You’ve been at the same job for years. You feel stuck and stressed but can’t seem to make yourself leave.
But you have to.
While you aren’t alone, job satisfaction among American workers has been rising steadily since the years of the recession. In 2017, the Society for Human Resource Management found that a full 89% of US workers reported being somewhat or very happy with their work situation. It is time for you to join them.
Hard-Wired for Status
There are a lot of reasons why people don’t leave their jobs. Many people feel guilty about leaving their co-workers and bosses behind. Others believe “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.” Still others have their identity invested in their job. But there is another reason lurking beneath the surface that people don’t want to talk about:
We fear a loss of status.
It’s looked down on in our society when we are affected by the opinions of our peers. We don’t want to be seen as people who move our lives in one direction or another based on how others perceive us. We are supposed to do everything for ourselves and by ourselves. We are rugged individuals.
The only problem is, this doesn’t reflect the human experience at all. We are social creatures, for better or for worse. We are programmed to take notice of our social hierarchy and evaluate our place within it. In social primates, status means access to goods—those at the top of the ladder get first pick, and those at the bottom get scraps.
This is true of chimpanzees and it was true of humanities ancestors. As much as we have evolved, we haven’t evolved beyond our basic drives.
In 2015, Prof. Cameron Anderson reviewed a great deal of the empirical literature on social status from the past 70 years. He teased the concept away from other related ideas like power and financial success by coming up with a three-part definition that included respect and admiration, voluntary deference by others, and social value.
What did he find?
That status is a universal basic human motive. It is wanted in and of itself. It drives goal-oriented behavior. And most importantly, it affects our well-being and health.
Being low status is so detrimental to your health because of stress.
Another thing that causes stress is staying at a job you hate. Being unhappy at work is linked to weight gain, a weaker immune system, and mental health problems like anxiety and depression. You are more likely to lose sleep and even damage your personal relationships which are fundamental to your well-being.
Does that seem like “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t?”
Well, it isn’t.
While the fear of social status is perfectly normal and natural, it doesn’t need to hold you back from making a big change in your life.
John Nemo of Bizjournals.com, a best-selling author and speaker, quit his job in the corporate world to start his own marketing agency without any savings or clients.
Jena Viviano of TheMuse.com quit her investment banking job to eventually land in a journalism gig.
Joshua Fields of TheMinimalist.com quit his successful telecom career to…Well, he didn’t know when he actually quit. He just knew he was very unhappy. Now, his website has been featured on Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and more.
These aren’t the only people who have left jobs that elevated their status in order to pursue something more meaningful and satisfying to them. But they are some successful examples and I want you to keep them in mind while you consider your options. Does leaving your job mean a permanent decrease in your social status?
It may not.
When we make big changes in our lives, we are trying to get our brains to do something they don’t want to do: pursue the unfamiliar. We have a status quo bias. Emotionally, we prefer things to stay as they are.
So, when we know a change needs to happen, we need reflection and exercises to help us get over that initial hump.
1. Redefine success: Try to reframe your idea of what success and status mean. Think about it honestly: Who impress you the most? People who are doted on and admired, or people who live a life that is fulfilling to them.
The two can exist together.
But, maybe they don’t right now.
So, which is more admirable?
2. Set small goals: Changing your job or career can seem overwhelming. All radical shifts do at first. To start, take small actions in the direction that you want to go. Always remember that action precedes clarity. As you start to dedicate bits of your time and energy to another pursuit, it will seem more realistic and become clearer in your head.
3. Tell Your Social Group: Don’t run around your office telling people that you’re thinking about quitting unless you are sure you want to—in which case, bolster your savings and put your notice in as soon as possible! Do tell your family and friends. You may be surprised to find how much support they’ll give you and how much they’ll admire you for even pursuing a passion.
Also realize that you are setting an example for those you love. The best thing you can do for those you care about is to be the best version of yourself.
4. Get a Coach: Having someone in your life who holds you accountable to your goals is priceless. This person can helpyou set deadlines, think through the risks, and get rid of any ambiguities in your thinking.
Leaving your job is hard. You’re hesitant for a good reason, but with the right coach providing direction and insight, you can move away from fear and anxiety and towards resolution and action.
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