5 Habits Keeping You Stuck in a Dead End Job


5 Habits Keeping You Stuck in a Dead End Job

I’ve gotten the opportunity to talk to hundreds of people about their income, business, family, and life, over the last couple of years because of my Minnesota accounting business & marketing firm, and I’ve learned some things about people that are stuck in a dead-end job.

Have you ever found yourself in a dead-end job thinking “how did I end up here?” dreading every Monday and morning?  Well, here are some of the things I’ve noticed about the people that complain the most about their job.

1 – You stopped learning

This is probably the number one habit, or lack of habit, that I’ve observed in the people that tend to complain about their dead-end job.  They just aren’t the type of people that are aggressively adding to their “toolbox” of competencies, knowledge, or expertise.

Usually, these folks are dissatisfied with their current job because they want to hurry up and “make it.” They have a vision in their mind about retirement, ease, comfort, and not worrying about money.  When I ask them where they want to be in the next couple of years, the response is much less about the impact they have on people around them, their company, or their family – and much more about leisure.

That’s not to say that leisure isn’t awesome – but for some reason they’ve stopped pursuing mastery in their craft, and started waiting for the situation to change.

That’s probably the biggest factor here, they seem dissatisfied with their job because they haven’t realized that their career path stopped NOT because of a lack of opportunity, but because of a lack of personal development.

Personal development is huge when it comes to career advancement, because it means improving the value you’re able to add to other people and organizations.  That’s what learning is all about, deciding that you are a “tool for others”, and making efforts to enhance yourself in ways that add more value.  Sharpen yourself.

If you’re stuck in a job, find ways to develop yourself and find a competency to master.  Here are the top ways I’ve seen people go from non-learner, to development master:

  1. Read books
  2. Go to leadership conferences
  3. Listen to podcasts
  4. Listen to Audible.com books
  5. Take courses on Lynda.com
  6. Find a mentor
  7. Learn a trade

Learners are the ones who move forward in their careers, and the people that stop learning stay stagnant.

2- You have low emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”

Blindspots about ourselves get us stuck in our jobs. For example, a person with low emotional intelligence doesn’t know how often they get on people’s nerves in the office, thinks more highly of their work output than they should, and are causing people to cringe in subtle ways despite their good intentions.

This is all about finding out the kind of “wake” we leave as we go through life.  I like how Henry Could describes this “wake” in his book Integrity, as being the way you perform tasks and relate with people.  The idea is that we all leave a “wake,” just like a ship, as we go through life.  The two sides of the wake are relationships and tasks.

Relationships are critical in life. We need to take honest inventory of the way we leave people feeling, and how other people perceive the way we relate with them.

That’s the biggest difference, it’s about perception for others, not our intent.  We might personally think we are a certain way, only to find out that is not how everyone else would describe it. That’s incredibly hard to manage for all of us, because we don’t want to be frozen in fear of what others might say, think, or conclude about us; and yet it matters how we leave others.

Tasks are about getting things done. There is often a huge disconnect between the way we feel we’ve executed on something, and the way we actually do it.  We want to be aware of how we execute in our work.

Strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and blindspots

Read more about how awareness interacts with our strengths and weaknesses.

We become the type of people that won’t be stuck in a dead-end job, when we become highly aware of our strengths and weaknesses in the way we relate with people and accomplish work.

3 – You’re Self Focused

When people help us, we can accomplish much more.  We’ve all heard the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” Right?

When we get stuck in a job, it’s up to us to make the adjustments necessary to become the type of person that can move “upward and forward,” but it’s also helpful to have advocates.

Gaining the favor of people is interesting. The people I know that are stuck where they are, have difficulty serving other people and helping others, which I think provides a clue for why they are stuck.

Selfish ambition is nasty.  When we lack humility, and we don’t serve other people, it gets harder and harder to have people excited about helping us.

If we’re stuck in a dead-end job, then it’s incredibly important to have a network of people that can provide feedback, insight, recommendations, referrals, and even job opportunities.  Self focused people will seldom get this help, because they repel the most generous and credible folks around them.

I think most people will agree, when we are self-focused on what we want, and aren’t considerate of others, we have a harder time getting helped.

4 – You Trade entertainment for productivity

Is all your non-working time spent on entertainment and leisure?

We all need margin in our life, and we need to learn how to “turn it off,” so we can refuel.  But I’ve noticed that people who have the most meaningful careers aren’t seeking comfort and entertainment, they seek wisdom, growth and service.

In fact, the most successful people I know, spend lots of time reading books, serving on boards, serving at churches, exercising, helping others, and even mentoring others.

Most people I’ve interacted with that seem stuck in a job, aren’t using their free time to build themselves or others, they’re usually participating in escapist behavior or pure “non-working.”

Whether it’s sitting in front of a TV, drinking wine, blissfully spending all your time on your hobbies, or just being lazy; spending free time on leisure isn’t helpful. People who are doing meaningful and satisfying work aren’t idle.

Idleness is unhelpful in the pursuit of meaningful, engaging, and rewarding careers

5 – You’re too scared to try something new

Fear is crippling.

Most people that are stuck in a dead-end job, are often frozen out of fear.  They don’t want to try anything new or different, because they are afraid of all sorts of things.

  • fear of failure
  • fear of losing margin time
  • fear of risk
  • fear of hardship

The best analogy that I’ve found for opportunity is farming – planting and reaping.

Imagine that your current situation is a plant.  It continues to grow, but it hasn’t been producing an increase in fruit. You want more fruit.

How do you produce more fruit?  Well you could take the main shoot and splice it into other small plants that might eventually become full-sized producers.  This is like taking bits of your time and starting a side-gig, or a new competency.

Another thing you could do is work hard to prune, water, and stimulate greater growth out of the current plant.  You could take it to a place with greater opportunity, you could change the soil, you could try some different fertilizers etc.  This is like working on becoming better in your current situation.

The bottom line is that if people are stuck, they should work on cultivating their character, competencies and relationships.  If you want to get “un-stuck,” serve other people, add value to others, develop a new skill, convert idle time to productivity, become more aware, or just simply start doing something new.


If you feel like you’re stuck in a dead end job, I encourage you to take action. I’ve met many people who are not as smart as you, and don’t even work as hard as you probably do, but have success because they start trying something.

Try something new – that’s how you get un-stuck.

Don’t do the same thing over and over, and expect different results; that would be insane.


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