Why We Stay In A Job We Hate
I remember my first day at my first job out of school, an IT recruiter in a recruitment agency in downtown Toronto. I came home that evening and said to my aunt (I was living with her at the time) that it was a good first day but that I don’t know how I’ll be able to last out the year. That was my plan when I took the job, work for 1 year before trying to get a corporate HR job.
Well I lasted that 1 year. In fact I was there for 4 years and I was laid off. I didn’t leave of my own accord. And I’m still working through the why. I was so unhappy and there were times where I did a halfhearted job search but there was always one reason or another that kept me stuck in that job I hated. And yes there were the practical reasons – job stability, money, career progression but honestly I used those reasons as excuses to ignore the things that I was telling myself. That I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t have time or that I was afraid.
And I know I’m not alone. Throughout my 15 years of experience I have heard many “practical reasons” for staying in a job you hate but upon digging there is always an underlying negative voice that is the real reason. Today I want to talk about the six most common, I’m sure if you are stuck that at least one of these will resonate with you.
1. It’s too late for me.
You have finished your degree, you have had kids, you are over 40, you are close to retirement. You feel that your ship has sailed and that since it is too late that you need to suck it up and be thankful for the job you do have.
Can I tell you something though – it is never too late to change. So what if you have been a teacher for 15 years or just completed a degree in Engineering or only have 5 years left until you are retiring. YOU STILL HAVE TIME. I have clients that are 55 years old and who are done with the jobs that they hate. They want to spend their last years in the workforce doing something they love not something that they are just tolerating. I have clients who have done complete 180s in the career because they realized they had been pursuing someone else’s dream – their parents, society’s and that it is time to start going after their own dreams.
My message to you: YOU STILL HAVE TIME.
2. I am afraid
Change is scary. The unknown is terrifying. The thought of failure is enough to have you quaking in your boots. So you stay, you may say to yourself that there is no guarantee, that the grass is always greener or the whole “devil you know”, all excuses to allow you to succumb to your fear.
Which is exactly what it wants you to do. Our brains don’t like change and fear is the voice that helps keep us in check. So we listen to it because at the end of the day we don’t want it yelling at us. We may think that it is all well and good for other people, that they are different, that they aren’t fearful.
But let me let you in on a secret. We all have fear talking to us, yelling at us to stop. I know fear has a starring role in my life most of the time, not letting it get in my way of joy in my life and career is a constant struggle.
Fear never goes away. That would be like saying we can completely eliminate happiness, sadness or anger from our lives. It just doesn’t happen. But we can change how we respond and react to fear. I know for me, I recognize when fear starts talking. And I calmly welcome it and tell it that no matter what it says that it isn’t going to get in the way of me moving forward. The key is to recognize it because fear is sneaky and it can wear many masks, so you have to be careful!
My message to you: you can’t be brave without fear
3. I am not good enough
Being in a job you hate pulls us into a negative whirlwind of thoughts. The star of the show is typically that you are not worth it, you can’t do it, that you are not good enough or deserving of a job you love.
This thought is like the heaviest of weights we add to our shoulders that we must carry throughout all aspects of our lives. Meaning that it is a dangerous thought, one that has negative impacts. It slows us down on any sort of forward progress, it drains us of all energy and gets in the way of enjoying not just your career and job but your life.
If this is you then surrounding yourself with people who value you, you build you up and who believe in you is a good first step. Finding a cheerleader to stand in your corner, to help lessen the load and to remind you of your worth is key.
My message to you: you are worth it.
4. I don’t have time
Life is busy. Commuting 2+ hours, working 10+ hours, trying to fit in our life obligations (family, friends, etc) leaves us barely enough time to sleep never mind time to figure out what we want and to go after it.
One question I have for those who don’t have time (and a question I often ask myself), is why are you so busy? Overworking and busyness is often a tactic that we use to distract ourselves from our feelings of dissatisfaction, uneasiness and unhappiness. Kind of like emotional eating or shopping or scrolling endlessly through social media – working too many hours may be a coping mechanism that you have so that you don’t have to deal with those feelings.
If that is the case, stop it. Feel those feelings, figure out the thoughts behind those feelings and stop allowing yourself to procrastinate moving towards career happiness by working long hours. Make a commitment to work 30 minutes less each day, 30 minutes that’s it! That is 2.5 hours per week that you can devote to you and your career dreams!
My message to you: carve out some time
5. I’m too stressed
This ties in with the above, when life is busy it often causes us to feel stressed out and overwhelmed so it feel easier to just ignore those feelings and to stay stuck.
I understand, the thought of adding one thing to your growing and never shrinking To Do List is just too overwhelming. It feels impossible, even if it is for something you want.
But we can’t stay stressed forever and when you hate your job that stress is only ever going to get worse. And take it from me, it begins to suffocate you. You feel like you are drowning and that there is no way to be saved.
There is though. Take a mental health day and focus only on you, not on your to do list. And don’t even think about a new job, only focus on how you can reduce your stress load. Like I spoke about on a recent Discover Your Career Q&A – write down all of your problems, brainstorm all types of solutions and then pick one thing. That is it. That momentum will be enough to get you moving.
My message to you: Do 1 thing to reduce stress and start living your life.
6. I don’t know what I want
When we are stuck in jobs we hate, with bills to pay, mouths to feed and constant messages from family, friends and society about what our careers should look like, it can be really hard to know what we want.
Think back to high school, what was the message you heard? I know for me, at my high school, there were only a few career options that were ever discussed. A trade if you didn’t do too well in school, a teacher if you liked school, a lawyer or doctor if you were smart and maybe business in some capacity. 5 career options, that’s it.
But that isn’t the world we are in, especially now with careers that didn’t exist before and the internet allowing us to create niche jobs that you couldn’t otherwise create. So the world is literally your oyster.
There are a few things you can do to figure out what your fulfilling career can look like, some simple questions to ask yourself that gives you direction. Figure out some ideas, talk to others in those roles and narrow it down.
My message to you: self discovery is the answer.
My goal is to help you stop telling these stories to yourself and instead replace them with stories that get you moving instead of staying.
So if you find yourself staying in a job you hate because you are telling yourself 1 (or more!) of these 6 things then it might be time to talk to someone.
A free Discover Your Career strategy call is 20-30 minutes long where we talk about where you are now and where you want to go and how to get there. It is an easy 1 thing to do! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule yours.
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Sara Curto helps people find a career they love by teaching them a new way to job search.
The Secrets to finding a job you love
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