What to do when you feel stuck in a job

August 14, 2014

Ah, work. We have all manner of stuck moments around what we do for a living. And that’s not such a bad thing — because we’re identifying ways we can make our jobs and companies better.

Except if the job itself is what’s keeping you stuck.

When the hours spent at work consistently clock in anywhere from low-level misery to high-grade unhappiness, your most frequent debate is whether to quit or tough it out.

The very liberating answer is that it’s up to you.

More than anyone, you know what’s most important to you now and in the future, what you can and cannot tolerate, whether you can turn it around or need to head for the hills. But it does take honest reflection on your situation and your priorities to gain clarity.

To help with that, we created the Should-I-Quit-My-Job reality checklist. But before (and after) you begin checking boxes, there are a few other things to consider.

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1. What a job actually is. A job is an agreement between you and your employer. In exchange for your competent services, the employer agrees to pay you and to provide a physically safe work environment. All the other stuff — company mission, culture, mentorship, advancement, pay raises, policies, process — are your choice to accept or decline. In other words, you are not a victim of how a company operates unless you choose to be. You can adapt, you can work for positive change, or you can step away.

2. No job is perfect. Ever. Even your friends who travel around the world, make a zillion dollars, or party in the name of work have a complaint or two. We all have to decide if what we get from the job outweighs what we grumble about. And 10 grumbles to one piece of praise do not automatically mean it’s quitting time. If you find your work meaningful (the top priority for Americans) but you harp on the inefficiencies, it’s time to examine how much you’ve done — and how much more you can do — to lessen the grumbles. Likewise, if your favorite part of your job is the paycheck.

3. Comfort has a way of sidetracking you. It’s actually a strategy of some employers to offer such outstanding benefits that you’re unwilling to give up the job, even if it doesn’t really suit you. So you stay for the pay or the vacation time or the company softball team. Then, without realizing it, your passion and ambition dwindle, along with your confidence to pursue work elsewhere.

Okay, now it’s time to start assessing whether you should stay or go. Try not to let emotions color your responses on the checklist. And once you have a final answer (the checklist is a tool, not an oracle), explore the resources below to help you with next steps — even if you’re petrified. Once you start seeing the possibilities, fear is often replaced with enthusiasm. Or, if you’re champing at the bit to hand in your resignation, remember that it’s usually better to leave for something rather than leave to get away from something.

Find a new job (before you quit)

Muse U: Advice on resumes, interviews, networking; job listings 

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Glassdoor: Company reviews, salaries, job listings

The six best ways to find your next job 

Make your current job better

Office politics for people who hate politics

How to make a boring job better

Your guide to good work relationships

Don’t like your job? Change it (without quitting)

15 ways to zap your annoyance before it ruins your day

Download the printable Should-I-Quit-My-Job reality checklist

Next week: Unstuck Hero: A vision that delivers dignity to tens of thousands a day
Last week: Is it okay to let someone else call the shots?

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