Sticking with a Challenging Position

…and knowing when & how to leave

by Markey Read

Sticking Challenging1So, you finally realize you’re in a dead-end job or working for a difficult manager and you start looking for an escape route. You start applying for random positions discovered through incessant internet searches. Thinking to yourself “anything is better than this job,” you see positions for which you have few qualifications and convince yourself that you “can do that job, and that one too, and that working for a place that ‘encourages people to take creative breaks and play games’ with co-workers would be awesome.” So you apply to dozens, if not hundreds of jobs, even though your resume only hints at the qualifications required and you know little about the companies.

When you finally get the next job, you tell yourself “Hey, I can always leave if it doesn’t work out.”(This, by the way, is probably how you found yourself in the dead-end job or working for a difficult manager the last time.) If you walk into a new job with the thought that you can “quit anytime” stuffed in your back pocket, you are more likely to repeat the same pattern of quitting when it gets hard and hop to a new job without really planning the next step. Eventually, you will have accumulated some seriously bad “Job Karma” and will find it increasingly difficult to be hired by quality companies for quality professional positions.

You know you have Bad Job Karma (aka BJK) when you find yourself defending why you left the last 3 jobs in less than a few years; you can only seem to get low paying jobs eventhough you have a lot of years of experience; or you have collected a few stories about how previous employers mistreated you.

If you see yourself in this scenario: IT”S TIME TO STOP!Sticking Challenging2
While there are times in everyone’s lives when working at any job is better than not having a job; and it’s true that some companies simply hire warm bodies and hope for the best – this is a rough way to go through life. When you accept a new job, you have entered into a contract – a contract of trust and integrity. And it is most important that you maintain your own integrity through all the challenges of your career.

You expect that the company will provide you with a reasonable working environment, pay you as agreed, offer opportunities for growth and development, and reward you for good work; the company expects that you will show up and do the job as agreed, abide by their personnel guidelines, avoid abusing privileges, and generally support the business in succeeding. This is a risky agreement and requires commitment from both parties.

Commitment is terribly lacking in the workplace today. People are too accustomed to leaving when it looks hard or dismissing opportunities when they don’t look perfect. Instead of being grateful for the opportunities and benefit gained through employment, people often choose to complain and undermine the company’s plans.

When a company offers a position, no matter what the position or the salary, it is a gift of trust. It is never easy for a company to hire new people. When the recipient accepts the gift and then proceeds to mistreat it when it’s not ideal, the company is left with damaged goods. It costs time and money to hire and train a new employee. It truly is better to not accept the gift at all then to wear it for a while, trample on it, and then toss it in the dumpster on the way out the door.
In desperate moments of believing there are not enough jobs and seeing themselves as victims of the job search, people accept positions knowing trouble is ahead. Then when it gets rough, many choose to leave irresponsibly.This is not to say that people are not allowed honest mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes in judgment; what is required, however, is responsibility for having made the mistake.

The Rewards of Staying
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When you choose to break the cycle and stay in that job, you will discover inner strength that will enable you to get and keep a job that really matters. If you are in a position that is sucking the very life from you but you have left a few positions already and are accumulating some of that BJK, take time to prepare for your next job.

First, get clear that it is the actual job you are doing and not something in your personal life that is the root issue. Personal issues that are hard to confront (tumultuous romantic relationships, prolonged illness of a family member, any addiction) can lead to misdirected dissatisfaction with our jobs.

Next, use this time to clearly identify what parts of your current position are energizing and what parts are energy sucks. If more than 51% of your regular tasks are energizers, there is hope for improvement. You may find that some minor changes in how the daily tasks and responsibilities can make a huge difference.

Why 51%, you ask? That is because, if at least 51% of what we do all day is energizing, we can usually muster the will to do the other 49%. Ideally, 60 to 70% of our daily tasks and responsibilities should land on the energizing list. If you are teetering on that 51/49% balance for a prolonged period you will not be able to sustain your productivity because you will spend more and more energy recovering from the 49% and that will eat away at the precious 51%. Inability to shift this balance is an indication that leaving is a healthier option than staying.

Sticking Challenging4Make what changes you can to alleviate the pressure. Then look within your current organization for other positions or projects. Moving to a new position within the same organization looks better to future employers than moving from one employer to another within the a year. Use this process to research other careers, roles, and develop skills that may be useful in the future. Expand your network and leverage relationships that are accessible from your current position. Leaving with a stronger professional network in place will serve you greatly in the future.

If your organization has education or professional development resources, create the time in your life to access them and gain valuable knowledge, certifications, and degrees that will benefit you. In the meantime, you may find that new opportunities open more naturally.

Not all managers are open to constructive conversations about your dissatisfaction at work, but don’t underestimate your manager. Test the waters by asking for a “career conversation” and come ready with some ideas, not just complaints. If your manager is not receptive to even having a meeting, this is a poor sign. But you may be very surprised; your manager may have been waiting for you to speak up.

Lastly, staying in a difficult position will teach you to never compromise again. If you get clear about what works and does not work in your current dissatisfying position, you are less likely to accept inappropriate jobs in the future. Additionally, you will be better equipped to identify the signs in the future that change is on the horizon so you can proactively chart a new course for positive and responsible change.

Leaving Responsibly
Sticking Challenging5If you realize that you have made a mistake and need to leave a position, get some help in articulating the real issue. Be clear that the job is the real source of dissatisfaction, not a personal life issue. And be honest with your manager or supervisor; let them know that you are challenged in the position and either get the support required to master it or come to a mutual agreement about leaving it.
And the next time you accept a position, do more research, get a full job description, talk to future co-workers about the company and the position, and watch for the signs of potential trouble. Always get a written offer so you can read it and make a counter offer.
If you are not sure that this is a good fit or that you are not willing to master the challenges (no matter how great), say “no thank you” to the gift.
If you are not clear, talk to people whose opinion you trust. This could be a former employer, a relative, a mentor, a career counselor, or a former teacher. Whoever you choose, be clear that you asked for advice and be prepared to receive it. Ultimately the decision is yours, and so is the responsibility.

Markey Read is Chief Consultant at with Career Networks in Williston, Vermont. Markey provides leadership, team, professional development planning and outplacement services to companies, and career and employment services to individuals. She can be contacted at or 802 872 1533.