So here's the thing about being in a place that makes you depressed: You're too depressed to make the changes necessary to get out of the place. It can seem insurmountable. In eerily coincidental-sounding but utterly unrelated news (*cough*), I have a new job! You will certainly already know this if you've had occasion to see me bouncing off the walls lately. While some of my friends are content in their jobs, many are not, so I'll share my self-help program, in the hopes that it might console and inspire those who are wishing for a change.
I had been in the old job for 8 years, so even thinking about a change was scary. Here's what I did.
You deserve a job that makes you happy.
Really, you do. You probably have a list of reasons why you need to stay at the place you're at, but look critically at those reasons. Put yourself into a five-year-old's mindset and ask "Why? …Why? …Why?" about each one. The reasons on my list, when I started doing some fact-checking out in the real world, turned out to be myths.
Throw rocks at that old adage, "…that's why they call it 'work.'" Pfft, whatever. If you're reading my blog, I'll assume you're a knowledge worker, and probably a programmer, and someone who likes to think about new ways of doing things. Lucky us, there are many lucrative careers for people who like to think. For me, writing software is like play—heck, it is something I do for play—so I didn't need to find a different line of work, just a different job that let me write software. You don't need to suffer to put bread on your table.
Get out there, walk amongst the people. If you're really sunk in the doldrums, this is probably the most tempting one to blow off, but here are some benefits: meet people with similar interests and challenges; dispel myths about the job market; find inspiration, in people who like their jobs, in people with passion; meet job prospects; become known for your ideas and contributions.
Networking and professional venues I find helpful: door64, AgileAustin, AgileATX, GeekAustin, Austin .NET User Group, classes, and my blog. Yeah, yeah, and LinkedIn.
Define the goal.
I developed a really clear list about what I wanted in an employer. Honed it, you might say. Took it out during meetings and quietly polished it. But this was helpful, because it gave me a concise list of interview questions to ask of my potential employers. The ultimate filter question, the one at the top of the list that immediately let me know whether it was even worth continuing, goes like this: "Do you like your job?"
Look for a yes. There are a ton of answers that are not yeses. I know, because I had years of delivering them myself. "It presents me with a lot of challenges. I get to work with people from all over the world, and I'm part of a great team." Yeah, but that wasn't a yes. I want to work in a place where it's possible to like your job.
Keep it positive.
No matter how bad it is, if you come off as a complainer, you will sour job prospects. Be diplomatic, and steer the conversation to what you're working towards, what you look for in the future.
To keep the gushing to a minimum, I'll simply say: My husband rocks. You've probably got someone, too, whether a sweetie or a best friend, a pen pal or your mom or your dog, someone who knows that you're awesome. This is a good time to trust that person (or dog), to let him or her know that you're embarking on something intimidating and you'd like encouragement through the journey. It helps to have a belayer.
Believe in yourself.
At my lowest, I believed that I had no useful, marketable skills; all I was good at was politicking my way through my employer's byzantine bureaucracy. I had to break out of that if I was going to even begin the process of moving elsewhere. (Or of getting a promotion, for that matter.) I got a big sheet of newsprint and a box of goofy-big crayons, I went into a room by myself and closed the door, and I brainstormed. Crazy, wild, unrelated ideas about what I do, what I'm capable of, and what I am that is awesome. I wrote a lot of things on that paper, and many of them showed up on the next draft of my résumé.
And then I thought about what I wanted my résumé to look like. Or, more specifically, what skills I would need in order to get the kind of job I would enjoy. I made a curriculum: books to read, topics to research, and projects to implement. Tuesday is homework night, for writing code. Here's the trick to making this palatable: Every time I worked on a curriculum item, I complimented myself on taking another step towards that new job. When you're in a hole, the very act of climbing up makes you see the sky. That's where I'm going, and I'm making progress towards it. Yay, me.
So there's an overview of how I improved my lot in life. The hardest part was overcoming inertia and getting started. Well, that, and persevering through to the goal. ;-) If you're happy where you are, don't forget to look around and appreciate that from time to time. Every job has its annoyances and challenges I imagine, but it is possible to find one where you feel fulfilled and appreciated, where your skills are useful, and where the challenges are fun. You deserve a job you enjoy.