04/09/2012 04:10 pm ET Updated Jun 09, 2012

The Top 8 Reasons You Stay in a Career You Hate

Speaking with people every day who are in careers or jobs they dislike intensely, I've asked myself, "How did we get here? How has it happened that so many thousands of people are angry, despairing and disgruntled about what they do for a living?"

Clearly, there are many factors at play here -- including the rise of technology -- that makes setting boundaries around our professional lives virtually impossible. Further, in the past 30 years, we've become slaves to the almighty dollar, addicted to acquiring things we can't afford, which keeps us working long and hard just to break even.

But I believe there are even deeper reasons for this epidemic of disliking intensely what we do for a living. These reasons touch on underlying emotional, spiritual and behavioral conditions and reveal a deep disconnect to what it means to live joyfully, authentically and meaningfully.

By the way, I'm fully prepared to receive comments on this post that debunk it, such as:

Yeah sure, Kathy, you can talk about having a meaningful job, but I'm a single parent with two kids and can't afford the luxury of liking my work.


This is nonsense -- work is work, and you should change your expectations if you think you're going to love it.

I've heard these types of comments by the dozens.

When people feel stuck, they get angry -- like a caged animal. They experience themselves as victimized and backed into a tight corner. They can't see a way out. But from my vantage point, there is always a way out, always new options and solutions. Anyone and everyone can make their lives better, more satisfying and more enjoyable, but only if you believe that having more fulfillment or joy in your life or career is a goal worth trying for and within your reach (eventually).

Based on the feedback I've received from hundreds of professionals here and abroad, there are eight core reasons why people stay in careers they hate. As I share these, know this -- I'm not sitting in judgment of any of these; in fact, I've lived through each and every one of these conditions.

1) You don't know yourself
The vast majority of people I see in the workplace just don't know themselves at all. When asked, "What's your top priority in life and in your career? What would you give up anything for?" or "When you're 90 looking back, what do you want to have done, been and left behind? " I get blank stares and mouths hanging open. People don't know themselves well or deeply anymore. Why? Perhaps because we don't make time in our lives to get to know ourselves -- we're just too over-the-top busy. Or perhaps the process of knowing oneself deeply is intimidating and scary. Whatever the reason, if you don't know who you are, at your core, and what you stand for and care about, how can you lead a life that aligns with your needs, values and interests? (My free Career Path Self-Assessment will help you know yourself better if you want to find out more.)

2)You know yourself, but you make yourself wrong
In this situation, you know yourself and what you want, but you simply make yourself wrong. You tell yourself, "Yeah, I want to change, but I'm wrong to feel that way." Or "I'm lucky to have a job, so I shouldn't rock the boat" or "I have so much -- I should just feel blessed and not complain." So many people (women in particular) doubt the validity of their feelings or repress their deepest longings because they think they're wrong to have them. Until you can make yourself "right," you can't find peace or joy.

3) You've lost the courage to act
For many who know what they want, they've lost the courage to take hard action. We've been seduced by some erroneous concept that life should be easy. Where did we get that idea? Making life change isn't easy, but it's so worth it, especially if you hate where you are today. It takes courage, grit and commitment to bring about lasting change, and you can do it, but only if you decide to connect to your own internal power, courage and fortitude.

4) You've prioritized outward things over your own happiness
This reason is yours if you can answer "Yes" to this: "Are you staying in this miserable career solely because you think it's the only one that will keep paying you what you want?" If money is keeping you stuck, it's time to think about prioritizing your happiness over your checkbook. How much money do you truly need? Is your current lifestyle so fulfilling that you'd trade it over your health, happiness and well-being? Of course you have to pay your bills and meet your financial obligations -- I'm not suggesting for a minute that you don't. I am, however, recommending that you re-examine how you live and what you truly need. Meeting your financial obligations doesn't have to mean that you're miserable for the rest of your life.

5) You've been brainwashed by the myth that you can't love your work
There's a prevalent myth in the U.S. today that work is supposed to be challenging and unsatisfying. We look at people who love their work and we hate them. We say, "Yeah, she's doing what she wants to, but that's because she was (lucky, stupid, born into it, inherited money, gorgeous, etc.) And I can't do that because ___." We give ourselves thousands of reasons why loving what we do professionally just isn't in the cards for us. We do that because it's too painful for us to watch other people thrive and adore their work. We want it to be impossible because it seems so unattainable for us.

6) You are sabotaged by being emotionally overwhelmed
Each day, I see individuals who are highly competent, smart, achievement oriented and outwardly successful, but many of them are in terrible emotional overwhelm -- they're gripped by anxiety, fear or victimization and they lack the ability to speak up authoritatively or with command. They're in a constant state of paralyzing emotional overwhelm. The emotionality of their lives keeps them from reasoning through effective solutions and strategies or finding the physical energy to make a change.

7) Your shame and vulnerability keep you from getting help
One of my favorite author/speakers -- Brene Brown -- is a shame and vulnerability researcher (don't miss her great TED Talk here). She shares her findings that vulnerability is at the heart of living life full out. If we're afraid of appearing and feeling vulnerable, then we blunt all of the other experiences/emotions we desperately long for, including happiness, connection, empathy, love and more. Further, if you need to appear the "expert" and won't admit your flaws, foibles or 'gaps", you'll never get the help you need to make life change. As Einstein has said, "You can't solve a problem on the level it was created."

8) You've forgotten what true happiness feels like
Finally, the most depressing reason of all that contributes to why you hate your career is that you've simply forgotten what it feels like to be happy and joyful in your work. You can't remember the last time you said about your work, "That was a great day well spent!" We all strive so hard to achieve, win, or survive -- and we're so beaten down by it -- that many have lost touch with what true joy feels and looks like.

If any of these reasons resonate for you, there's only one choice to make - stay put in your misery or make a change. It's truly that simple - not easy, certainly, but simple.

What choice will you make today?