If you don’t like your job and you don’t like the job next in line if you are promoted, then every day you spend at work will:
(1) make it emotionally more difficult to leave
(2) more likely that you will trapped for practical reasons, and
(3) be another day of opportunity cost in relation to doing something that you would actually like.
It will be emotionally difficult because you are wired to desire security. Stable environments, even if unhappy, are known. The known represents security. The unknown represents scary. Every day that you stay in something you don’t like will make the reptilian part of your brain equate the rock you are under with security.
You will become trapped for practical reasons because each year that you stay within a career track should lead to greater tangible benefits. These will feel good in the short term but will gradually become handcuffs. Your wrists will feel tighter with each raise and promotion. One of my career counseling clients commented that his Connecticut investment firm seemed to know exactly the amount of his bonus needed to keep him one more year of working 90 hour weeks in a tough corporate environment. Most discouraging, at some point, it will not make practical sense for you to quit a job. When you compare your now elevated income, position, and expertise with whatever position you are comparing in a new field, you will be faced with an increasingly disproportionate reason to stay. Many of my career counseling clients can’t bring themselves to go backwards in terms of income and position even if they truly believe the new path we discussed would lead to happiness.
In relation to expertise, as you stay in your job, you are developing further skills and knowledge. Despite your distaste for your job, you are now pretty good at it, at least compared to others. If you start something new, you will not be at that level.
As for opportunity cost, by staying in your job you are costing yourself the opportunity to acquire skills, knowledge, contacts and credentials in the field of interest.
Strangely enough, the person I know who best illustrates wisdom in this area is a young man who joined Career Counseling Connecticut’s holding company, The Learning Consultants. From a conventional perspective, he had an excellent position with a corporation in Hartford, Connecticut. That he had a job out of college in a Fortune 500 company was impressive given our fragile economy.
But, there was a problem. He hated his job. Perhaps more importantly, he found some elements of his job pushing against his values. He had an epiphany when he realized that he would similarly dislike his boss’s job and most every job that would be considered a promotion.
When he interviewed for The Learning Consultants, he explained that every day he spent doing something he didn’t like he was only getting better at something he never wanted to do another day in his life. His insightful comments were among the many reasons we hired him. Today, he is thriving because he understood that leaving towards the unknown but hopefully better is more sensible than staying in something you know for sure you don’t like.