Q: Dear Heather,
I really need to get out of where I'm working. It's toxic and completely reactionary. My boss (whom I'd worked with elsewhere in happier times) just resigned after only one month in her position! Sandy is known for her skill in improving business infrastructure but couldn't tolerate what she termed "arrogant" and "immature" behavior from management (they never listen to anyone and think they're always right). I feel like I have no control over things, especially now that my old boss has left. It's like I'm on an island all by myself. I'm single—no kids. All I really have to show for my life is my career, and it doesn't look so great at the moment.
I really want to work in a professional stable "team" environment as opposed to being in a small HR department. I took this job after being unemployed for an extended period. Really needed to replenish my savings and get benefits (this company offers a good package), but I keep wondering if I jumped too soon. I need room for growth and advancement. Not more drama!
I know my life needs change, but I keep hoping it will just happen. I keep dreaming that I get a ridiculous job offer and move to Hawaii and live happily ever after...but Monday comes and I'm still on my imaginary island in a dead-end job. Any suggestions?
A: Dear Mandy,
It's a noun/verb issue, Mandy. You want "change" but haven't changed anything yourself. This isn't uncommon, but it is usually ineffective. Why not put your future into the hands of the one who most cares about it? This is your chance to make some active choices for yourself—the remote control is in your hand, and you have the power to change the channel.
Reality impacts valuation—and the truth of a situation can be a roller coaster drop from a much higher expectation.
Our jobs impact both financial and mental needs, Mandy. While your current situation fills the bank accounts, it is wedging a sizable emotional gap into your life. At some point, you'll need to decide whether your contributions to date—and likely long-term payoff—are worth your further investment. If you can't say, "this will (probably) be worth it in the end," this job will continue to chafe like ill-fitting shoes.
The ability to self-launch is one of the most valuable skills we can learn. Without it, we float at the mercy of circumstance and other people and are more likely to land—and stay—in depleting situations. When self-launch is enabled, however, we can motorize the drifting and begin a more directed course toward our career dreams.
Toleration is a default position that will invariably entrench us deeper into substandard conditions. One has to hate a "rut" with enough passion to rev on out of it. If status quo seems preferable to taking steps toward change, you must identify the reasons or excuses for inertia in order to motivate forward motion.
1) Is it truly about the job?
Dissatisfaction with one area of life will often bleed into the next. You mention being "on an island all by (yourself)." Workplace drama has greater impact when it's your only regularly scheduled program. More than half of US adults are single per the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, and feelings of isolation are a growing problem worldwide. Regardless of your employment satisfaction, creating connection—via friendships and non-work activities—will provide stability, valuable perspective and an excellent counterbalance to typical job stresses.
2) Do you know what you want?
Or is this more about what you don't want? Without a target, you're only programming your internal GPS to get you away from your current location. An "escape" goal can lead us to teeter on ambivalence—holding on to what we dislike because we're uncertain of where to reach. What will a "professional, stable 'team' environment" look like? Develop this goal into specifics—a recognizable destination.
3) Identify the cost.
Outline what you're willing to sacrifice to gain this opportunity. Are you willing to move to another city, sidestep to another career or accept a pay cut in favor of giving yourself better long-term opportunities? Consider making a lifestyle job choice—aiming for a location (you mentioned Hawaii) or family and friends—that will grow your overall quality of life as well as your career.
4) Choose your next steps.
Once you've picked a path and oriented your attitude toward a destination (rather than simply "away" from the rut you're in), you have to start lifting your feet. Identify and address your roadblocks—lack of connection, confidence or up-to-date search tools...so that you can activate change.
5) Set calendar goals.
Hold yourself accountable to short-term objectives that will equip you, and then mark goals for your actual job search. Include research and reflection time. Your overall discontentment is a message from you to You. Listen to your own voice.
You're unlikely to change the officescape, Mandy. But you can change your response to it—and direct your path elsewhere. "I really need to get out" must grow into self-launching words such as "I will do 'A,' 'B' and 'C' to move myself toward (fill in the goal)." Then, activate that intention. Getting in touch with Sandy may be a good first step—Where did she land? How did she navigate her departure and transition? A terrific side benefit to building your self-launching ability in the career arena is the tendency for that new confident energy to spread into other areas of your life as well.
If you have a question for Heather, email her at Heather@heatherdugan.com and maybe she'll answer it in her next column!