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How to Grow When You Have Nowhere to Go

Contrary to popular belief, collect "experiences" isn't the go-to answer

flowers growing

Over the course of a career, you will outgrow jobs for many reasons. Maybe you’ve become overqualified, your interests have changed, or it just feels like Groundhog Day week after week. When you’re feeling ambivalent about your job or simply just stuck, deciding what to do can be scary. You’ve got bills, loans, and people depending on you, right? Relax. That angsty discomfort could turn out to be a great thing.  

Decide what you need right now

We tend to think of careers as linear—climbing the corporate ladder ever upward, for example. If we’re not making more money each year and getting flashier titles, we’re not successful, right? Actually, not so much.

Careers need to bend and adjust to meet your needs at different life stages. Sometimes a secure, low-demand job is a blessing—allowing you to put more energy toward other things. Are you caring for young children or an aging parent? Longing to go back to school? Renovating or building a home? Look at the whole picture of your life. Figure out what you really need right now, and move in that direction with a solid sense of peacefulness.   

Calm down about job titles

We get so hung up on job titles that it can blind us to jobs and careers that might otherwise be fulfilling. What’s more, according to Forbes, chasing job titles might actually bring you less success over the course of your career. There are just as many advice articles arguing job titles are unimportant as there are articles promoting job title worth. Step back and focus instead on what you get to do in a job.

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Recognize a bad fit

Sometimes that “dream job” doesn’t live up to your hopes and expectations. It’s a bummer, but it happens. Don’t get paralyzed. It’s time to decide how to make the best of the situation, deal with it in a professional manner, and then move on.

William Hawkins, now the CEO of medical device company Medtronic, is refreshingly up front about jogs in his career path. During a Parents Weekend event at Duke University a few years ago, he described a job that was a bad fit to aspiring engineers. He had left a position where he was very successful for what he thought would be a dream job. He quickly discovered the company culture and direction for the position just didn’t match what he wanted to do, or what he had been promised. So for two years he buckled down, did a good job, and then left for a better situation.  

Think twice about giving it away for free

If you’re working well outside your job description, but there is no way the company is ever going to pay what you’re worth, then it’s time for a pause. Yes, the company loves your contributions, but how is that helping you? This is a passive way that even well-meaning managers and companies can inadvertently exploit stellar employees. Perhaps this is a reasonable way to gain new skills and experience en route to a better position. Your future at the company is something you should regularly be talking to your boss about. If you can’t envision a route you could take after discussing options at the company, this may be a signal that it’s time to make a change.

If you’re really punching above your pay grade, ask about negotiating a new job description and salary. You can also negotiate other benefits if pay is off the table.

Consider launching your own company

If you’ve always dreamed about being your own boss, a dead-end job could be the catalyst to go solo. Whether you start a small venture on the side or want to work full time on the new business, your current boring, stable job still has a lot to offer for a while. Take time to build up financial resources, develop a business plan, get incorporated, talk with other business owners, and find a mentor. Then, when you are really ready, you can close this chapter of your career.

Wondering if you’ve got the “right stuff” to be an entrepreneur? Check out Foundr’s 3 Reasons Why Not to become an entrepreneur.

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By Deborah Hill

Contributor

Deborah Hill is a podcaster, anthropologist, science writer, communications strategist and avid world traveler. Her work often delves into the ways humans and businesses interact. She works at Duke University in food policy and freelances to indulge her creative side.

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