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What to Do When Your Job is Slowly Killing You

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upset man with "help" sign on forehead

Ah, you were such an ambitious young one. You rocked undergrad, and possibly graduate school. You were idealistic and excited about your professional trajectory and the potential positive impacts you could make on the world. You were engaged, on fire, driven, ready.

Then you got that fresh-out-of school fellowship or perfect first grownup job. Perhaps you knew it was just a stepping stone, that you were gaining experience for your next big move. You may have even promised yourself you’d just do it just for a year or two. Then you’d jump ship and start your own thing, write that book, live that dream.

A year goes by, and they promote you. The money is pretty darn good. And a second year goes by, and then five. And then it really hits you.

Bureaucracy is slowly killing you.

All of the meetings. All of the webinars. All of the templates. All of the TPS reports.

No matter how idealistic and creative you think you are, it gets zapped out of you the moment you walk into that beige world. The eeriest part is that so many others don’t seem to mind.

But you feel stuck in a rut, immobilized by the seeming spiral of success. What do you do?

Here are some things to think through if your soul is dying in your bureaucratic work environment:

1. Think back to the last time you were driven and dreamy and idealistic

Was it during undergrad? What did you want to do with your life? What did you want to be when you grew up? What impacts did you want to make on the world?

Write all this down. Take a good long look at it.

2. Decide if it’s still worth a shot

(Hint: the answer is usually “yes.”)

3. Determine how much longer you plan to stay at your current workplace

Set a timeframe and stick to it. This can be anywhere from one month to 20 years. Sometimes just having a plan and a light at the end of the tunnel can be magical. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)

4. If you decide to stay in your current work environment for more than six months…

Determine ways you can create meaning and fulfilment in your life as it is now. How can you infuse more of yourself into your workplace?

If you’re into yoga, get certified over the weekends and start teaching yoga to your colleagues during lunch breaks. If you love Star Wars, start incorporating a Jedi Knight theme into your office decor and your memos. If you feel like your creativity has languished, start advocating for out-of-the-box thinking whenever you can; make it your mission to bring color to the beige.

(Note: No one will get hurt if you insert some mindfulness or joy or creativity into your work life. After some initial jealous resistance, your colleagues will likely thank you. Besides, eye rolls don’t kill).

5. If you’re ready to leave your job…

Begin to envision what you want your life to look like and chart out a plan. You can even find a friend or hire a coach to help you develop your plan and stick to your goals.

Start getting the wheels in motion. Determine how much money you’ll need to save, when you’ll put in your notice and how you’ll set yourself (and your office) up for success through the transition.

Be careful not to jump into another opportunity that’s going to put you right back in the same situation. Anytime you’re feeling tempted, refer back to step number one, and remind yourself of your plan to follow your passion.

6. Thank yourself for staying true to you, however that looks

Whether you decide to jump ship or stay the course, the most important piece of advice is to find a way to be engaged and on fire again. Don’t let the beige bring you down; find an occasion and rise to it.

Have you found ways to bring joy and meaning to a bureaucratic work environment? Or are you planning your next bold move? Tell us in the comments.

Sara Harrier is a coach and communication expert who works with intelligent and highly sensitive individuals to help them harness their strengths and revolutionize the world. She has a Masters in Social Work, and one of her specialties is working hands-on with women to map out their next creative career move or entrepreneurial dreams.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Maggie Patterson

    Great post Sara. Don’t let the beige bring you down is a great rally cry for everyone. Cheers.

    • Sara Harrier

      Aw, thanks Maggie! <3

  • Erica Breuer

    My brain leaps to Destiny’s Child “Bills, Bills, Bills”. It can be such a spiral once you land a gig that doesn’t involve scooping, stacking, and hiding beneath a visor.

    • Sara Harrier

      Right?! Erica, you’re onto something here; a fancy well-paying job is so mesmerizing at first, but at what cost? For some, it’s absolutely necessary to keep the gig. And in that case, I say to bring as much color to the beige as you can get away with!

  • http://www.it-sales-leads.com/ Barbara Mckinney

    I totally agree,if you want to stay in the same ship then you have to find ways on how to re-energize. But if you want to change your career path,just make sure that this will make you happier compared to where you are right now.

    • Sara Harrier

      Totally! The bottom line is, we don’t want our gorgeous souls sucked out. Forty hours per week (or much more, for some) is way too much time stifling ourselves, our creativity, and our brilliance. Thanks, Barbara! :)

  • http://www.callboxinc.com/ Belinda Summers

    Great idea. If your work life seemed to be plain and colorless why not take the initiative to draw the lines and paint some creativity in it. Boredom is how the way you handle things out and how you let things happen. It’s time to step out of the blue. :)

    • Sara Harrier

      Ooooh, that’s a great way of putting it, Belinda! Boredom can lead to complacency and depression. Turn up the color or bolt. <3

      • http://www.callboxinc.com/ Belinda Summers

        Exactly Sara. Thanks for this color studded post. :)

  • Ms. Pants

    I sooooo needed this today. Thank you!

    • Sara Harrier

      Yay. Glad to have been there for you. <3

  • http://www.motherintune.com/ Ekanem Ebinne

    Thanks for this great post ! A lot of working moms feel the “slowly killing you feeling” building up because work stress steals their full attention from kids at home. One relief tactic for that is changing clothes and switching off the cell phone as soon as you get home. Sound crazy? It works!

    • Sara Harrier

      That doesn’t sound crazy at all! Work clothes have *got* to come off immediately; I totally agree. Ripped jeans and t-shirts, all the way. :) Working moms are total heroines.

  • http://www.bigboldimpact.com/ David Hooper

    You have to set a time and stick to it, because there is no clear time to quit a job . and the longer you put it off (or don’t honor a deadline you set) the tougher it gets to move forward, because you get comfortable and complacent.

    Sara, looking at your bio, you might want to connect with Laurel Staples at http://www.gofireyourself.com/. Looks like you guys a similar interest in helping people jump ship! :)

    • Sara Harrier

      Hey David! Yeah, the deadline is huge – it helps relieve the anxiety of “is this my life forever?!”

      And thanks so much for the recommendation. I’ll totally check out her site; she looks like my kinda girl.