Your Dream Job Turned Out To Be a Nightmare… What Can You Do?


In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, that pre-teen book that adults by the millions secretly read, author Jeff Kinney writes, “You can’t expect everyone to have the same dedication as you.” While that may be sage advice, there are times when there’s nothing unreasonable about expecting that folks around you care as much as you do. Or even half as much.

Heck, sometimes you’d even settle for a quarter. And your on-boarding experience at a new job certainly qualifies. Yet plenty of new hires discover within days or weeks that their new dream job is turning out to be a nightmare. One made all the more terrifying because it doesn’t seem to have an end.

In fact, in some organizations, it’s common for new hires to be greeted with icy stares and cold shoulders instead of warm smiles and hearty handshakes. How should you deal with this ugly situation if you’re entangled in it right now, or if you have a sinking feeling that things are heading that way?

Here’s your survival guide for what to do when your new dream job turns out to be more of a nightmare.

1. Don’t panic

Now is when you need to be focused and level-headed, and freaking out is not a good strategy. Yes, you’re probably feeling a mixture of anxiety, disappointment, and confusion. If you have to – and I have actually done this and it works – go to the bathroom and carve out some solitary confinement. You may even want to try some power poses to psych yourself up. Do whatever you need to in order to collect yourself and realize that you’re in survival mode, which means it’s time to get pragmatic. There will be plenty of time for freaking out later.

2. Stay far away from Facebook and Twitter

Venting on social media about your new nightmarish job, colleagues, or customers (or all three, yikes!) may seem harmless or even therapeutic. But it’s definitely neither. We see time and time again: posts, tweets, and comments can come back to haunt their unsuspecting authors. They’re more like boomerangs than arrows.

3. Gain some perspective

The first thing to go in a crisis is perspective, which isn’t actually such a bad thing. After all, way back when we all lived in caves and fended off wild animals with clubs and rocks, it was really great that we didn’t pause our club-wielding or rock-throwing ways and engage in existential self-reflection. That probably would’ve led to our demise.

As you deal with the extreme variance between expectations and reality, it’s safe to assume that perspective has fled. And that’s okay. You can get it back by recognizing that you aren’t trapped. You have options, and now is the time when you need to reflect and identify what they are. A helpful trick here is to write out your options rather than think about them. Getting them out of your head into a tangible form will let you see them more clearly. Some of the options you may come up with include:

  • Speaking with a career counselor
  • Talking with an experienced mentor
  • Having a conversation with your boss
  • Realizing that you may be better suited in a different kind of career

At one point in my life, I found myself expecting to launch into my dream job, only to discover within a few days that it was a nightmare. And while there were some really rotten things about the whole scenario – including some of the people – one thing it did for me was highlight that I was on the wrong career path. The revelation was shocking and scary, but it was also empowering.

It taught me something about what truly motivated me in a way that I never could have discovered in an abstract or academic way. I basically needed a nightmare scenario to teach me something invaluable. You may have a similar insight, and if that’s the case, years from now, you’ll actually be grateful for the lesson.

4. Take action

Obviously, you didn’t want to wind up in a job-related nightmare, but you’ve had one thrust upon you. As a result, you’re forced to take some kind of action. Closing your eyes, mind, or heart won’t help you here. Something’s gotta give, and you’re it. The options you identified in Step 3 are the plays in your playbook, and now it’s up to you. Perhaps you’ll speak with a mentor, research a different career path, or talk to a career coach. Whatever you decide to do, make a commitment and do it. This can’t be emphasized enough.

When you take action, no matter how small it may seem at the time, you are essentially establishing what’s called a pattern interrupt. You’re changing the situation by adding something from outside the system, and therefore setting something new in motion. In essence, you are creating change. Taking action may not immediately transform your situation and make it better, or even tolerable.

Your lazy coworkers or overbearing boss will probably still be terrible tomorrow, action or no action. But this isn’t about them, it’s about you. Taking action helps your reclaim your power over your own destiny – and that’s what you’re really and truly missing right now (or rather, what was taken from you). Taking action is your way of getting it back and moving forward.

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