When to Leave Your Dream Job

Businesswoman throwing office papers

Leaving a good job--or looking for a new job at any time--is difficult. It's especially difficult when you're considering leaving your dream job. Most people spend years trying to find or land their dream job, so the concept of ever leaving one seems foreign. Yet there are legitimate reasons to leave a dream job. Here are a few of them:

The job gets repetitive. In one dream job a few years back, a few signature programs repeated annually. The first year was exhilarating. The second year was growth-oriented. In the third, we polished some details. By the fourth or fifth year, the programs were boring--not for our audience, but for us, the team that put it together. We had mastered the challenge, and it was starting to feel like busy work. The team needed to move on to give others the chance to put their marks on the programs.

You need to grow. This is always a legitimate reason to leave any job, and it's valid in dream jobs as well. If you've mastered a job--any job--it may be time to move on to ensure that you don't get burnt out, and continue to grow in your own field.Your priorities change. Dream jobs frequently come about in your prime working years, but not always. Depending on your lifestyle, family needs, or health concerns--among many other considerations--your dream job may not be in your best interest anymore, or even be your highest priority. If it's impinging on your health or ability to chase other priorities, it may be time to change.

You're burnt out. This happens frequently in social service jobs, tech industry jobs, emergency services jobs, and those with constantly impending deadlines, low levels of support, and other high-adrenaline factors. You only have so much life energy. Protect it so you can continue to fight another day, perhaps at another company or another industry where you can continue to make a difference in a different way.

The industry has shifted. This is common in large industries, particularly in manufacturing, but can happen in any firm. Even if you can change with the industry, you may want to take your skills to a new place where they may be more welcome, so you don't have to watch years of sweat equity unravel before your eyes.

The industry isn't shifting. If you're a person who likes to grow, hone your skills, and move up the ladder, a dream job can stagnate, and it may be time to chase a new dream. When you realize that you're your own brand, you need to protect your most important asset--your skill set--and leave what was a great job, until now.

The management has changed. The job has stayed great, but the company has been sold, new management has been hired, or someone new has been promoted to the top spot. This new leader may have a different vision for the company, a different management style that doesn't jive with your work style, or just have a different chemistry that doesn't match your own. It's time to look at moving on under your own volition before the new broom sweeps you clean and right into unemployment.

The excitement wanes. This can be due to any of the above reasons or a combination of factors. If getting up out of bed in the morning is becoming a struggle because of the work day ahead, the dream has somehow changed, and you need to reevaluate what type of work may be better for you at this new time in your life.

The biggest challenge with any dream job is knowing when to move on. Dreams are not infinite, and change as you grow, both as a person and employee. What may be a dream job out of college may be a rut by the time you're in your late twenties. Similarly, the dream job of your mid-forties may be a corporate trap with benefits holding you hostage by the time you're in your early fifties.

Although it sounds counterintuitive to leave a dream job, the greater danger is having the dream go sour or turning into a nightmare. It's not uncommon, and it takes real strength to know when and how to move on. Moving on can be risky and scary. It can mean a move to a new area if you're currently working in a one-industry town, like casino workers in Atlantic City or journalists in an area with only one daily newspaper. The risk of not moving, however, is generally greater, as you're leaving yourself open to someone else's priorities, rather than your own.

Once a dream becomes tarnished, your attitude changes, your energy changes, and so does your creativity. You may think you're hiding it well from your current management, but more likely you're not--and opening yourself up to being laid off on their timetable rather than leaving on your schedule. The goal is to keep as much control as possible over your own career, and that includes refining and chasing your own dreams, whatever they may be.
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