@Work Advice: Getting out of a rut without quitting your job

August 2, 2012

Reader: I work for a small company that I’m nearly positive won’t exist in five years. Since I don’t dig the “sinking ship” vibe, I’ve been trying to get out of here for almost two years — with no luck. My specialized skills and background can’t seem to land me a new job. In the meantime, I’ve grown miserable at work. I feel stuck in a stagnant place with no opportunity for growth, where everyone seems to be going through the motions. A few co-workers have escaped successfully, usually through a major life change — becoming a full-time mom, moving out of the country, etc. Being in this environment seems to keep me from actively pursuing whatever major life change needs to happen next for me. I feel so desperate for a fresh mental perspective that I’ve recently considered quitting, with only part-time work (and no benefits) to sustain me. Almost everyone advises me against that, but I think they don’t realize how deep a rut I’m in. Is an urgent need for new perspective ever a valid reason to quit a job?

Karla: Sure, if the perspective you want is the one from your parents’ basement window.

Society is straining at the seams with people who have been forced into life on the margins, with few options and fewer resources. And if you think job hunting while you’re employed is a drag, imagine what it’s like with bills piling up and no health insurance.

Yeah, I’m being a Betty Buzzkill. And in this era of “Hope Your Way to Happiness” self-help guides, cautious pragmatism is not the stuff of bestsellers. But after slogging more than once myself through stagnant, soul-sucking swamps on a stalled career path, I would strongly recommend finding lower-risk opportunities for new perspective: a lengthy vacation, or a side gig or night classes involving something bizarre or meaningful. You could also consider asking for a change at work, such as part-time telecommuting or reduced hours, that would let you preserve your benefits yet free up time to map your escape with the help of a career coach or therapist. (Heads up: They like to be paid.)


Karla Miller (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

I’m sure I’ll be deluged with success stories from people who chucked it all, rebooted their lives and are reading this column via satellite from their private tropical islands. But I’ll bet most of them started with (1) a plan, (2) a passion for that plan and (3) financial backup in the form of savings, family or a day job. Until you have those pieces in place, try shifting your current perspective from “stuck” to “getting ready.”

Karla L. Miller is ready to hear your work dramas and traumas. Send your questions to wpmagazine@washpost.com. You also can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork, or Facebook, www.facebook.com/KarlaLMillerAtWork.

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