The Fortune 500 Insider Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Enrique Conterno, president of Lilly Diabetes, has answered the question: What do you do when you’re unhappy with your job?
The search for the perfect job — the one that brings personal satisfaction, fortune, fame or whatever else you seek in your professional life — can be long and tedious. Some people leave one job after another in hopes of landing in the right spot at the perfect time. It’s akin to playing the lottery with your career.
Before I go on, I want to be candid. I’ve had a series of jobs during my 20-plus years at Lilly that I’ve really liked. But they’ve all had their challenges. I would like to offer one perspective for anyone who is unhappy in his or her work: Job satisfaction, in my opinion, can largely be a choice that we make.
I promise that I’m not being glib. I fully understand there are many difficult jobs and difficult bosses. But I also believe that one can take a job, even one that is far from ideal, and turn it into a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
Regardless of the industry, individual jobs bring individual challenges. For example, after a couple of assignments early in my career at Lilly (LLY), I was given the opportunity to lead the sales and marketing team in my home country of Peru. On paper, it seemed like a great match: A native Peruvian returning home to help run the business for his new employer.
But my two-year stay in Peru, at times, was difficult. Coming from our corporate headquarters, I was viewed by some with suspicion. Building relationships took time, and I was a bit frustrated. At the same time, I valued what our company stood for — I loved working to make life better for people with difficult diseases. I recall receiving advice, reflecting on it, and decided that I had to own the situation: “What is in my control to make this better?”
From my experience, you can make a tough situation — or even a good one — better by keeping a few things in mind. First, stay positive. I know this is much easier said than done when things aren’t going well, but I cannot emphasize enough how important it has been for me to have the right mindset. Also, finding an outlet outside of the workplace can be important: Family, community groups or sports can be incredibly helpful during difficult stretches. I recently re-started swimming after many years, and it allows me the time and space to keep things in perspective.
Second, redefine your job. Author Daniel Pink has published findings related to engagement and performance that I’ve found quite helpful on this point. Is there a way to make your work more autonomous? Can you make work more meaningful to you? How can you become better at your job? Even small changes can make a difference. Be willing to write down a plan and commit to it.
But what if nothing works? What if you’ve asked yourself all the right questions and looked for ways to make the work experience more positive, and you’re still unhappy? In some cases, starting over is the best option — but I believe it should be a decision of last resort. Parting ways is difficult, especially after the boss and employee have invested a lot of time and resources in building the relationship.
Drastic moves such as changing jobs should include self-reflection to ensure you’re making a thoughtful decision for your long-term professional growth. Confide in a mentor who knows you and your business well. Significant personal decisions should not be made in a vacuum.
And before making a move, ask yourself how you can make the job better. If you focus on what’s in your control, you will likely find success.