Why we stay in jobs we hate - Part Two: The Comfort Trap

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This is article is part 2 in a 3-part series on why we stay in jobs that are not a good fit.  I see each of these articles representing a legacy that is passed on to us through our communities, workplaces and cultures. This one is the legacy of comfort. The goal of work, it appears, is to get the highest pay with great benefits and where we can stay for a long time. We have the illusion that here we will be protected. In a world full of uncertainty, comfort feels…. comforting.

But what if comfort becomes a trap? Here’s what I learned about being in a comfortable job.

 

 

As I cut into the gluten-free cake, I looked around the room at each familiar face. We had been through a lot in the last 2 years, stretched to immense proportions.  Now we were solid. Or perhaps less jiggly.

I couldn’t imagine a day without these good people.

Having been a part of this work group for 7 years, I was comfortable. I knew the people well, appreciated their many gifts and talents and I had a sense of what needed to be done in my role. A bit of challenge. A bit of familiarity.

And I knew I had to leave. My farewell party was full of great reminiscences, laughter and of course gluten-free cake.

The road to this milestone moment was twisty. During the Christmas break 6 months prior to the party, finally feeling ease around the demands of the previous 18 months, I had a sense of needing a change.

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The first day back from holidays, it felt glaring. There is nothing like the fresh perspective of time away to cast a light on what we really want in our lives. How many people have come back from holidays and then handed in their resignation?

As the week unraveled with routines and the ease of working with the team, I settled down into daily tasks. This is an earmark of a comfortable life – the intensity of wanting to stay or leave rises and falls, enough that we are lulled to stay where we are.

The following week I was assigned a new directive – quality assurance. My new task was to make sure each staff member was entering the information into the computer in a certain way.  I was told that this was my strength. (This is one crucial red flag – someone else telling you what your strengths are. If you think other people know your strengths better than you, head for your nearest career coach.) 

What I knew for sure was that amount of detail and looking for errors that other people make was not even remotely a strength of mine.

Still, this is what was needed at the workplace. A good worker, I took it on.

Not too long after I started my new assignment, I noticed heaviness. It felt as if cement forming around my ankles. I started to feel it harden in me and I imagined heading into retirement, tired and miserable.

The need to move on hurled back to the top of my mind.

I had doubts. Though I was quite clear about the urge to do something different, I was also aware of what I would be giving up. Great salary. Six weeks of vacation a year. Special workmates.

Making a tough decision

I stewed and brewed.

Decision making does not come easily to me. Part of it is the “pressure prompted” nature of my personality type – I like to make decisions at the last minute just in case there might be another option. The other part was about making the right decision.

I remembered a strategy for dilemmas like mine. I would make the decision, not tell anyone and see how I felt about it. I sat with the decision for a month. What I noticed is that nothing felt wrong about it. There were parts that were exciting (and scary).

At the end of the month, I decided to move forward. With the new momentum, I had an idea of not only quitting my job but moving as well.

Listening to what matters

The first step, I realized, was being able to truly listen to myself, to not get caught up in all the fears that were arising and to embrace the excitement of new possibilities. Once I started telling people, there were lots of opinions. Isn’t it too late to start over? What if you don’t get a job? I started to recognize the difference between my fears and other people’s.

Taking yourself seriously

The second step was taking myself seriously. As much as all of those reasons for staying were important to my own well being, there was another that was bigger.

Regret.

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I didn’t want to have that in my life. I didn’t want a life where I looked back and said, “what if?” Hidden dreams had begun to surface. I wanted to feel alive. There was so much of the world that I hadn’t experienced, that I wanted. And then, there was the clincher. Time was not on my side. I didn’t have forever to go down a new road. Or to do everything on my life list.

I was ready to leave my comfortable behind.

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Why we stay in jobs we hate - part one - Golden Handcuffs