The Good Trouble Company

When your dream job is your nightmare

The truth is, earlier in my career I was working in my dream job for my dream company at the perfect time. The company was growing, and my career was flourishing. I was proud of where I worked, felt valued, enjoyed every day on the job. It was, in a word, the halcyon on my career. And I was only 30 years old.

All this heady happiness led to my being hand-picked to receive an incredible offer for a position within the company that was highly coveted. I was whisked to the other side of the country for a “look-see” relo visit by my company, wined and dined, and put up in the fanciest hotel. The answer, they assumed, would be a resounding “YES, I’ll take it!”

I had a queasy feeling about it from the start. Despite the outward appearance of status and ego rush of title, raise and visibility, I would have to give up the job I loved so much and was, I thought, so good at doing. It was all coming so naturally for me that being a shining star was effortless. But the new role was a whole different story. It didn’t play to my strengths, was far from home and my entire social network, involved a much higher degree of stress while being out of my comfort zone and support network.

I called my colleague/friend Chris from the fancy hotel and said, “This doesn’t feel right. I don’t think I want this job or to move out here.” Chris said what anyone would, “You CAN’T turn this job down! You were hand-picked for it! You will kill your career if you don’t take it!” And with that, I took it.

The end of the story is predictable: I suffered through two years of insane stress, all alone 3,000 miles from home. When a recruiter called about a job back east and near home, I took the call and left the company I had loved so much just to escape the role that was a misfit for me.

I came to learn that there is seldom a “bad person” in a job. But rather a “bad fit” of someone with a job. All over the world as I write this, managers and their HR partners are discussing someone who is miscast in the wrong role and it is obvious. They ponder what to do with the person, how long to give it, is the situation salvageable, or has their reputation been too badly damaged to redeem them in the company. Rarely, the situation can be turned around. More often than that, both the person and the company end their relationship feeling badly.

So, what should you do if YOU are the one who realizes that you are a good person in the wrong role?

Admit It

First, admit that even though you were always a star pupil and stellar employee (before now), not every type of role is going to play to your strengths. Analytical whizzes are NOT going to excel in people-centric roles. Go-getters are going to feel bored in maintenance roles. It’s okay…you will be the star again as soon as you get yourself back into a role that plays to your unique strengths and gifts. If you are getting a lot of negative feedback, dread Monday mornings, feel on the outside of everything at work, it is probably visible to others that this job may not be the right fit for you.

Know Yourself

Know what your strengths and gifts are. What do you enjoy doing the most? Where do you get your gratification from? Where have you truly excelled? Try not to be literal (“I’m excellent as an Accountant 1”). But rather identify the traits that you loved about that role (“I enjoy order and process. I don’t enjoy chaos and disorganization.”)

Be Proactive

Don’t wait for your boss to point out that you aren’t excelling in the role, either on a bad day or at your annual review. Schedule time with your boss and have the courage and maturity to admit that you may not be ideally situated to help the company in your current role (“I want to talk to you about how I can better help the company grow. I have enjoyed my current role but know I could contribute even more in a role that requires organization and process than in the role I am in today. I’d like to talk to you about moving into a role that plays to my strengths and what I love to do.”)

Banish the Performance Blues

Don’t wait until your performance, which was once stellar, declines in the misfit role so much that you have lost the support of your boss and others in the organization. You always want to have the support and empathy of your boss and key decision-makers throughout your career, but even more so when you realize your fit is out of alignment for what you want to do and are best at doing.

Don’t be embarrassed

Looking back, I wish I had been braver and spoken up to my boss about my unhappiness in the role. We parted as friends, sad that it hadn’t worked out, though each of us could have done a bit more to keep a loyal/me at an organization where I was highly engaged, loyal and otherwise happy.

If you manage someone who fits this description (a good person in the wrong role), act now to move them to a role that suits their strengths and passions. You are doing them a huge favor and giving them the gift of a chance to shine again. If they are truly a bad performer, of course don’t pass your “problem” along to another department. But if they have a proven track record of success in your organization, make the effort to find the right role for them. They will thank you for it (in the end).

Whether you are the manager of someone who is in the wrong role or the person who is in the wrong role yourself, admit it and move forward. You will return to stardom, excellence, value and fun in the next role and again and again throughout a long and prosperous career, and that’s the truth.

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