Q: I have been working at my company for more than three years. In that time, I have been promoted twice. Recently, I have been assigned a long-term project that is actually pretty interesting to me and makes an otherwise sort-of-boring job better. In the relatively short time I have been here, I have seen so many people come and go, and I have been here longer than many people in the office. Each time someone new quits, I feel a little insecure, wondering if I should be working harder to leave, too. I actually have had a couple of job offers, but they didn’t offer me what I wanted. I was considering going back to school at one point, but that didn’t work out. For now, I’m putting my head down and playing the long game.
While my co-workers complain about how horrible the office is, I don’t see much wrong with it. Am I settling? Any advice on how to keep positive when everyone else seems miserable? Should I just stay until the right opportunity for me comes along and not worry about other people?
A: First, be advised that you’re asking someone whose career path has been something of a gradual uphill meander, punctuated by a few lucky breaks. I’d say I’ve been playing the long game, but that would imply some kind of strategy.
Second, even with that personal tendency toward passivity, my take on your question depends largely on who your employer is, the nature of the work and your colleagues’ reasons for leaving.
For example, if your colleagues are fleeing because of unethical or immoral assignments or a toxic or abusive work environment, maybe you should open your eyes and ears to what they’re saying about their experiences before and after they leave, and be honest with yourself about whether you’re enduring or enabling an unhealthy or corrupt enterprise. At the extreme, if you know what you’re doing fails the “Could I look my theoretical grandchildren in the eye” test, consider whether there are better ways for you to make a living.
But let’s say your employer is a nonprofit doing necessary but unexciting work that most of your peers find mind-numbing, so they bail as soon as they get the chance. You, however, have buckled down and stuck around long enough to be rewarded with promotions and the rare interesting project. If your material, intellectual and emotional needs are being met by the job — or the job meets some needs and affords you the freedom to seek the rest off the clock — why pursue ambition for ambition’s sake?
If “not worry[ing] about other people” means not comparing your career path to theirs as an arbitrary measure of success, then, yes, you’re justified in keeping on keeping on, with one suggestion: Now that you’ve put down roots, make a point of branching out and acquiring new skills and knowledge in your free time. That way you’ll be better prepared when your “right opportunity” arrives — or if an unlucky break forces a detour.
Karla L. Miller is a workplace columnist for The Washington Post. Her column runs on Sunday.