Working towards and achieving a goal only to be rewarded by feelings of emptiness can be devastating. Now what?

Getting a degree is a big milestone because of the amount of work and sacrifice it takes. Most people embark on their studies because they have some idea of what career they would like to have. Life after graduation can be very different to what you may have expected, which is fine. But what happens if you find yourself in a position where the job you thought would make you happy actually turns out to be deeply unsatisfying?

‘I caution people against thinking that any job will be their source of happiness,’ says Johannesburg-based counsellor Mandisa Murugi. ‘That expectation has many people feeling depressed and disillusioned. It is not your career’s job to make you happy; your career is there to develop you in other ways. And sure, you can find a job that is pleasant, but its primary purpose isn’t that.’

Dealing with the disappointment can be difficult, but here are some questions to ask to help you chart a way forward:

  • ‘Is this job negatively affecting my wellbeing?’ If the answer is ‘Yes’, the issue is likely more than just not having your expectations met. Your job isn’t supposed to make you depressed. Chatting to a mentor or someone you trust may help.
  • ‘Am I still developing?’ Your job may not resemble an episode of Suits, but you need to ask yourself if you are still learning and growing. If the answer is ‘Yes’, it might be a good idea to stick it out. Growth is often challenging, but the results make the effort worthwhile.
  • ‘What else can I do for myself?’ In other words, if your job isn’t fulfilling what would be? Find things outside of your work that can give you a sense of purpose and fulfilment.

‘Finding balance is one of the most difficult things to do when it comes to making a living and feeling like you are living your truth and purpose,’ says Murugi. ‘I am a big advocate for helping others and giving back. Perhaps this is the gap that needs filling. There is a lot to be gained in helping others because sometimes part of the problem is your living a life that is about only yourself and your needs, which can lead to feelings of emptiness. Bear in mind that even if your dream job isn’t what you imagined, your life can still be whatever you choose to make of it.’