Do You Hate Your First Job (or Are You Confusing it with Your Boyfriend)?

Considering the pressure put on students to obtain the perfect job after college, it’s surprising that the majority of them leave their work within the first two years. Today’s Generation Y professionals are not constrained by the job loyalty that their predecessors felt. Perhaps that’s why a recent Guardian Life survey revealed that young grads anticipate they will experience over eight career changes during their working lives. That’s an exhausting number of resumes to write.

But today’s post-college professionals don’t hesitate to pursue a change when there’s a possibility of better pay, increased job satisfaction or less work-related stress. They can just look to a few famous job hoppers to confirm that when it comes to careers, change is good. No one will argue with the decision Martha Stewart made to ditch a post-college job as a stockbroker and embrace her domestic goddess calling. Many of us are glad that Harrison Ford quit his day job in construction to begin filming Star Wars and a succession of top Hollywood hits. And how would opera buffs survive if Andrea Bocelli hadn’t shunned his law career for the stage? Despite those notable success stories, the Generation Y professional’s race to find the perfect job could slow his career without gaining him the benefits he seeks.

Collateral Damage

Career setbacks can occur when the underlying motivation for a job transition is not really about the job. Psychologists call this phenomena “incidental affect”, when an emotion unrelated to the decision being made has a powerful effect on the outcome. Studies conducted on the role of emotion in decision making demonstrate that incidental emotions can propel a person into a decision before that individual fully considers the possible consequences. As might be expected, people tend to make more optimistic decisions when they are in good moods and conversely, make risk-averse, pessimistic choices while experiencing depression or fear.

Career decisions can especially be influenced by stressors incidental to a professional’s day-to-day job. If a young manager is fearful that a parent’s health may worsen, she may suddenly become pessimistic about her work performance and take fewer risks. Whereas, previously, the woman might have volunteered for a tough, high-profile assignment, she now may decline the project, fearing the prospect of failure.

Interestingly, angry individuals’ behaviors more closely resemble those of optimists than fearful individuals. Angry decision makers tend to make confident, risk-seeking choices. If your boyfriend recently cheated on you, you coincidentally may begin to feel cheated at work too. You feel that you’re not getting the best assignments, that your boss doesn’t recognize your talents. You may decide to quit, thinking you will find career success much more easily elsewhere.

Isolating your Stressors

When your world appears to be caving in on all fronts, it’s tempting to seek a wholesale change. If I move from this city, my social life will improve, my career will turn around and my finances will finally be in order. But massive transition can cause unnecessary and unconsidered career anxieties. If you quit your job without securing another, unemployment can lead to immense pressures. Alternatively, if you start a search, clouded by non-career-related emotions, you may settle for a new situation that really isn’t an improvement.

Ideally, the pessimistic, anxious, or angry worker should try to improve the factors that are causing ancillary emotions to seep into her work environment. If you are in that situation, find a new roommate, dump your boyfriend, go on vacation or take up yoga. Do whatever is necessary to get your life in order. Only then will you gain a clear view of how compatible you are with your job and career path.

As you try to eliminate the external influences on your work, little fixes at the office can also help guide you back on the right track. If you’re frustrated with the quality of your work, ask your superior for better assignments. If you don’t feel like your pay fairly represents your contribution, discuss your salary goals with your boss. Being proactive regarding individual frustrations at work should be a first step before making the significant decision to depart.

There’s No Place Like Home

You may find that, even as the rest of your life improves, you feel just as trapped as you felt before in your job. That’s a good sign that there really is something wrong with your career. A job change, of course, isn’t always the wrong decision, even if you’re in the first stage of your career. Many times it allows for advancement that just wouldn’t occur as quickly had you stayed longer in your job. It’s worthwhile, though, to thoughtfully consider whether it’s your job or some other aspect of your life that’s making you unhappy. And if possible, avoid falling prey to the Dorothy Effect…running all over the damn place trying to find Kansas, when it is right in front of you the whole the time.