10 Things to Do When You're Feeling Discouraged in Your Career

Updated February 16, 2023

All professionals have likely felt discouraged at some point in their careers. Experiencing highs and lows, wins and challenges is a normal part of any job. Learning about the signs of discouragement can help you identify what changes to make so you can find joy and fulfillment in your career again. In this article, we explain some of the signs of discouragement and offer tips to help you overcome the feeling.

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Signs you’re feeling discouraged

Anyone can have an “off” day at work once in a while, but there are a few ways you can identify bigger issues that may lead to burnout. Here are some signs that you may be feeling discouraged in your career:

  • You feel unwilling to accept new tasks

  • You don’t feel excited to go to work most days

  • You don’t see the impact of your work

  • You don’t feel you have any advancement opportunities

  • You lack focus when you work

If you’re experiencing any of these signs, there are several steps you can take to feel motivated about your job again.

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How to overcome feeling discouraged

Here are some techniques to help you overcome discouragement in your career:

  1. Make a list

  2. Look for a way forward

  3. Focus on the work, not the rewards

  4. Consider speaking with others

  5. Help someone else

  6. Look for other influencing factors

  7. Try a new project or skill

  8. Consider your career goals

  9. Reflect on your values

  10. Consider a job change

1. Make a list

When you experience signs of discouragement, it can be helpful to make a list of factors that could be affecting you. Write down the challenges you’re experiencing and the perceived disappointments that you’re facing so you can address all of them. This is an ideal first step for overcoming any feelings of discouragement at work.

2. Find a new perspective

It can certainly feel disappointing or frustrating when you experience situations, outcomes or challenges you don’t like or agree with. It can help to focus your energy on what you can control about the situation instead of focusing on the things you can’t.

For instance, if you feel discouraged after being passed over for a promotion, consider the ways this might have been out of your control and focus on the things you can control to get a promotion during the next review cycle. Perhaps the person who did get a promotion has been waiting for several review cycles and the decision had little to do with your performance. Work with your supervisor to put together a development plan, including specific steps you can take or the impact you must show to ensure a promotion next time.

3. Be proactive, not reactive

Waiting for acknowledgment or reward can be frustrating if you don’t feel like you’re actively moving forward. But it’s possible you may need to make changes in your work habits or career in order to make progress. Back to our example of the lost promotion—there might be things you can do to increase your chances of getting the next promotion.

You could take a course in an area of the job where you don’t have experience, expand your social network to find a mentor or look for new projects or responsibilities to add to your role. Taking proactive steps in your career can help move you forward, even if your next role ends up being with another company that better acknowledges your work and potential.

4. Focus on the work, not the rewards

In addition to working towards specific goals like rewards or promotions, it’s important to find satisfaction and joy from the work itself. Take some time to identify the tasks or projects that you especially enjoy, or that make the time pass quickly—is it when you’re organizing information? Communicating with colleagues? Coming up with creative ideas or solutions to problems? Find the things you enjoy doing at work and try to incorporate them into your work more and more. You can also try and find the tasks that make you feel especially tired, frustrated or generally unmotivated. Work with your supervisor to find ways you might delegate that work, or change it so it's less unenjoyable.

You should also communicate to your supervisor the ways you best receive recognition and feedback, whether it be a shoutout on the team chat, a personal thank you email, a gift card or some other reward. This makes it easy for them to find both small and meaningful ways to keep you motivated and let you know you’re doing a great job.

5. Consider speaking with others

When you’re feeling discouraged, it can help to share your feelings and frustrations with a trusted coworker or friend. Often a coworker who knows your workplace can help you regain perspective, but be careful to share constructive information versus being disrespectful or disparaging.

Likewise, finding a career mentor can help you understand your own shortcomings, areas where you can improve and/or if it’s simply time to move on to another opportunity. A mentor can also answer career-based questions and serve as a guide through challenging situations, including overcoming discouragement in your career.

Related: How To Find a Mentor

6. Identify other influencing factors

When you’re feeling discouraged at work, it might also help to take inventory of other more general stressors in your life. Perhaps you’re navigating a big life change, caring for friends or family members or experiencing personal challenges yourself. Even small stressors in your personal life can make regular, daily work feel overwhelming.

Consider finding times throughout the day to practice self-care, even if you only have a minute or two. Small but meaningful actions can make a big difference, like taking a minute in a quiet room to take five deep breaths or walking around your office or neighborhood. Generally, getting a good night’s sleep, eating whole foods and regularly exercising are all good ways to practice self-care as well.

If you trust your supervisor, they might also be a good resource in helping you balance work and personal responsibilities. For example, they might recommend time off, remove overwhelming tasks from your workload or offer company resources for support.

Related: The Ultimate Guide To Work-Life Balance

7. Take on a new project or learn a new skill

Ask your manager if you can work on a new project to try something different other than the job you’ve been doing. See if there are training opportunities within the company to learn new skills. Perhaps you can volunteer to help on a project with a different team. Changing your daily routine can challenge you and help you feel better about yourself. You can then return to your regular work with renewed energy and encouragement. You might even discover untapped skills that could lead to new career possibilities.

8. Reassess your career path

Take a good look at your career path and the goals you have set for yourself. Is your current job still on the right track or have you taken a detour from your path along the way? Talk with your manager to see if there are ways your job can better align with your overall career goals. Your manager might be able to help you find something more suitable within the company. If not, consider other opportunities in your industry that will help you get on the right road to your goals.

9. Reflect on your core values

Your core values are the personal values that guide your decision-making. You tend to find the most career satisfaction when your job corresponds with your core values. Perhaps your job used to align with your values but either the job changed or your values shifted. If this is the case, it might explain why you feel discouraged. Schedule a talk with your manager to see if the job can be adjusted to better align with your values. If not, it may be a sign that you are a better fit going forward with another company.

10. Consider a job change

If you’ve tried all of the steps noted above and you still feel like something is missing in your work life then it may be time to update your resume and search for new opportunities. Sometimes a different position within the same company is possible. Other times, it may be the right move to find another employer or even switch industries. In any case, sometimes our discouragement with our current position is a positive sign that we are ready to move on and reach the greatest heights in a new role.

Read more: How To Know When It Is Time To Leave a Job

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