So… I bang on a LOT about what to do when your career feels stuck or like it’s no longer the right fit for you. I’m passionate about this topic because I let my career languish in a state of inertia for a very long time.
One of the reasons it’s easy to get stuck in the middle of your career is you’ve become comfortable. You’ve reached a senior level, you’re earning good money, you know the organisation, the people, how things work and what you need to do every day. Hands up if this is you?
It’s a great relief… but it can also be a comfy trap. Why? Well because when you stop challenging yourself, you limit your growth and progress.
Recently, a friend raised a question to challenge this idea and my response on this might surprise you…
“Is it wrong to stay in a comfortable job?”
My response… “absolutely not”. I know… you weren’t expecting that were you? Is it ok to remain in a job, career, or business that’s comfortable? Of course it is.
Why? Feeling “stuck” is not an absolute… it’s… well, it’s a feeling. If your work-life is comfortable and you don’t feel stuck, then you’re not stuck. It’s that straightforward.
So… if this question is coming up for you, the first thing you should do is ask, “who believes it’s wrong for me to stay in a comfortable job?”. Is it you, or is it other people? If it’s anyone else – peers, family members, partner, boss – you have my permission to ignore their opinions.
If you believe it’s wrong for you to remain comfortable, it’s worth digging in to find the root of this query. Are you perhaps judging yourself using some out-of-date plan or based on unrealistic expectations?
The thing is, your career doesn’t exist in some protected bubble. It’s an integral part of your life and, as such, is influenced and impacted by what’s going on in the rest of your world.
Let’s face it, sometimes the “life” part of your life is enough… sometimes more than enough. And, in these times, it’s entirely ok to have a job or work-life that doesn’t cause any stress, doesn’t eat up more of your time than you have to give, that pays ok, and you enjoy, even if it feels comfortable or perhaps a little boring.
The thing you need to remain aware of, and review on occasion, is not letting your intentional choice evolve into your excuse to remain stuck.
Choosing a comfortable career or stuck in your “comfort zone”?
1. CHECK YOUR VALUES
One of the first, and most important, exercises I work through with new clients, is a “values” exercise. Your values inform and guide your life. These are the beliefs you hold that matter most to you. And yet, many of us never articulate what we value, nor do we check in as the years pass to see what’s changed. If your career (and life) aligns with your values, then you’re likely in a good place. When things feel difficult or stuck, it’s likely something about your choices is out of alignment with your values.
2. GET CLEAR ABOUT SUCCESS
The word “success” is a loaded one. Career-wise, it’s often attached to getting promoted or earning more money. But for some, “success” is other things – more time, more freedom or greater contentment. Everyone’s version is different. Traditionally you finish your education and set out on a career path and… that’s it! Yep, you never stop to consider whether where you’re heading is still somewhere you want to go. Understanding whether you’re comfortable or stuck will be greatly enhanced by getting crystal clear about what career success means for you.
3. EVALUATE YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES
Sadly, awesome companies with supportive workplace policies, opportunities for growth, competent leadership, great people and an enjoyable environment, are still few and far between. A growing body of research including this paper by Gallup finds positive workplace culture increases employee engagement and engaged employees are happier and more productive. If you’re fortunate to have a comfortable position in a positive workplace, acknowledging this and making an intentional decision to stay where you are, could be the best strategic career choice for you.
4. WHAT’S ON OUTSIDE OF WORK
If you’re studying, raising a family, learning a new skill, travelling (oh travelling!), active in your community, getting fit, renovating your house, or developing a side-hustle, you’re likely already being pushed well outside your “comfort zone”. Your work probably plays a supporting role. It’s still important, it’s just not your highest priority. Mindfully keep track of these “outside work” things you’re doing… they’re inevitably adding new skills, strengths, and experience to the personal value you’ll contribute to a workplace in the future.
5. COMFORTABLE, NOT COMPLACENT
Beware of the moment when feeling comfortable turns into complacency. When you’re clocking in and out, putting in minimal effort, and lack interest in what you’re doing, it’s highly probable you’ve become stuck in a routine, rather than making an intentional choice. It can also signal a decrease in work ethic to those around you and inadvertently damage your professional reputation. Keep things in check. If your comfortable position no longer derives any meaning or pleasure for you, it’s probably time to push yourself onto your next challenge.
There’s a point at which feeling comfortable in your work-life can become counterproductive and work against your future growth.
But keeping tabs on what’s important to you and how your work supports everything else you’ve got on is the key to remaining intentional about your career choices. If you’re not sure if you’re comfortable or stuck in your comfort zone, I’d love to help you work it out.