak to your boss about your willingness to take on more responsibility. Be sure to start the conversation asking for feedback on his/her perception of your work performance.

On the other hand, reasonable red-flags that may indicate your job is not a fit may include: being at a company for two years with no advancement and/or salary increase, being treated poorly (yelled at, discriminated against, supervisors pushing boundaries like asking you to do too many personal errands, etc), or not respecting the company's values or work environment. If you believe these red flags are there, then start formatting your resume!

A less dramatic red flag is the realization that you just do not like the field that you are in - and that's okay, it doesn't mean you've made a huge mistake. Until you actually start working in a given job, how are you supposed to know if you like it? Often the process of elimination is part of our career path. If you have the clarity now that what you are doing is not in line with your goals, skills and interests, then take advantage of this knowledge and start exploring either different types of jobs in the same field or another field all together.
- Christine
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