Why Guys Get Trapped in Soul Sucking Jobs

3 reasons why it happens. And what you can do about it.

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If there was a car accident and you were the first one the scene, chances are you would respond and immediately lend yourself to the situation. Right? Most men would step up and serve in that moment without question, without hesitation.

How is it that some guys can really step up when it matters most, but in the day-to-day routine of life hold back so much? What will it take for you to “respond” to the call of your life? What mistakes have you made that have you in a career that is luke warm? What are you doing about it? If you still reading, you are at least aware that there is a problem. If you read my personal blog, you know there’s more out there.

Some of you are in the initial phase of career change. Some of you are just realizing there is a problem. And others of you are well along the path, having already taken some big risks toward the future, your life purpose, and knowing what you want.

In this culture, work matters. Even though it is only what we do, for many men it becomes our identity. If we don’t like our work, that has a big impact on who we are as men and how we are showing up in the world. And if you’re like me, a man’s road of career development is frustrating, challenging and relentless. It’s what I wake up in the morning every day having to face.

So, let’s look at the top 3 reasons you, and men like you, tend to play it safe, hate their job and continue to hold back from what’s possible.

REASON NUMBER 1: You Let Someone Else be the Leader.

You got on the wrong train and became a follower. You did what you were supposed to do or needed to do, rather than what you wanted to do. It’s understandable because our culture taught us how to be comfortable. It conditioned us, instead of inspiring us to be ourselves.

Before we dive further into this point, it is important to understand the rationale men use in their career development and what kinds of men they are. From my experience, unhappy career men are divided into four categories:

Man A. The Hamster

Somewhere along his life path, often in his 20’s, a man lands a good paying job with the potential for career advancement. Without doing a serious inquiry and innocently enough, he takes the job and then the years go by.

This man likes stability and stays in that job until he retires. This type of man was more common in my father’s generation. This man gets on the hamster wheel early and for some dog-gone reason, stays on the damn wheel.

Man B. The strategist

This guy will do some serious searching early in his career and may change jobs several times in his 20’s and even in to his 30’s until he settles with a firm or a company. He may go to grad school to pursue an MBA, to further his skills and to make more cash.

This guy stays with a job for no more than 2 years before moving on to a better job—better pay, benefits, office views, and titles with more clout and credibility. He is looking for “career advancement” and so he develops a skill set or two he is good at and finds work that supports that advancement.

Men tell me that at this stage they are climbing the corporate ladder. Other men in this category have told me that they seek more challenging positions so they can continue to grow as a leader within the workplace. 

Man C—The Family Man.

Family men tell me that they had to get a serious job to support the family, the mortgage, and the other responsibilities that come along with “growing up” and being an adult.

As his family grows, so does his need for more money to afford more things the family needs—a bigger house, another car, more money for schooling, more mouths to feed etc. The upgrades often continue, as does the necessary salary to support it.

Man DThe Wanderer

This unique guy attempts to find work that feeds him. This man takes some bold risks and is pretty adventurous. This guy is wandering, unclear of what to do and only takes jobs to support his lifestyle. He is pretty ambivalent about work and money, but knows there is more to life than work.

This guy often takes a low paying job supposedly “doing what he loves” but ends up doing it for a long time which leads to him feeling “stuck.” These guys often work in the restaurant business, ski industry, retail clothing and other “service industry” related jobs that never tie them down. This guy may be rebelling against what man A, B, & C do, but is equally unhappy. (This was me).

Some men do actually like their work, good for them

Now, to be fair, all of these types of men have the potential to be fulfilled with their work and plenty of these men are happy, fulfilled and excited about the work they do and the situation they are in. Good for them. We are not talking about them, however. We’re talking about you if you are unhappy.

It begins to make sense why men choose career paths that they do. Which man out of the four are you?

What do all of these men have in common?

Did you do what you were “supposed to do” or needed to do?  Did you stop looking for what really inspired you and so you settled? Perhaps while at the station, you just got on the career building train and found it hard to exit.

The most common theme between these men is that they let external stressors such as starting a family, debt from student loans or credit cards, a mortgage, and other peoples expectations, drive their behavior. This is “external motivation” as opposed to intrinsic (or internal) motivation. And this kind of behavior is understandable. As you know, once you are on the train and the further from the station you travel, the harder and harder it becomes to get off the train. You followed the crowd and they were on the train too! Most adults calcify over time and become less and less open to change. The longer and further from the station, the more you will override that tiny voice that knows it could be different. Most men have that voice. How loud that voice is depends on the man.

Commonly, instead of directing your energy to finding your life’s work, you put that life force into playing it safe and career development and management, even though you don’t absolutely love your job. You may compare yourself to your peers and end up competing against them. Some men even quietly compete against their fathers as if to prove something. Instead of seeking for, and fighting for, what truly gets you up in the morning, you put that same energy into goals within a job that doesn’t fulfill you.

So, mistake number one is that for whatever reason, you became a follower.

You chose to follow instead of lead.

REASON NUMBER 2: INACTION

You didn’t know what you want to do, you still don’t know what your calling in life is, and you’re doing nothing about it.

The second biggest mistake a man makes is that he collapses in the face of “not knowing” and then does not take action to right the situation. In other words, he has a difficult time hanging in there with the agonizing process of discovering his true purpose.

He did not engage thoroughly in the self-inquiry that is required to know what his life’s work is. No one ever gave him an amazing rite of passage to help him self-actualize, so he just followed. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to love your work, fight for it and even die for it.

We are all here to do a specific task. A task that only you can do. However, “I don’t know what I want to do” becomes a card a man will carry around to avoid the discomfort of the unknown. The issue is not the unknown, however, it is a your relationship to it. Here is where you need to realize that your inaction has a big price (see reason 3).

Think about it. When you were 18-22, how many guys did you know that knew without a doubt what they wanted to do with their life? How many guys did you really trust when they said they knew? And, since most teenage boys don’t have a rite of passage that helps them get in touch with what matters most and explore what they are made of, they limp along, unclear of what to do.

The truth is very few men actually know what their life’s work is by the start of college and even fewer are clear after college, (although it may look like they are clear from the outside and many want you to believe that they are clear). Most of us don’t discover or uncover our soul’s purpose until well into our thirties.

So, if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do, then what do you do? As we talked about, you have a couple of choices. One is to collapse into the pressures around you and become a follower. Or you can keep posturing, pretending you are happy and content, when you are in fact, unhappy and uninspired. Or, if you have privilege and balls, you do the intense inner work to find out what your mission is.

Some of you might be a leader within your organization, but you’re also a follower of someone else’s vision. You compete with other men to get a better, higher paying job, maybe with status or rewards such as a big paycheck. You don’t want to lose the race up the corporate mountain. In that world, the later you start, the less leadership opportunities there are, the less you get paid, the less chance for advancement, etc. So, it makes sense why you just found a “good job.” And, given how you grew up, that might be a HUGE step in the right direction.

At the same time, it also makes sense why so many of you are simply not satisfied or fulfilled with the work you do.

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Do any of these statements sound familiar?

  • “It’s not really what I want to do, but it pays the bills.”
  • “it’s a respected company.”
  • “It’s not really my ideal job, but the benefits are good,”
  • “hey, working for the man pays the bills.”
  • “I don’t have time to find work I’m happy about.”
  • “yeah, wait till you have a family and then let’s talk about your ideal job.”
  • “yeah, I have a lot of freedom and I can make my own schedule.”

This kind of attitude is great if you want to play it safe. But imagine you’re on a sports team and this kind of attitude is up to bat. Are you an asset or a liability to the team?

If you have felt this way about some aspect of your life, like your career, there’s still time for a course correction.

After a while, this “not knowing” becomes a comfortable place to be and a great reason stop discovering. I say this sarcastically of course. Behind the scenes, men are in a lot of pain if they have a lame job. The lucky ones have a huge meltdown during a mid-life crisis.

Most men hate the unknown. Men like to be in control. But ask yourself, would you rather be in control and somewhat comfortable in a routine, predicting your schedule and not having to do a lot of guess work? Or, would you rather find meaningful work wherein everyday you woke up stoked about the day? Excited for the challenge that you must tackle in front of you?

Some men even tell themselves, “Well, I’m not really the adventurous type.” Pretty soon, this is part of a false identity that they begin to believe (Story, story, story).  Now, think back to when you were a kid, did you do the same thing day in and day out? Did you play it safe? Or, were you seeing the world as a big adventure with limitless possibilities? Did you play games and always change the rules and make stuff up?

Chances are you were like most kids and did a lot of exploring and experimenting, even as a teenager. What happened to silence that adventurous spirit in you? What made you stop exploring? 

Second Mistake: You don’t know what to do and you’re frozen in not knowing. As a result, your lack of action is having a big impact on your psyche and on those who need your help.

REASON NUMBER 3: FEAR

Fear is at the root of your inaction

Fear is likely at the underbelly of such justifications as, “I don’t really know what I want to do for work” or “It’s a well-paid, stable job.” Try it on that fear drives much of your behavior. Even “fearless” men have fear. It’s just that they don’t collapse around it. These bold men go into it, right into the center. Many men have a fear of success or a fear of failure.

Read any leadership book and they’ll talk about fear of failure or fear of success. Say these statements out loud and see which fits:

  • “I am afraid to fail”
  • “I don’t want to look bad in my circle of friends”
  • “I don’t want to be seen as incompetent”
  • “I don’t know if I can do it.”
  • “I’m afraid what I have to offer is not valuable.”
  • “I have better things to do with my time”
  • “What if ______________(your idea) doesn’t work?”
  • “What if I don’t make any money?”
  • “What if I’m not good at it?”
  • “What if others judge me?”

The one thing in common in the above questions? FEAR! Fear, fear, fear. How much is fear running your life? Who cares if I fail? So what? What is the worst possible thing that could happen if you really followed your own truth?

 ♦◊♦

A few pointers.

First, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What would I be doing if I knew I couldn’t fail?
  2. What would I do if I was not afraid?
  3. If I had to charge into battle in 5 minutes, what noble cause would I stand up and fight for right now? Who/What would I die for in this battle?

Chances are what you would be doing in these scenarios is different from what you are currently doing. If this is true, many men will immediately list the reasons why they are not doing what they really want to be doing. That’s fine, do that.

Next, take out a piece of paper and list all the reasons why following your own truth, your own mission wouldn’t work.

List them, seriously.

Following my truth just wouldn’t work right now in my life because:

 

 

Your reasons are good ones, I’m sure very valid. But let’s you and I recognize that when you rationalize, chances are that you are in fear. Try it on. Just try saying it out loud right now, “The reason I’m not fulfilling my true mission in life is because I’m scared.” What was that like? Is it true?

If it’s true that you are scared to find and follow your own deep vision, what is it going to take for you lean into your fear? What will it take for you to be able to relate to your fear and learn something from it?

What is the worst that could happen if you put “finding my mission” at the top of your ‘to do’ list. What would it take from quietly being run by fear, to engaging in your life in a deeper way? 

The Cost of Your Inaction

When we don’t act there is always a price. Think for a minute about the price tag for you not finding and not living your true mission. Perhaps there is a cost to your family or friends. Maybe the cost is that those with whom you are here to serve miss out on your greatest gift? Maybe the big cost is that you feel like you are lying to yourself and that hurts.

Men who lack a sense of inner peace and feel “out of sorts” deep inside regarding their calling must realize that this nagging feeling will never go away until you face it.

From my own experience, men not living their true purpose in life are simply less potent and less effective leaders. If you have a son or daughter, think about what you are indirectly teaching them by playing it safe.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said,

“Most of us go to our grave with our music still inside of us.”

Is this going to be you?

The ball is in your court. Remember my car accident example in the first paragraph? Pretend a crisis is happening right now. If you can’t find a personal crisis, think about the global economic crisis. One of five men are out of work right now. Pretend you are needed.  Imagine that there are a lot of people that need you, your help. Will you collapse and run from the scene? What are you going to do to step up and serve?

Specifically, what next action step are you going to take toward discovering and living your life’s purpose? If you already know what your purpose is and are not living it, what steps will you take to get on it?

♦◊♦

Write down 5 action steps you will take right now to begin this process and put time deadlines on each.

ACTION STEP                                                                                    DEADLINE

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

So, NOW WHAT?

Good question. That depends on how deep your longing is, how serious you are about making changes. The good news? If you continue to hit the snooze button in your life, Life will turn up the heat. Life has a funny, precise way of increasing the pain in our lives until something breaks.

Will you wait?

 

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About Jayson Gaddis

Jayson Gaddis — householder, former psychotherapist, teacher, speaker, writer, relationship specialist, & soul guide is using the vehicle of his marriage and his children to become who he truly is, while expanding his capacity to love. He’s on the planet to help people master the soul lesson burning in their heart, through the vehicle of intimacy and relationship. He’s a husband and part-time stay-at-home Dad getting schooled by his two cosmic kids.

Comments

  1. Been there and done that for a variety of reasons. My last job, or rather a particular manager at my last job, was making me sick and I reached the point where I absolutely had to get out. I searched the job adds looking for any job I thought I could do and eventually found an ad for a job at a library. Although I’ve used libraries all my life I never thought of working in one. I got the job and I absolutely love it. I’m now studying to become a librarian.

    If I could give any advice to anyone in a soul sucking job who wants to get out I’d say think broadly about your interests,skills and experience and look for jobs that are interesting and suited to you. Once you find your fit you’ll feel like a new man.

  2. Why is any of this gendered? It’s 2012, for Chrissake.

  3. How do you figure out what you want to do:S
    The stuff I wanna do requires yeaaars of study but my health isn’t good enough to do so yet (working on it). That’s a big barrier as I’d rather dive into it n learn on the job.

    • It is very easy to do. Buckminster Fuller has the best method of figuring out what you are really meant to do with your life. Could be phrased two different ways. 1- Think back to what you were doing in your life before someone told you that you needed to “earn a living”. THAT is what you were meant to do. Now, people do change as they age, so that might not apply if you are not in your early adult life. If you are a little older ask yourself this question. 2- If you won the lottery today, what would you do tomorrow. Not straight away, but after you took a month or a year off to travel the world. When you came to a rest, and woke up realizing you never had to go to a “job” again, what would you spend your days doing. THAT is your true calling.

  4. I’ve always wanted to be a mattress tester.

  5. What’s worse: having a job you don’t like, or not having a job at all and living with your parents?

  6. I was working in Blind Rehabilitation and had to leave because my wife didn’t want me on the road. I should have left the wife instead. But my upbringing wouldn’t let me. So I sent ten years of emotional abuse and going from really bad job to really bad job.

    One of the happiest days of my life was when my wife told me the marriage wasn’t working.

  7. I just recently did a radical professional change after an eleven year career in the military. While it was a very difficult decision that lead to many sleepless nights I don’t regret it at all. It’s so easy to get trapped in fear freeze especially when you have a wife and kids to support and provide for. We worked our transition and change over the course of about two years. When I finally pulled the trigger I knew it wasn’t going to be all rainbows but I’m so thankful I did.

    The single biggest things that helped me sort it out was getting totally clear on my priorities. What was really important to me? What really mattered to me? How could I leverage my skills (professional, education, etc…) to do something I was really no kidding passionate about? For me it was very easy. My job kept taking me away from my family. Last year at this time I was overseas and in turn missed the birth of my second daughter. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. It was time to change and if there was pain associated with that it wasn’t nearly as bad as being away from my family for those moments that matter so much.

    It’s overused but so true, we’ve got one chance on this side of heaven, we need to fight not to waste it. Fight kicking and screaming to do something you love. I’m a better husband, Dad, and professional now as a result of making the change because I’m working at and for something I actually believe in instead of just punching my card.

    Happy Thanksgiving week to all!

  8. I personally identified with “The Strategist”–but I’m unsure as to how this falls under the category of unhappy work men. Part of being in your 20’s *is* education and career advancement until you find what’s right for you with the compensation you’re comfortable with–what’s the problem?

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    Some of the things I thought about when I was in my teens were and are impracticable, until somebody invents a faster than light drive, for example.
    I figured a job was a way to earn money to do stuff I liked–such as support a family–and the number of jobs which would support my passion and my family approached zero.
    Some jobs suck your soul, some are just profitable ways to pass the time while you’re arranging to support that which you like.
    Sometimes the choice job and the talent don’t match.
    My bow is to the millions of guys who did what they had to do and didn’t consider a family some kind of anchor around their life ambitions. It’s called a sacrifice. A noble thing.

    • Bill Alexy says:

      Amen to that Richard. Christ didn’t die on the cross so that we could have the perfect job. Of course we shouldn’t squander our opportunities, and there is a time to move on, but personal sacrifice at job that seems to be sucking the life out of us may be the cross that Christ wants us to carry for a time.

      • Bill Alexy says:

        It also occurs to me that many people have squandered opportunity for fulfillment by not looking at their current situation with gratefulness. Some people have locked the,selves into bad positions because they haven’t looked for opportunities to make the best of their current situation. Being an excellent follower, like Joseph, can teach you how to become a good leader.

  10. If you want a new job, check out my free booklet (no strings attached), you can find it at

    http://www.darkmatterconsultingDOTcomSLASHjobhunting

    You spend a lot of time at work, it should be rewarding.

  11. Wandering around aimlessly is a therapeutic way to ditch your mental filters and restraints; unless you are independently wealthy, this is best done over small periods of time.

    Save money and take a month off to travel on your own to do something that scares you (I hiked in the Himalayas in Nepal); take a vacation-as-internship and volunteer at an organization or industry you feel may interest you (film crew was not for me); or devote a few hours every week randomly researching degrees, job descriptions and/or certifications.

    I switched careers in my late twenties and moved through a few companies and departments within the same company throughout my thirties. Now at 39 I am writing a thesis for my master’s degree (which took 4.5 years to complete on a part-time basis), working in a very specialized industry at a small company, and making a good salary. I also train at a circus school twice a week to keep in shape and meet interesting people.

  12. Sean Wilson says:

    I came out of highschool with a vague idea of where I wanted to go career-wise, failed out of university, then a college (depression) and completed a course which led to a soul-sucking job with some practical benefits. It was taking a toll on my general well being so I saw a career counsellor, researched possible careers, decided on one, worked towards it, found out 2/3rds of the way through that I was ill suited to even finishing the practical component of the course, let alone work in the field. So I moved back with the folks, found a job with far worse pay than the soul-destroying job with no possibility of advancement. Then I let people talk me into trying one more time to pursue a “career” through a training course. I did well and now can not find work in the field.

    My point is that if I had stayed in the soul-destroying job I would have at least have payed off my loans by now and be still living on my own with the freedom to spend the weekends drinking away the rage. I bought in to the rhetoric that you should “do what you love” and “you can be anything you want”. No one pays people to do things that someone else would do for free. Jobs are meant to exchange money one needs for unpleasant things one is willing to do.

    • D.R. Bartlette says:

      Here, here. I tried “following my bliss,” got lots of training to do what I love (be a writer), and I’m trapped in a bad job. I teach college. Sounds nice, except I’m adjunct, which means part-time, which means literally poverty-level wages and up to four months without income (and no access to unemployment benefits). Not every talent has a job out there waiting for it. It sucks, but it’s true.

  13. This is a fantastic article!!! Work-Family balance issue for dads is my area, and think this is really applicable to what I do. Just a great article, man.

  14. Dammit, get out of my head! (screams the guy with 22 years in the architecture biz and without a job in it for the last 15 months)

    Good article. I’ve been looking for some “firestarter” material, and this helps. Thank you.

  15. Excellent piece, Jason.

    Really..excellent.

  16. Hi, Jayson,

    In part 1, you describe 4 types of men. I would like to add one more: The Disadvantaged: You started life disadvantaged, so did the best you could, which was to take the best job that was available to you, in your immediate environment. But because you had a rough start, and perhaps no higher education, the only jobs available were unfulfilling and low-end. Over time, you slowly have made slightly-better choices, but mostly through negation: you choose against what you CAN NO LONGER STAND. So, you leave bad jobs by finding a slightly better position, but it’s still not great. And yet bills still have to be paid. Over time, over years, you have “come a long way” from where you have started, but it is still not the job of your dreams. You might have gotten better at selling shoes, say, and you might even work in a high-end shoe store now (no more PayLess) but what you REALLY always wanted to be an artist.

    Now, it might be tempting to lump this in with the Wanderer. But being a ski bum and pulling yourself out of poverty are two very different things.

    Good article, though. Thanks in advance for considering my point of view …

    Best,
    Ken

  17. “Or would you rather find meaningful work wherein everyday you woke up stoked about the day?”

    Great insights… My ex glommed onto me because I was working toward my ultimate career goal while he was stuck in a seemingly dead end job…he attained a master’s and ultimately a PhD…but it still was not enough for him….he wanted the professional degree I was going for….and he never let on that he envied me…as I think back, I believe he clung to me so tightly because he wanted to help me up the career ladder first and that in turn I would pull him up….but I was just a young girl and had no ideas of the manipulative schemes in his head…

    Thank you for writing this article…I could never figure him out…I think there was so much he left unsaid…he could be impenetrable at times….only now do I understand how much he resented me and envied my career goals….

  18. Richard says:

    I’ve battled with this for the last fifteen years. I’ve read ALL the self help books. I’ve read ALL the philosophy/ new age/ religious/ esoteric stuff. I’ve tried 12 step programmes. I’ve done 6 years of individual psychotherapy. I’ve tried and tried and tried not to try! And yet i am still in jobs that do not fullfill me and still i have no idead what to do. I seem destined for a lone walk with God (whatever that means!) My biggest battle is accepting this. I KNOW i am not meant to be doing what i am currently doing. But the alternative path just does not reveal itself. I’ve had out of body experiences, experiences within other dimensions. Yet these experiences bring no money to live in the real world. This is my world. For the last fifteen years i have been in a constant state of delirious joy and despair at the same time. So i will continue to hope. I will take action if i knew what action to take. I have prayed my arse off. This is just how it is for me today…. Anyone who wants to donate money to a worthy cause (ME!) please get in touch so i can leave my job and try to do what God wants me to do. Coz this is just not right. It’s gone on to long now. I’ve had enough!

    • Richard says:

      I have studied this article GMP and it is not the answer for ALL. I have done all you suggest and have been for the last 20 years. I have been totally COURAGEOUS with my inner work. But still the door does not open. For me the Answer is money. But then everyone tells you it’s not about money, Well for me it is. I KNOW! I want for nothing materially. But money would give me time and space. Everything is about money!!

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  3. […] (as individual-market health insurance is outrageously expensive), we are far more likely to stay trapped in soul-sucking jobs, and far less likely to change jobs or start our own businesses. If the US divorced insurance form […]

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