Did you ever think that your first "real" job would determine your career path for the rest of your life?
I certainly didn’t. And how could I? I was 18 when I took my first real job in a corporation. My role had a marketing theme — and subsequently, so did the next 15 years of my career. I never dreamt of being in marketing as a kid. So what gives?
Picture this. You get your first job as an entry-level marketing assistant or social media manager. You start to make a name for yourself and earn more attention. You get promoted to a marketing coordinator or manager and get more responsibility.
Fast forward a few years and you’re eyeing a director role. You’ll lead a team of marketers and work with other leaders. Maybe in a few years, you score an executive role with more pressure.
On the surface, this sounds successful. But it depends on how you define success.
Now think about your circumstances. Ask yourself the following:
- Is your career path what you intended?
- Were there other skills that you wanted to develop?
- Did you ever want to start a business or try a different expertise?
- Are you worried that following your passion would mean taking a step backward?
- Why do you do what you do?
Heading Down a Linear Path
Corporate paths tend to be linear. I call them the career paths of least resistance. Doing something entirely new is hard. Way more challenging than it should be.
Sticking with one area of expertise and following the prescribed route of adding responsibility tends to make financial sense and helps your career appear more intentional — but does that also mean that it’s the most fulfilling option for you?
Too often people who work in the corporate environment make career transition choices to maintain familiarity and comfort — oftentimes at the cost of their happiness. Your career choices can quickly become less about personal ambition and fulfilling lifelong goals — and more about being given extra responsibilities or racing to upgrade your lifestyle.
I’m not suggesting that you make flippant career decisions or put your family in hardship to follow your dreams. Rather, I’m suggesting being more mindful about how the corporate treadmill can work against you or even trap you in a rut.
Look for these red flags:
- I’m not excited for work when I wake up.
- I count the minutes until I can log out and be with my friends or family.
- I’m apathetic. Nothing at work really matters to me.
- I don’t speak up for myself when I don’t like something or think a project is working.
Does this sound familiar? Let’s challenge what success looks like to you.
Perhaps you want more money. Perhaps you want to be an entrepreneur. Perhaps you need to find a way to spend quality time with family, follow a hobby or share your passion with the world. Perhaps you’re on the wrong treadmill entirely (or you’re even in the wrong gym.) Are you happy with what the future holds if you keep doing more of the same?
Consider the following common pitfalls.
Job security is a myth.
There are several reasons why you could be ousted from your job at any time, no matter your performance. A new leader can come in. The company can change direction. A pandemic can happen. The company can be purchased. You could have a bad week or month.
Then again, you could also be doing a crappy job while staying and continuing your unpassionate and lackluster work to occupy space and pay the bills. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do — but I’d argue that you should at least be thinking about how to change your circumstances.
Are you loyal to your employer? Even the best-intentioned companies can fail or fall short at times. Loyalty is no safety net. Weathering internal or external storms at work is important. At the same time, if the storms never clear, spinning your wheels will drive you bonkers.
Why are you loyal to your company? Are you incentivized to be? Did a friend get you the job? Do you have a logical reason?
Do you really just need the money? Money is the major factor for most of us, but we can’t let money stop us from pursuing our best lives. If you feel trapped, it’s time to think creatively about how to get unstuck. It shouldn’t be reckless to pursue something that you love.
Have you fully explored your options? Do you have a partner, friends or family who can be supportive while you try new things? Can you cut back on your lifestyle temporarily to find a new path? Can you start creating daily habits that bring you closer to the work that you want to do — without sacrificing your current work in the short term?
Stepping off the corporate treadmill doesn’t have to be selfish. And for those fortunate enough to make a good financial living, making a change doesn’t have to feel like you’re stepping from Park Avenue to park bench. Think about making baby steps to point you in the right direction.
Positive self-awareness will not only make you happier, but it will affect your work and surroundings. Your courage to take action and find more fulfilling opportunities can leave a lasting impact on every aspect of your life (and motivate those closest to you).
Is the corporate treadmill right for you? Or are you ready to answer another call?
A version of this post originally appeared on Entrepreneur.
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