Can being happy at your job be bad for your career? Well, that depends what your mindset is when you are happy with your job. And for a good percentage of people, it definitely is.
As I have discussed in past posts, there are certainly times when you are going to be in "good job mode" as oppose to "career mode" (see "Are You Job Oriented Or Career Oriented"). Good career moves don't just show up when it is convenient. If you're a believer in Murphy's Law, you would think that good career moves almost always come at a less than ideal time. That is why a good career move can be such a tough decision. Taking personal issues aside (those personal issues that will be a part of making a job change) and evaluating one job to another, it would always be easy to look at and accept a good position if you were completely unsatisfied with your current one. And for a lot of people, because they don’t want to deal with a tough decision, this is exactly what they do. Many people will not even consider something new until they become dissatisfied with their current job.
What a majority of people do is wait until the moment they are “unhappy” with their current positions to put up their “new job” radar and then proceed to look at and accept the first offer that is better than their current situation. Is that the way to make a good “career” decision? Is that the best way to manage a career …wait until the bar has dropped to the point of dissatisfaction and then just look for something above it? How many positions came and went that are better than the one you are going to accept when you finally got to a state of dissatisfaction?
Inevitably, when people make a job change they compare the new job to something. Sometimes that “something” is their dream job. Some folks will say, if the job I am evaluating has 80% of what I would want in my dream job, it is good enough to take. But what most people do is compare the new potential job to the job they currently are in. So if you are going to compare it to the job you are currently in, then in order for it to be a good career move, would it make sense to compare it to your current job when you are satisfied and the bar is high or when you are dissatisfied and the bar is low?
When having career discussions with potential candidates, a general rule of thumb I share is this…if you wait until you are unhappy, you have waited too long. There is no rule out there that says you have to be completely dissatisfied with your current situation before you try to improve it.
The other main reason why you should not wait until you are unhappy is this….the best situations do not always conveniently show up when you “decide” it may be the best time to make a change. Sometimes the best situation for you comes at a time when you don’t think it is best to make a move. This type of a situation can present you with a very tough decision. Although the decision may be a tough one, wouldn’t you like to be in that position…the position of having to decide to stay in a job you love or consider a new one that appears to be even better (if it didn’t appear to be better you would not even be considering it)? Or do you want to consider the decision of…do I stay in a job I don’t like or move to one that appears better?