4 Ways to Find Out What's Actually Making You Miserable at Work — And How to Fix It

woman frustrated at work

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Becca Carnahan1.11k
Career Coach & Mom of 2
April 14, 2024 at 1:14AM UTC

Have you ever cried in the bathroom at work?

Have you ever finished your lunch by 9:30am on a Wednesday because you were bored?

Have you ever left a meeting and spent the next 30 minutes scrolling job boards?

Maybe you were simply having a bad day (been there!), or maybe you’re miserable at work and you need to make a change.

Here’s how to find out what’s dragging you down in your job — and even better, how to fix it.

1. Write it down.

If you know you’re unhappy in your job, but it’s hard to pinpoint why, grab a pen, paper, and ten spare minutes. 

Even if you’re not a journal writer, free writing about a problem is a great way to break it down. Set a timer for ten minutes and just start writing about the past week at work and what has gotten you down. 

If you need some prompts to help you get started, try answering these questions:

  • When were you looking at the clock hoping it would move faster? 
  • When did you feel your energy completely drained? 
  • When were you tempted to hit send on your resignation letter

Write out the scenarios naming the who, what, where, when, and why.

After ten minutes, put the writing away, take a walk, then come back to read what you wrote. Do you see any themes around the people you were interacting with, the activities you were doing, or the setting you were in? Is there anything there you could control by making small changes in your existing role or company?

2. Dream it.

Now let’s flip things around and focus on the positive, or what could be positive.

Give yourself 20 minutes and try imagining your dream job using the same who, what, where, when, and why framework. In a dream job, who would you be working with and providing goods or services to? What activities would you be doing on a daily basis to accomplish your goals? Where would you be working (remote, in-person, traveling, specific location)? When would you be working? Why do you care about this dream company?

When you do this activity, you’re quickly going to notice the gaps between your dream role and your current role. Perhaps you’re miserable at work because your dream company has a mission closely aligned with your values, and your current company doesn’t. Maybe you long to be working remotely so you could have more time with your family, and right now you’re commuting into the office daily.

Once you have your dream role in mind, then you can start identifying the types of companies and roles you want to target in your search. Knowing you'’e making moves in the right direction will already make you feel better in your day to day.

If you need some help getting started, check out the 100 jobs exercise as a jumping-off point.

3. Talk about it with someone you trust.

If you’re struggling with the writing or dreaming exercises, then it’s time to talk about it with a trusted friend, advisor or career coach who will listen actively and ask the right questions.

There’s no shame in asking for help as you work through this challenging problem. You’ll even find it can be very clarifying to talk openly with someone about where you’re struggling. Sometimes the answers we’re looking for are right at the tips of our tongues, you just need the time and space to talk it out.

Use this guide to find a great career coach for women.

4. Test it.

Now that you have a guess as to what that thorn in your professional side is, it’s time to test out your hypothesis. 

For example, if you think that working remotely might change the game for you, write a work from home proposal and schedule a conversation with your manager. Or, if you think that a disconnect with the company’s mission is making you miserable, look for opportunities to engage in an internal ERG aligned with your values, or places where you can volunteer. 

Testing out small changes before making a big change in your career is a great way to map out your next steps with confidence while also building the experience and connections that can help you make a move.


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Becca Carnahan is a career coach, author, and mom from Massachusetts. As the founder and CEO of Next Chapter Careers, LLC, she specializes in helping women and moms land fulfilling jobs they love without giving up the flexibility they need. Signup for her weekly newsletter and access free career resources at beccacarnahan.com

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for feeling miserable at work? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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