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Job Making You Crazy? Five Signs that It's Time to Move On

What’s the opposite of work? Play? Relax? Have fun? Given the way we define what it is to not be working, it’s no wonder so many people feel resigned to staying in a job they don’t enjoy. And sure, it can be scary to change careers. But scarier still is how pulverized you may be after twenty more years of the daily grind. So, how do you know if it’s time to move on to something else?

1. �� You Have Nightmares About Being at Work.

The job didn’t start this way, right? At the beginning, you had time to learn and the chance to grow into the position. Now that you’ve proven yourself, you find skyscrapers of work piled on your desk while others in your department take lunch breaks and spend time chatting about weekend when the boss isn’t around. Indeed, you are being punished for the ability to work unsupervised. As the saying goes, “If you want something to get done, ask a busy person.” And so they do: you.

If the mere thought of being at work stresses you out, why do you keep going back? You’re an employee, not an indentured servant. If you like the work, but are buckling under the workload, consider becoming a freelancer. Better yet, consider a career in consulting, where you can give others the benefit of your blood, sweat, and tears without all the bleeding, perspiring, or crying.

2.���� Your Desk Drawer Has an Effigy of Your Boss. And a Box of Needles.

It is virtually impossible to go your entire career without having a boss that you just can’t stand– unless you are entering the family business. And even then it’s iffy. Personality conflicts are inevitable, but if you feel like your boss doesn’t like you, doesn’t understand you, or doesn’t respect you, then these things could negatively affect your career. You should find a new job before things like being passed over for advancement or even being fired end up on your work record.

You should also ask yourself if you and your boss don’t get along because of his or her personality or because of the culture in your chosen profession. For example, if you’re in a field with tight deadlines, you can expect a lot of stress as those deadlines approach. If the problem is the boss, look for a new job in the same field. If it’s the culture, consider switching to a field like sales that typically rewards self-starters, and may let you work more or less unsupervised once you learn the ropes.

3.���� I Can Do This Job with One Brain Tied Behind My Back.

It’s great to be good at something, but if you’re not challenged by your job, things can become excruciatingly dull very quickly. Worse, you could be wasting time that could be spent learning the skills and making the contacts you need to move up the corporate ladder. Ask yourself if, after ten years in your current job, will you have ten years experience, or one year of experience repeated ten years in a row?

If it’s the second answer, you should think about doing something else before you squander any more time. Sometimes people become stuck in unchallenging jobs because their ability exceeds their qualifications. If that’s true in your case, consider pursuing a college degree, or join a professional networking group: the better you’re known within your field, the better the chance you may be given an opportunity to advance.

You might also be stuck because you set your sights too low when you entered the job market. A career counselor can help change careers by mapping out a challenging and rewarding career path.

4.���� You Put on a Disguise Before Going to Work.

If you work for the C.I.A. or as an undercover cop, then this is probably normal. But if you’re in another line of work and you feel like you have to be someone else in front of your coworkers, then your career path probably took a wrong turn at some point. The unfortunate truth is that your feeling of being an outsider may never go away if you are not able to be yourself at work.

Instead of fighting it, start looking at your options. Are there other departments within your company that seem to be staffed with people on your wavelength? Does your job bring in contact with people in other careers to which you relate? Do you have close friends–the people who are most like you–in careers that sound interesting to you? Your career should last most of your lifetime: find a new job that feels comfortable.

5.���� “It’s Been Great, but I Think It’s Time for Me to Move On. I Hope We Can
Still Be Friends.”

A career is very much like a relationship. Some last forever. Other times, you grow apart. If this is happening to you, maybe it’s time to start working on a “Dear John” letter. The simple fact is that your priorities are going to change as you get older. Maybe you’ve started a family and want a career that gives you more flexibility or free time. Maybe you’ve seen the sacrifice it takes to get to the top of the mountain, and you just don’t think it’s worth it. Maybe you’ve discovered something else you want to do that you’re more passionate about.

If you feel like you’ve outgrown or grown apart from your career, don’t hesitate to move on. A good first step is to talk to a headhunter, who may not only be able to help you market your skills, but almost certainly may have had experience helping people who have had a similar change of heart.

If you’re like most people, you typically will spend more time at work than you will with your spouse or your kids. You may spend more years working than you will in retirement. It adds up to an enormous chunk of your life. Make sure that it’s time well-spent.

Publish date: September 9, 2008