10 signs you’ve outgrown your job and what to do about it

Photo credit: Dan Bannister, Shutterstock
Photo credit: Dan Bannister, Shutterstock

It happens to many of us at some point: We hit a wall in our work and aren’t sure of what next steps to take.

If you aren’t sure if it’s time to move on (or if you ARE sure and don’t know how to proceed) here are a few signs you’ve outgrown your job and tips for how to gain some traction in your career.

1. You’re too good

You’ve gained lots of experience and your projects haven’t kept up; you don’t need to actively learn new skills or stretch yourself on a regular basis and it doesn’t seem like there is much room to grow.

2.You can’t see where you’re going

The job you have now leads to the work you’ll be doing later. If your organization is small and not growing, you may not see opportunities for promotion. If you bring a unique skill set to your organization, you might not have the opportunity to learn from an internal mentor. If your role is too much of a hodgepodge of different activities, it could be hard to build a clear skill set. So if you don’t see where your current role is taking you, it’s likely that you’re already ready for something new.

3. You can see where you’re going and it’s not at your current job

If you have an emerging vision of your career that doesn’t fit with your job or would require a new level of experience, that’s a sign that you need to move on. There doesn’t have to be a straight line between where you are and where you are going but they should be linked.

4. You’ve done your research

Make a list of what you do like about your role and what’s not working for you. Look at a wide variety of factors like the work environment, skills you use, and the mission your work supports. If it’s too early to tell which factors fit your work style and career aims, and which don’t, you probably want to stay put. If a disproportionate number of items on the list show that you need more challenge or you’ve learned that a different kind of organization or work environment would be better, that’s a sign.

5. You watch the clock

Ideally, much of your work is in a state of flow. You love what you do and even when it’s challenging you want more! If you start to watch as the minutes tick by and are no longer interested in your work, it’s a sign that you’re ready for something new.

6. You wouldn’t marry your job

A career you love is like an incredible marriage. It can take time, effort, and mistakes to find the right relationship. If someone told you that you were going to marry your job how would you feel? Like you hit the jackpot? Great! Imagining yourself running from the altar? Pay attention.

7. Other people say so

Often peers and colleagues will let you know that they see more potential than your current role allows. They may say it directly or indicate it by giving you new opportunities, mentorship, or lots of affirmation.

8. Your body says so

The body has a way of communicating what’s really going on even when the rest of you isn’t ready to see it yet. Notice when your body feels out of balance. Look for headaches, back or muscle aches, changes in appetite or sleep pattern as signals that you’re out of balance. View these signals in combination with the other nine signs and try to be honest with yourself. What information is this physical signal giving me? Could be just a need for a getaway weekend. Or does your inner voice say it’s about your job?

9.Your quiet inner voice says so

If you keep thinking about quitting or simply exploring what’s out there, don’t ignore those thoughts. Instead, try journaling or drawing and reflect on what you’re thinking and when these thoughts emerge. Ask yourself, “What do I think about my current position?” and write nonstop for 10 minutes. There’s a lot there. Words like: excited, learning everyday, getting results, making an impact? Just right! Words like: frustrated, constrained, dead-end, alone, ready for more? Time to move on. Fear can keep us from admitting we’re yearning for something different. This voice knows what is really going on. If you listen carefully, it will let you know too.

10. You fail the “last day of your life” test too often

If today was the last day of your life, would you go to this job? You might have a few days where the answer is no, but if you find yourself feeling that way too many days in a row, listen up. Steve Jobs used this test every morning and shared it with Stanford graduates in his famous 2005 commencement address.

See the signs but don’t know what’s next? Here’s the good news: What you need to do next is to have some fun.

Think about changes in your current job

Consider what opportunities in your current organization or network fit with the direction you want to stretch in. If the mission of your current organization is a perfect fit, but the skills you are using are not, get training and volunteer for projects to open up new opportunities.

Only you can judge how much of a shift you need. If you have a positive relationship with your manager, consider a constructive conversation that outlines the type of skills you want to build or opportunities you’d like to have. Ask what the organizational needs are that could fit with your aspirations. For example: “What kind of results are you hoping to get in this area during the next year? I know it’s not where I’ve been focused so far, and I’d love to get more involved.” It’s possible that the bigger role you are looking for is where you are, with a pivot.

If it’s time to move on, start experimenting

Find the simplest possible way to experiment with anything you have a hunch is in the right direction. Don’t worry if you’ve got “the answer.” Try whatever feels most exciting to you right now.

Brainstorm a list of at least 10 specific jobs you think you’d like to try. Think about aspects of your work that you’ve enjoyed and what would be a different spin. Let yourself dream—it’s just a list! Often, we constrain ourselves too early. For example, if you’ve liked working on the organizational Twitter account, add “Social Media Marketer.” Having fun collecting survey results? Program Analyst. Be specific. If you need inspiration, check out the job postings on Idealist to give you ideas.

Now take each of the jobs on your list and ask yourself, “What is the simplest way I can get more a taste of what this would actually feel like?”

Volunteer on a Saturday for an organization you think might be a better fit. Go to an evening lecture with a person who already has the type of position you are interested in. Call one of those insightful colleagues that keeps affirming you and ask them about their professional experiences. Ask for new projects at work related to your areas of interest. Each of these experiences will give you more data.

The point isn’t to get through the whole list. The point is to get as much feedback about your next move as soon as possible. When an experience resonates positively inside, keep following that path by seeking out more opportunities to build your skills inside or outside of you current organization.

The world needs you to impact the biggest circle you can. The more you wait, the unhappier you’ll be. A small step can be just the push you need to try something different.

Ever felt like you outgrew your job? What did you do about it? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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Cynthia Jaggi is an entrepreneur and leadership expert for people who are looking to create massive impact. Through her writing and courses, she's here to shake up your approach to creating your most meaningful life and work - while making it all feel like fun. She was named a lean-startup ambassador for her work bringing a lean approach to social impact and her insights have been featured on Business Insider, Women 2.0 and Idealist Careers. Her passion is to shift the economy to a regenerative model that puts people and the planet in the center. To achieve this goal she works to build + grow social impact businesses and to empower professionals to create their most meaningful life and work. She is the Founder of GatherWell, the Think + Do tank for Practical Idealists and a Partner at Living Economy Advisors, increasing the flow of capital to the living economy. A bit of her fun? dancing, gardening and the occasional dip under a desert waterfall. Meet Cynthia and get ready to create a more meaningful career & life at cynthiajaggi.com
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    • Pura
    • August 14, 2013

    Hello! Thank you so much for the article. I have been struggling with moving on. No matter what time I go to bed I just can’t get up in the morning to get to work on time. Moving forward and not feeling guilty is what I need to do. Thank you again!

    1. Dear Pura-

      So glad to hear that you are ready to move forward without guilt!! Wishing you the best on your journey. Hope you’ll keep me posted


        • dani
        • December 1, 2014

        Cynthia- Thank you so much, i felt like this article was posted exactly for me. I am so happy with the details shared, I cannot wait to apply this to my current situation. I believe we can offer so much more in the workplace mentally, emotionally and physically when we are doing something we love!

  1. Pingback: 10 signs you’ve outgrown your job and what to do about it | GatherWell

    • Jacinta Chisi
    • August 21, 2013

    It tremendously to learn about this. I have been procasinating at work for a month. What I expected to do did not come well such that I had difficulties in working up.

    1. Dear Jacinta – Hope that you’re able to start testing new options in small ways! Be Well, Cynthia

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    • Jay
    • November 8, 2013

    Thank you for writing this, especially the concrete and helpful action steps after the list. So many lists like this don’t give good suggestions, and I think the experimentation one is really a good one.

    For me, though, the reality now is that I have to conserve enough energy to work on updating my resume and portfolio before I can seriously begin applying to new jobs.

    1. Hi Jay-

      Thanks! So glad that you found the list helpful. Great that you are focused in on your next steps! Sounds like you already know the kind of position you want next. Is the portfolio you mentioned an impact portfolio? Keep an eye out for my upcoming piece on that topic.

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