One day, you’re a fresh college grad eager to climb the ladder and then, in the blink of an eye, you’ve been working in a steady succession of “good enough” jobs for almost a decade and, if you’re being completely truthful, you still feel as if you haven’t really hit your stride or made a lasting contribution. It’s easy to become complacent in your career, to trade comfort for challenges and mistake staleness for stability. The latter can be a great base from which to innovate and experiment, but the former only dulls your once sharp skills and ambition.
Here are three signs that you may need to switch off the autopilot on your career.
The days and weeks blur together.
If the only way you’re able to tell one week from the last is because this Wednesday happens to be payday, you have a problem. Time flies when you’re having fun, but it tends to blur together into an interminable expanse when you’re stuck in a rut of sameness. If the days and weeks seem to be speeding by while you feel stuck in place, it’s a good sign that you’re in the career doldrums and haven’t been actively pushing yourself to seek out new opportunities or challenges. Waking up to realize that you’ve been in the same role for three years, but don’t feel as if you have anything to show for that time other than a handful of W-2s isn’t something you want to experience.
A long break wouldn’t change anything.
When I was young, what I used to love about All My Children, my mom’s favorite soap opera, was that I could watch it over the summer, not see an episode for months while I was in school and then, over Christmas break or when home sick, be totally caught up again on the never-ending cycle of breakups, makeups and A+ Erica Kane drama within a couple of days. The more things changed, the more they stayed delightfully the same. What works for daytime TV doesn’t hold true for your job, though. If you feel like you could disappear for a month and come back to find that you could easily get up to speed on what had happened (or not) in your absence, you might as well give your desk to a robot right now.
You keep looking for more of the same.
What would happen if you lost your job today? Where would you look for a new one and what would it be? If your first instinct is to try to replicate your existing role and context as closely as possible, you’re probably on autopilot. You’ve let your imagination atrophy over time, so when you’re called upon to conjure up a vision of your professional future, your creativity fails you. Instead of being able to think about how your skills and experience could be applied in a variety of roles/industries/circumstances, you default to what feels most familiar.
Is being on career cruise control really such a bad thing?
There is a fine line between comfort and complacency. It feels good to get to a place in your working life where you’re sure where your next pay check is coming from and that it’s big enough to cover your expenses. Enjoy your current stability but don’t assume it’s going to last forever. Keep an eye on the horizon for new opportunities and keep in mind those burning ambitions that you used to drive your younger self to get out of bed in the morning. If you’re lucky, you’ll need them someday.
This article first appeared in Forbes