Know When to Fold ’Em | A Smart Career Strategy

Have a job that isn’t going anywhere? Reluctant to leave your work mates? Nervous about changing jobs? Join the club! 

A lot of people stay where they are, taking the avenue of least resistance. Unfortunately, it’s also the road to nowhere. So if you’re on it, get ready to exit. 

Being in a dead-end job isn’t the worst that can happen. Staying there too long is. 

We let ourselves get stuck in our jobs because of naïve or faulty thinking like: 

  • If I do a good job, my boss will give me more challenging work.
  • I work well with my co-workers, so I’ll probably be promoted to supervisor when there’s an opening.
  • More training or college courses will advance my career.
  • The productivity of my work team would suffer if I moved on.
  • There really isn’t any other job that matches my skills and interests. 

These “beliefs” and our resistance to change paralyze our ability to move on. We worry that disrupting our own status quo could hurt not help our careers. Fear of the unknown is a powerful force. So we stay. 

Don’t measure “too long” by time. Measure it by the toll it’s taking. 

I confess. I am famous for waiting too long. Maybe that means I have a high pain tolerance, but I suspect that it’s simply my flaw. I’m getting better which is some consolation. 

When a job is hurting you, you need to get out. Here’s how I know: 

1. I took a desperation job as a switchboard operator at a brewery when I relocated to PA after five years teaching high school. I used an agency to get it. I was over-qualified, the job was brain-numbingly tedious, and the environment crushing to my self-esteem. I became so depressed that I’d come home from work and sleep for twelve hours.   

I stayed 4 months. If I could have stuck it out for 6 months, the company would  have paid the agency fee. I tried but couldn’t.  What a waste! (Even the beer was bad!) 

2. After the brewery job, I worked for a great non-profit with a dynamic executive director. I was responsible for grant writing, supervision of cooks and bus drivers, volunteers, parent meetings, and government surplus food. I averaged 50 hours a week, ran myself ragged, made a pittance, and knew it wasn’t right for me. When I thought about leaving, I felt guilty. 

I stayed for almost two years. When I left for a teaching job, five people replaced me. That was a lesson too. 

3. I was hired by a big utility company after another five years of teaching. I started as the energy education coordinator, built a department from scratch, hired terrific people, and became the manager. I was content there. 

I was offered a promotion as training and development manager in human resources. But I was reluctant to leave the program that was my “baby” and my work “friends.” 

My boss told me, “Being too attached to things you’ve done is a career trap. Don’t let that get in the way of your own growth. By moving on, you position yourself to continue to make a broader impact.” He was right. 

So after five years there, I moved on. 

It’s your career, so it should be good for you. If it isn’t, bolt! 

Remember: A job that:

  • Crushes your spirit or makes you physically sick isn’t worth it. 
  • Fails to compensate you for the value you add is a bad investment.
  • Clouds your ability to embrace other opportunities is limiting.

 Jobs are about work that businesses need to get done to be profitable. It’s up to us to make sure that the jobs we accept fit our capabilities, work style, and expectations. If they don’t, then we have to decide to stay or go. Keep your business fitness bags packed! 

Do you have an “I stayed too long” experience to share? What held you back and then pushed you forward? Any words of encouragement?