Getting trapped seems easy. Step one: graduate university with a mountain of student debt. Step two: accept the first job that will adequately service that debt. Step three: suddenly realize you hate your work, aren’t advancing, and can’t leave because the job market is uncertain and yes, you still have a colossal amount of debt.
You’re not alone. Sure, just before the pandemic a Job Satisfaction survey conducted by The Conference Board showed overall job satisfaction at over 56%. While the rate has been climbing, it doesn’t change the fact that over forty percent of people are dissatisfied with their jobs. If you’re one of them, there are things you can do. The most important thing is to change your mindset. You’re not trapped, not really. Shift some of the energy you’ve been expending complaining toward finding a solution. While you do, you may discover your current position holds a hidden key to success. If it doesn’t, there are other avenues. Here’s how to get out of a dead end job.
Is Your Job Really a Dead End?
Your first step should be conducting a thorough examination of your present position. Maybe it isn’t as dead end as you thought. Unhappy workers do all they can to avoid actually working. Be honest. How much of your time in the office is spent chatting up colleagues, online shopping, updating social media posts or other non-work activities? Don’t worry, I won’t tell. Some studies suggest the average worker wastes three hours during an eight-hour shift (not counting lunch or scheduled breaks)!
To transform a dead end job into a golden opportunity, you first have to see how much time you have available. Keep track of your hours. Then start behaving as if it’s your first week on the job. Now when you approach coworkers, it won’t be to discuss your binge watching. It will be to see if there are projects you can help with. During the next meeting, volunteer for a new project. Ask your supervisor about pain points and instead of being one of them, actually take on more responsibility. Brainstorm new projects. Become a valuable employee. Learn new skills at work, while still paying down debt. If you haven’t done so recently, discuss your career objectives with your supervisor. If you don’t know what they are, make a list. Think about where you want to be five years from now.
Doing these things might do more than change your job. It might even change your thinking. If it hasn’t, don’t quit your current position. That’s not really how to get out of a dead end job –– it’s too easy to get desperate and accept another unacceptable offer.
If your company has an internal job board, utilize it. Apply to the postings –– even if the work is different from what you’re currently doing. If you discovered an untapped skill during this period, you should mention it when you start applying for open positions in other companies.
As Jonathan Fields, founder of Good Life Project, once told me, you should use the beginning of your career to “to run a series of experiments designed to let you figure out the sweet spot between what lights you up, what you’re good at and what the world will pay you for.” He admits it isn’t easy. Still, to become liberated from a dead end job he says you must “become fiercely dedicated to running experiments to find that sweet spot. Even if you have to do it on the side, even if it takes years. That way, when you reach a time where you have the freedom to truly choose, you’ve already figured out what path to walk down next.”
Freelancing, short-term gigs, and other side hustles are common. At least one-third of U.S. workers have at one point done some sort of freelance work. Although usually viewed as just a way to earn extra money, it can be so much more. Side hustles can lead to a fulfilling career change. There are unprecedented resources for freelancers, use them. While you have a steady income stream, think about the compromises you made to get that dead-end job. Perhaps you’re an art history major who took a job at a marketing firm. Now’s the time to volunteer at a local museum or take a weekend gig doing walking tours. Expand your horizons. A side hustle can lead to something significant. With hard work and a bit of luck, you could discover a new passion. Some of the happiest, most fulfilled people are self-employed. As Mark Twain put it, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”