Twenty surprising reasons you stay stuck in the career you hate

Nov 23, 2021

If Monday mornings are the worst day of the week, then just *know* you are in great company. You are unwittingly part of a global trend where 80% of workers are what the experts call ‘disengaged’. That’s a fancy way of saying your fellow colleagues don’t enjoy their work and do the minimum required to get by.

But here’s the kicker. 

We spend a third of our life at work. Many of us look to find purpose and meaning through work.

To not find meaning and job in our job is a horrible way to exist. 

One research report notes that most of us would take up to 23% cut in future life time earnings in exchange for work that was meaningful.

If you’re one of the 80% (and let’s face it, that figures means there is a good chance it is) this post is for you.

Let’s explore what YOU tell yourself as to WHY you have to stay in a job you hate.

  1. You tell yourself that ‘wanting more’ is selfish. You believe it’s selfish AND indulgent to dream of a better career given how much you have that’s ‘great’ by other people’s standards. My offer is its time to re-frame selfishness. Wanting more meaning and fulfilment does not negate what you have. You can want more whilst still being grateful for what you have. And if what you want more of doesn’t come at the expense of others, then why not?
  2. You feel some shame about changing your mind. Many years ago, you made decisions and choices that set you on this path. And yet, you feel guilty about changing your mind and/or admitting that your last 20 years were good, but not what you want from your next 20 years. You aren’t alone in this shame corner. And take a tip from the tech world where agile thinking and fast fail are the name of the game. See the last 20 years as a great chapter, and see yourself at a choice point now to decide what the next chapter is. 
  3. You believe it's a tough job market. Current market conditions means it’s in the hands of YOU, the employee. Did you know that wind turbine technicians are the hot ticket at the moment? Estimates are of a 61% increase in hiring of people with these skills. This is just one example of how many employers are struggling to find the staff they need. And some roles are *extra hot* like sales, diversity leads, digital marketing and content. It’s not as hard to get the job in this current market as you might believe. 
  4. No-one else has it any better.  When you look around, your friends and peers seem to have a similar life to you. Similar commitments, daily commute, family responsibilities. When you look closely there is no model for a different way of living. You assume that these friends are happy with what they have. But recall that stat of 80% of folk disengaged? And remember there is a huge asymmetry between what we know of ourselves versus what we know about others. You have no idea how happy/fulfilled they are. Don’t make that the basis for accepting your own reality.
  5. You are not ready to throw in the towel on your career. You’ve invested a lot in education, experience and skill building to get you to where you are today. You are in a career rut, but you aren’t prepared to throw it all in. I get that – but buried in this thinking is the assumption that you have to throw it all in! What if you could make small changes that could make a difference?
  6. You don’t have time for the 20,000 foot-view of your career. And without that perspective, you don’t know what needs to change. But the hard truth is we always make the time to do the things that matter to us. Someone I know found 12 hours a week  by repurposing her commute time that she no longer needs to do. Connect to the cost of staying stuck in the career rut you are in, then you’ll find the time.
  7. It’s not the right time to rock the boat.  You have a long list of obligations and commitments. If you were to make changes in your life and career, that could impact the kids, your partner, and the family. You tell yourself it’s just not the right time. My loving challenge is when will it be a good time? Doing the tough reflection work (see previous point) and making changes is never easy. But doing the assessment at least gives you sight on options and when they might plausible for you.
  8. Retirement is the only conceivable next option – even though that’s decades away. You can’t begin to conceive what ‘better’ or even different would look like. If there aren’t people in your network modelling different ways, it’s hard to know what else to do. In addition to improving current role circumstances through a raise or side-ways move, there are a variety of changes you probably haven’t considered such as side-hustle, going freelance or creating a portfolio career. All could offer rich and rewarding options without a cut in pay or an increase in hours.
  9. You think the future will ‘just’ work itself out. Tough love, my friend. This is a form of unhelpful thinking known as present bias. Did you know that people spend more time researching new TV’s than selecting a retirement plan?  Present bias is a tendency to overvalue payoffs closer to the present at the expense of those further in the future. Don’t be that person who regrets not doing something when they could
  10. You think you are safe in your corporate job. Long service is no longer the reward for a loyal employee. Remember those employees of Lehman Brothers, masters of the universe in 2007, escorted from the building clutching cardboard boxes? You are only as safe as your next corporate pay cheque. Loyalty is a one-way street at best in the world of work
  11. You were told to do what's expected of you and then you would be happy. Since school, you’ve been told “Be top of the class”, “get into the right company” and that would be enough to get you on track for an amazing life. Be good and you will be rewarded. That’s fine when you are in your 20s and are finding out who you are. Mid-career, the stakes are higher. Don’t be a passive actor in your own movie
  12. Your boss keeps giving you raises and bonuses. When you are a multi-talented employee you will get the financial rewards. That’s the good news. This message feels out of alignment with how you feel about the job. Whilst the monetary rewards are always welcome, once we’ve achieved a level of financial stability, money is not a big motivating factor.  And know there are other places where this is possible and where you can actually enjoy and find meaning in the work
  13. You believe you must have it figured out before you make a move. You wait for the right idea, right job, or right time. You wait to discover your passions. We are so used to having our lives mapped out for us that we feel completely ill-equipped to start charting our own path. This is not the school sport’s team where you are waiting to get picked. This is your life. Make a move.  LINK to website]
  14. You don’t know what drives you. You’ve never been able to answer the big question of what do you want to do with this one precious life. You’ve watched Simon Sinek’s TED talk , and love the idea of having a compelling Why as a North Star to career decisions. You may not find your ONE thing and yet still find fulfilment in what you do. There are books, courses and coaches who can help you with this - including me. Ask for help
  15. You tell yourself you don’t have the right skills. You’ve been told all your life you needed to have certain skills to get the ‘right’ job. But it may not be what you need to get the next one. Progressive companies will hire people for attitude and gumption over skills. As an example, Tough Mudder, an extreme sports start-up, hires people with no experience in the role they are applying fo
  16. You worry about the financial cost of any change in job. It’s likely that it’s been a while since you reviewed the family finances (which would make you very normal!). But this also means you don't know what is minimum vs nice to have vs awesome income. Without this clarity, any change in work circumstances that doesn’t involve the exactly the same income as you have now can seem risky. A finance review will reveal more options about what’s possible in the short and long ter
  17. You believe that a change will require taking on financial debt. This may be true and there may be ways to minimize this. I have clients who’ve taken on side gigs to earn money to finance something of importance. Other clients have gone to a 4-day week to start slowly in the new gig. Challenge yourself to think of 5 alternate ways of mixing up what you do through a transition period that would reduce the need for taking on debt.
  18. You don’t talk about your mental health. You were born at a time when sharing mental health challenges would reflect poorly on you at work. And perhaps this is still the case in certain organisation. But not talking about how you are being impacted allows you to continue to tell yourself that somehow it will turn out ok. 89% of workers with mental health issues report it impacting upon their working lives. If you are staying stuck because it feels less threatening to your mental health, get help from a mental health professional
  19. You were told to get a job you didn’t hate and ‘just’ make money. As someone mid-career, chances are the messaging you received early on was to just get on with work. We have the younger generations to thank for raising the bar and wanting to have work that’s aligned with their values, and have purpose. We are allowed to have the same hopes and dreams of our careers as well. Be more Gen Z
  20. You tell yourself you don’t have the right network. Your friends are carbon copies of you and as a result, you live in an echo chamber. Little inspires you in the opportunities that arise. You can expand and diversify your network. Make a list of 20 people you know (colleagues and bosses past and present) and arrange a short coffee meeting (in person or online). Ask them loads of questions about what’s exciting or evolving in your industry and who they think you should be talking to. Ask for introductions. You will be amazed at the good will in your network.

So now what? 

The upside of the pandemic is that it laid bare what we’ve been habitually tolerating. This is a chance to put you back in charge of your career and create a meaningful next chapter. Congratulations on owning up whichever of the above stories we all tell ourselves to keep us safe.

Here are three things you can do to unstick yourself:  

  •  Make the time. Chances are you are doing an A+ job at the moment, so what time is freed up with a B- job approach and a few personal sick days? Leave at 5:30. Don’t take on the new project. Create a chunk of hours over one month to do the all-important career-wash-up and review.
  • Do a review. Be honest with yourself about what’s working and what’s not. Which of these stories are you telling yourself are absolute truths? Who’s on your team to help you with this?
  • Take one action. A 1% change in the course of a ship can have it arrive at a different continent than originally planned. After making the time and doing the review, what’s the one thing you can try out that might change the course of your ship?

If you’ve had enough of being in this career rut and want a wing woman for the journey, let's talk.