Three steps to getting out of a rut


awake each day. That is a lot of time to spend doing something that you don’t like.

When you hate your job, that provides a strong incentive to leave. But, not everyone has the option to make such a significant change. You may be in a region where the job you have is the only one that fits your skill set. You might need the income associated with your job and cannot afford to switch firms. Or you may need other perks that come with your job, like childcare or a flexible schedule, that would be hard to get elsewhere.

In that case, what do you do?


Just as there are many reasons you might be stuck in your current work situation, there are plenty of explanations for why you feel this way. You might have a bad boss who does not give you credit for the work you do or is never happy about your performance. You might not believe in the mission of the firm. Or you simply might be in a position where most of the tasks you perform are ones you really don’t like.

The first thing to think about is whether there is anyone at your organization you can talk to about the job. That someone could be your supervisor (if you have a good relationship), but it could be someone else in a leadership role or someone in HR if you and your boss don’t see eye to eye. You don’t have to frame the conversation negatively—that is you don’t have to lead with the statement that you hate your job. But, you might want to have a conversation about things you might do that you would enjoy more.

There are several reasons to find a way to talk to someone about your ideal role. Most importantly, nobody can help you to solve a problem if they don’t know what you want and what you need. By letting people know that there are other things you would like to have as part of your job, you are giving other people a chance to keep you in mind if an opportunity opens up. In addition, the people you talk to may suggest other skills you need to develop or training you need to get in order to achieve your goals. You may find that you feel better about the work you’re currently doing if you feel like you are on the road to a better position.


Sometimes, there is nobody you can talk to—or that conversation doesn’t lead to any good prospects. You might have to resign yourself to the fact that you may not be able to make an important contribution through your paid work.

In this case, consider engaging with other organizations that can provide meaning for you. If you have children, consider volunteering at their school or becoming part of their extracurricular activities. More generally, you can look for one of the many civic, religious, or educational groups that need help. Many of these groups may need someone with your specific skills to help.

Donating your time can connect you with other like-minded people and link you with causes that are bigger than yourself. The social interactions and feeling of connection to a cause are both things to look forward to that also make you feel like some of your efforts are adding up to something important.

In addition, the people you meet through volunteering may have connections who are looking to hire someone like you. You just might find that volunteering your time leads to new job opportunities.


It is also worth having a serious look at your commitments, responsibilities, and finances to determine whether you are truly stuck in your job, or just afraid of making a change. There certainly are times where your income is needed and there are no other viable options.

But, there are also times where families can discuss a potential career change, and may discover that they can do more with less, at least for a while. In my book Bring Your Brain to Work, I tell several stories of people who make career changes. One of them decided that he could handle a lower standard of living if it meant being happy at work. Reaching this decision involved discussions with his wife to ensure that the loss of income was acceptable. Over time, he found he was much happier and even found some ways to increase his income through other tasks that drew on his expertise from his first career.

The main point is that when you really consider the assumptions that make you feel trapped, you find that you have more options than you think. Rather than treating the decision not to look for another career path abstractly, think specifically about what actions you would have to take to make a change and what the consequences of those actions would be. That specific planning can lead you to see ways to succeed that were not initially obvious.


Art Markman, PhD is a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. Art is the author of Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership, Smart Change, Brain Briefs, and, most recently, Bring Your Brain to Work.

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