How to Stay Motivated in a Job You Don’t Love

We all know that work can truly enrich your life. Making a meaningful difference at work; advancing projects that align with your values and making connections with your co-workers can make you feel completely satisfied and happy inside.

Many professionals, however, don’t get meaning and purpose from their work. 51% of Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs and many seek more fulfilling employment.

It may take time

Getting a better job seems easy. In fact, my new clients often predict that they will be in a new situation in 2-3 months. In reality, it can take 6-12 months to find a job and for a higher-level executive, 12-24 months is realistic. This extended lead time is attributed to a longer interview process and the fact that many of these jobs are not advertised, but rather uncovered through networking.

Lay the groundwork

Working and trying to find a job takes mental determination. You need to find a way to stay the course. You must rely on yourself to be driven and persistent enough to land a situation that better suits your qualifications and disposition. You have to find a way to stay motivated and engaged.

The first thing to do is make a list of each of the things you need to do to help you look for your next job. Write down any steps you know you need to take, things you need to learn, or people you need to know in order to move on.  Ask yourself, “What can I do or learn in order to be successful in the next role?” This may come in the form of taking a class, meeting people, or creating or taking on projects that will enhance your resume.

Next, in order to stay engaged in your work, outline what you are doing in this particular role and how that will help you get your next job. Dissatisfaction with your current role will make you want to mentally disengage with the work. You check out in order to cope and soothe yourself, but this is counterproductive. Checking out will lead to poor job performance, lackluster reviews and unimpressive references. Checking out is ultimately detrimental to your career.

Instead, be resolute about accomplishing the goal of finding more meaningful work. You’ll do this by keeping your head in the game; becoming a top performer and making great personal connections. If you can’t stay motivated by the work, the company or the people you are currently with, draw your motivation from the satisfaction of making a path that leads to your future job. Staying grounded in your efforts in the present will create a brighter future.

The progress and momentum you feel from taking a professional inventory like this will help keep you motivated.

Work the plan and plan to work

The key to bringing focus, motivation, and happiness back into your job has two simple parts that should take no more than 3-5 minutes per day. It’s a process I have seen work time and time again because it puts you in control of your next career step.

Part 1: Morning list

Begin your day by writing down 2 things you will do to keep you motivated in your search for a better job.

Use your list of the things you need to do and learn to guide you. Break the list down into smaller tasks that you can chip away at each day. Feel like doing three tasks? Go for it. The idea is to make progress and stay motivated every day. Things like updating your profile on LinkedIn, talking to a co-worker about his experience with a recent project, making a list of companies you want to target or research, or even taking a 30-minute walk to clear your head so you can stay focused at work are just some examples. The tasks can be big or small, but the key is that each of these tasks keep you motivated.


“Do What You Can With All You Have, Wherever You Are.”  – Theodore Roosevelt


Over time you will notice that your efforts are making a difference and that your progress is noticeable. Seeing progress will bring you happiness as you see that you are closer to your goal than you realize.

Part 2: Evening List

End your day by writing down three things you want to recognize yourself for that day.

This is your opportunity to own what you have done and give yourself praise and recognition for your efforts. This exercise trains your brain to look for accomplishments throughout the day, which is exactly what you need in order to feel good about your job and what will help you move on to the next job. Over time, it brings focus to all your efforts resulting in less time wasted on mindless tasks.

Keep In Mind

Your morning and evening lists need to be nurtured every day. Letting your attention lapse for even a day or two will cause you to skip over important accomplishments, mentally discount your wins and cause you to misrepresent what is really happing in your job search.

A daily record of your tasks and your gratitude will create a strong chain of action and reflection that will propel you forward. It prevents you from checking out and allows you to see and create more opportunity in the workforce.


“If a fellow isn’t thankful for what he’s got, he isn’t likely to be thankful for what he’s going to get.”                         – Frank A. Clark


If you skip a day or two, get right back on the horse.  Don’t waste time and energy judging yourself. Recommit yourself to progress and simply pick up where you left off.

If you feel like you have lost your way; you don’t know which steps to take or you have been working at it for a while and don’t feel excited about your progress, talk to a friend or a career coach that can help you regain focus and perspective. Do whatever you need to do to stay motivated so you can land a better position, feeling confident and empowered.


Julia Holian & Associates provides career strategy and coaching for professionals looking to have the career they always wanted. Whether entering the sunset of their career or just getting started, we guide our clients with leadership and strengths coaching, job search strategy, career transition, resume and LinkedIn development, and interview preparation.

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