Have you heard of the term “Frog in Boiling Water”? Frogs are quick, clever, and notoriously difficult to catch so if you drop one directly into a pot of boiling water, it’s a guarantee that the frog will leap out and escape its doom. However, if you gently place the frog in a pot of tepid water and turn up the heat gradually, it’ll sit in the water longer and longer, becoming more and more uncomfortable but not noticing the danger it’s in – until it’s too late. The water will come to a boil and the frog gets cooked alive. This gruesome tale that can, unfortunately, be likened to the untimely demise of a misaligned career.
When I talk to my sister who is a breast cancer surgeon and director of a center, she tells me about patients of hers who are in similar situations. One such patient was this intelligent, successful 30-something woman who came in with a tumor in her breast that was so big that it was incredibly obvious that something was wrong. It turned out, she had this issue for at least 5 years but by the time she finally got around to having it checked, the cancer had spread so far that she only had a year to live and nothing could be done. When they asked her why she hadn’t come earlier, she said she got used to the pain. She had scheduled appointments in the past, missed them, and then simply didn’t bother to follow up because it was too much of a hassle. It got to the point where she dismissed the pain so often that her family and friends got used to it too; this deep, dangerous pain had become so ingrained in her life that no one thought twice about it any more, and when it finally became too much to bear, it was too late to do anything.
My sister and I compare notes about how often we meet people who are susceptible to this. In fact, I often meet creative professionals who are very much Frogs in Boiling Water. Many of the career-threatening issues they now face start out simple, almost superficial; if they caught and addressed them in the early stages, these issues would have been easily remedied – but for whatever reason, something would come up and busy complacency to take over and lull them back into inaction, dulling their sense of urgency and allowing them to ignore the writing on the wall.
Many of us like to believe that we have a keen sense when it comes to sniffing out “career dealbreakers”. We disqualify jobs that we know are wrong for us and scoff at the idea of falling into these unhealthy routines or traps. “That could never happen to me,” we think. We’re too quick to identify immediate “danger”. Simply observing these new opportunities is like being dropped into boiling water: you jump out the minute you begin to feel uncomfortable.
The real danger is allowing yourself to stay uncomfortable in an unhealthy situation, seeing how long you can put up with the discomfort, just because you’ve been there for a while. This lulls you into a false sense of security. Sometimes, there are subtle hints that something is amiss in a certain job. These are slight indications that we either don’t see or actively choose to ignore. The sad truth is that many people choose to stay ignorant until the problems are too big to go unnoticed. I’ve spoken to so many people in this situation that my team and I have actually started using the acronym FIB (Frog In Boiling water) to describe talented individuals we meet who are stuck in the pot: on the wrong path, going in circles, and unable to change their situations.
We all reach a point in our careers where we feel like we’re stuck. This is healthy, natural, and normal. It becomes unhealthy when you know there’s something wrong but you don’t do anything to address it. There are many reasons someone might not want to take immediate action and I’ve seen them all. For some, it’s options paralysis: there are just too many viable paths and picking one over the other is difficult, to say the least. For others, it’s busy complacency: routine has taken over and it seems impossible to break out of that tired pattern. Others still find themselves restrained by “golden handcuffs”: these higher ups and executives have reached the pinnacle of their careers and are the envy of all because of the status, recognition, and compensation that comes with a high leadership role – but they aren’t loving the work. “I know I’m where many want to be,” one such executive shared, “but the work just doesn’t excite me anymore.” I could go on and on listing reasons from fear of losing job security to finances not lining up to lack of support from loved ones.
There will always be a million reasons not to do something...but if the good far outweighs the bad, there comes a point where you simply must ask yourself: is it still worth it? You must learn to distinguish if the discomfort you’re feeling at work stems from a learning moment, like dealing with a difficult client or a challenging project – or if it stems from a more deeply-rooted career deal breaker.
The point here is this: after having analyzed hundreds and thousands of careers, we now know that ten to twenty years in, you should have a sense of where your career is going and should be making serious progress in that direction. If it’s been that long and you’re not getting to your goal, you’re probably off track and most likely won’t reach that goal if you don’t course correct. You can’t wait too long to make progress. The first step is to figure out if you’re a Frog In Boiling water by asking yourself a few tough, honest questions:
Have tasks that were once interesting become too easy?
Is it challenging to push yourself to do more or to do better?
Are you often bored or unstimulated by work?
Do you dread certain aspects of the environment you’re in?
Does your career support your personal life the way you need it to, or does it hurt it?
If you’re unhappy about a short term project at work but ultimately believe that what you’re doing is still worth doing, keep at it. Power through that struggle and allow yourself to grow from it. But if you’ve been in this negative situation for so long, if your unhappiness goes beyond a challenging project or account, or, heaven forbid, if it’s caused by a toxic, unhealthy environment that affects you even outside of work, you need to do something to get out of there. Forget about what you want to do and think about what you NEED to do. Help will always be there if you know how to ask for it. Life is too short to allow yourself to be bogged down by preventable poisons.
Whenever people call me saying “I think I’m a FIB”, I can’t help but feel glad because I know that this means they’ve spent some time to think honestly and objectively about their careers, and they’re ready to do something about it. The work we do in our Thrive By Design program TRANSFORMS people’s careers and their personal lives tenfold. It’s intense and takes both our time and yours. This is an investment in changing your life. Time is our most precious commodity and it is absolutely used up by busy complacency and indecisiveness. Don’t wait till the last minute when the danger is immediate because time is your enemy. Time is your competitor. Not your colleagues, not your boss, not the employers. You owe it to yourself to finally do what you’ve known you needed to do deep down, for so long.
Don’t book a call unless you’re absolutely ready. If however, you ARE ready for this, book that call. We’ll see if you’re finally ready to stop guessing and dabbling at your future and start investing in something to change your career for the better.