What do you do if you’re unhappy with your job?

Short answer: Have a conversation with a peer or mentor then dig deeper by using the C.A.M.P model to diagnose what's going on.

A Perfect Career Conversation

Gib’s note: This is a hard question to answer without context, but I’m sorry you’re unhappy with your job. My suggestion is to have an in-depth conversation with a peer or mentor to help figure out what’s going on. There’s no such thing as a “perfect career” or a “perfect conversation,” but this essay details how to structure a career conversation with a peer or mentor using the C.A.M.P. model.

Five years ago, I had breakfast with Brent Ayrey. Brent had worked for me at Netflix and eventually became VP of Innovation. In 2012 he left Netflix to become CPO at CreativeLive. He surprised me, however, by leaving the startup after two years.

I asked Brent, “Why did you leave?” 

He replied, “I couldn’t make it an eight.”

Brent was talking in code, answering my most frequent career question, “On a scale of zero to ten, where zero sucks and ten is great, what’s your current job satisfaction?” 

Brent explained that his satisfaction had wavered between five and six over the last year. He couldn’t find a way to improve things, so he left. We both believe that if you can’t maintain an eight or higher, it’s time to explore other opportunities. 

The CAMP model

I’ve had hundreds of career conversations with peers and mentors, and that single question, along with a few follow-up questions, helps folks get unstuck. The follow-up questions focus on four factors, which I call the “C.A.M.P.” model. It’s a bastardization of Daniel Pink’s “AMP” model— I’ve added a fourth factor: 

  • Community. Do you enjoy working with your boss, peers, and other employees at your company? Do you feel a connection to the customers you serve?

  • Autonomy. To what degree do you set your direction, or, on the downside, do you feel too much like an “order-taker”?

  • Mastery. Are you learning? Are you developing new skills that help you to become great at your job?

  • Purpose. Do you feel a connection to the work you do? Does your company have the potential to dent the universe in a way that feels important to you?

The answers to these questions help generate ideas to make your current job better or help identify other roles that will provide higher job satisfaction.

A career conversation with a peer

Here’s an example of one of these career conversations. Barry O’Reilly is a peer of mine -- he’s on my personal board of directors. Barry is a business advisor, author, and board member of a number of high-growth startups. I think of him as a “solopreneur,” and you may be familiar with his recent book, “Unlearn.”  Recently, Barry and I recorded our every six-month check-in. You can watch our conversation here.

When I asked Barry what his Overall Job Satisfaction was, he answered, ”I’ll give it both a six and an eight.” Barry explained that his second son was born in April, during the pandemic, and juggling a two-career household was hard— that was the six. But he learned a lot about himself and handled the challenge well — that’s the eight.

When I asked Barry what his score for Connection was, he answered, “That’s high. I’d give it a nine.” I know that Barry enjoys his relationships with his clients and a distributed team of solopreneurs he works with to deliver his business.

When I asked Barry what his Autonomy score was, he surprised me. I assumed he enjoys lots of independence, but he answered: “I’d give it a six. I didn’t feel in control.” Barry explained that as a solopreneur, there’s his business, but there’s also his family’s life, and “managing that balance was tough.” His life was not his own.

On Mastery and learning, Barry gave himself a six. He explained, “One of the new areas I hoped to learn about was AI and machine learning, but I couldn’t find time for that.” He continued, “But I learned a lot about myself through these challenges, so I’ll give myself a few points for that.”

Finally, on Purpose, Barry’s self-evaluation was, again, a six. It was clear that COVID and a newborn's demands made it hard for him to dent the universe in meaningful ways.

We did a little analysis after the conversation, but I’m confident that Barry’s numbers will shoot up six months from now, as COVID subsides. Although Barry’s current job satisfaction isn’t eight or higher, it’s clearly a temporary setback.

My numbers

If you watch the video, you’ll see Barry ask for my numbers, but here’s the summary:

  • Overall job satisfaction: 9

  • Community/social: 8

  • Autonomy: 9

  • Mastery/learning: 9

  • Purpose: 8 or 9

Barry is a tougher grader than I, but my wife and I are “empty-nesters,” which makes things easier for me.

In our follow-up conversation, Barry pushed on two dimensions where I didn’t do as well as I hoped: building mechanisms to collect emails for future business opportunities and writing a book. Both are on my “guilt list.”

Conclusion: What are your numbers?

I’m lucky to have a half-dozen peers and mentors like Barry that I compare notes with every 6-12 months. This personal board of directors helps me “to see around corners” and assess my career more critically than I would on my own. No one is fully self-aware— we need help from others to navigate our careers.

Your to-do’s:

  • Evaluate your own job satisfaction using the C.A.M.P. model

  • Build your own board of directors, composed of both peers and mentors

  • Initiate a career conversation with a board member. Use the C.A.M.P. model to see if you can generate additional insights.

I hope you found this helpful. If you’re not a subscriber, here’s your chance — we’re getting close to 3,000 subscribers after two months:



Gibson Biddle

P.S. As always, I’d love your feedback on this essay:

Give feedback

You can also ask and upvote questions here:

Ask & Upvote Questions