Seemingly content worker fears career is a ticking time bomb.
Q: I work at a very large nonprofit in a creative role. I am paid well, with good benefits and absolutely fantastic colleagues. The general line of work is exactly what I want to be doing; specific assignments range from “eh” to enjoyable. There are enough fringe benefits to support personal growth (though I haven’t used them much).
That said: I’m in a niche role with pretty much zero possibility for vertical growth. I stay here largely because I have a great thing going. My creative body of work (my “portfolio”) has stagnated as a result. It isn’t bad, just increasingly unremarkable. And that’s been a constant ache in the back of my mind for at least three years now.
But the truth of the matter is that I’m not really motivated to leave or to bolster my portfolio on the side. I’m happily content saving money, investing in my future and putting my energy into social and personal matters. And yet I fear my career is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode in my face. How do I reconcile? — New York
A: Actually, you’re not happily content. If you really were, you wouldn’t be writing to the Workologist, describing a “constant ache” and a fear that your career is a “ticking time bomb.” You’d be blithely going about your business without a care in the world. But in fact this stagnation, as you describe it, is clearly bothering you.
If you want to make that aching fear go away, you’ll have to do something about it. That doesn’t mean you have to quit a job that you enjoy and thrust yourself into some new situation that’s a nonstop creative challenge. But you could, for instance, seek out work within your current job that forces you to learn new things, or otherwise push your own boundaries.
Or, as you mention, you could take up personal side projects related to a cause or an idea that you’re passionate about. Volunteer your services; start something of your own. Make a personal challenge to yourself that you’ll create one thing in the next three months that will definitively improve your portfolio. Then do that again.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with contentment, and I’m not an advocate of change for the sake of change. If you’ve got a good thing that you appreciate, keep it.
But the danger of contentment, particularly in the modern job market, is that it can slide into complacency. That ache you feel might indeed be a kind of warning signal to yourself. Take it as motivation to push a little, before your groove becomes a rut.
Over time you’ll find it’s better to be engaged and learning and growing than it is to feel that it’s “Groundhog Day” from here on out. You don’t have to reinvent your life, just find new ways to keep work interesting. Sometimes the best way to attain real contentment is to make yourself, now and then, a little uncomfortable.