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If you have not fantasized about making a career change, you are probably an exception regardless of your age, background or accomplishments. Lack of satisfaction in your professional life manifests itself in many areas and may affect personal relationships and be exhibited in dysfunctional behaviour including substance abuse.

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) represents a broad framework for a person’s experience of autonomy, competence and relatedness. It argues that SDT fosters the highest forms of motivation and engagement for activities, including enhanced performance, persistence and creativity. Furthermore, the degree to which any of these three psychological needs is unsupported or thwarted within a social context will have a significant detrimental impact on wellness.

In her research, Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor of organizational psychology at Yale University, indicated that career satisfaction is independent of roles in the professional workplace.

Lack of autonomy

Autonomy, in the context of SDT, refers to the control one has over one’s work and the sense that achievements are important and make a difference. Most people work in a role with specific responsibilities and accountabilities which define what they can do. Within these boundaries do you believe you have the ability to do things the way you think they should or could be done? Are you confined, in the way you do your job by rules and regulations that make no sense to you? Are tasks dumped on you without warning or explanation? Are you given deadlines that are unrealistic and unnecessary?

Perhaps most importantly, do you feel that you and your contributions are undervalued by the organization, and by your boss? Do you get very few, if any, “attaboy/girl?” When you believe that you have gone “above and beyond” does anyone seem to notice or recognize it?

Lack of competence

Lack of competence does not mean that you are incompetent but rather that you are not using and leveraging your strengths. Each person’s greatest potential for growth is aligned with their strengths which are a combination of their knowledge, skills and talent.

Are you able to use your knowledge (facts and lessons learned) in your role or are they wasted? Does what you do line up with what you know and can do?

Skills are the “how-to” of any activity – they bring structure to experiential knowledge. Are you able to use the skills you have acquired?

Talents are recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behaviour that can be productively applied. Do you get the opportunity to use your talents – the things you are naturally good at and therefore enjoy doing.

More importantly, are you able to see a path forward where it is possible to use your strengths? If you cannot visualize how you will be able to get into a “virtuous circle” in which you will continuously develop your strengths, including learning, and grow personally and professionally, perhaps it is time for a career change.

Lack of relatedness

Do you relate to the people you work with or the organization where you work? Do you “get” them? Do they “get” you? Organizational fit, which everyone talks about, but few can define, means behavioural congruency and behaviours are driven by beliefs and values. Are your beliefs and values, which drive your behaviour similar (they don’t have to be identical) to your colleagues and the senior leadership team and their behaviours?

The absence of autonomy, competence and relatedness will drive symptoms that you may be experiencing; resentment, underperformance and frustration.

Answering “no” to many of the questions above may well mean it is time for you to find a new career.

Peter Caven is the managing director of Launched Careers, a Toronto-based career advisory organization for young professionals.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

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