I sat next to him because he never spoke.
They were 10-hour days. The work wasn’t challenging. In fact, I spent most of my day trying to look busy.
And, on top of it, I had to ride a bus out to a facility in the middle of the high desert in Idaho — an hour and 20 minutes there and an hour and 20 minutes home. Of course, while I was on the bus, I wanted to sleep.
He was graying, slightly overweight, and weathered. He didn’t look like a person anyone would want to be seated next to on a bus. That meant the seat next to him was always open. And, for nearly three months, I took it.
All of a sudden, a conversation
The two of us never spoke a word. I always slept. I don’t think he ever did.
It was Thursday — the end of our work week. I climbed on the bus as usual, looking to sit next to my speechless bus-mate. I sat down, pulled out my travel pillow, and wrapped it around my neck. But something was different that day. The man, this day, was fidgeting.
Without exchanging any pleasantries, he reached his hand in front of me. In it, were tickets for the bus. “You can have these tickets,” he said, smiling. “I am done.”
OK, so it’s a bit of an odd circumstance. Sitting next to a person every day and not speaking is odd. And then, all of sudden striking up a conversation is also odd.
“You’re done?” I asked.
The man smiled. “Take them. I’ve been riding this bus for more than 30 years. I did the math. I realized I’ve spent more than three years of my life in this seat.”
“Finally. I did my time”
I took the bus tickets from his hand. “You’re retiring?”
He smiled. “Finally. I did my time.”
Throughout that ride home I kept those tickets in my hand. I listened to the man tell stories about his career. Some were good stories. Most were bad. But in my mind, I couldn’t get past the fact that he had spent more than three years of his life riding a bus.
We all take obscure paths in our careers. We find jobs we love. We find more we hate.
And although there are challenges for everyone — hurdles to overcome and dues to pay — there’s also a point where we all have a decision. We can either keep riding the same old bus, or we can get off.
If you’re struggling with a decision to either stay at your current job or seek greener pastures, ask yourself these four questions.
1. Am I headed in the right direction?
Often times we look at our employer as if they need to grant us permission to achieve.
Of course, everyone’s situation is different, but before you submit that letter of resignation, ask yourself if you’ve done everything in your power to make your current job, the job of your dreams.
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If you have any hesitance over whether or not you’ve tried everything, then you need to stick it out. I’m not suggesting you proceed in the status quo. Instead, I’m suggesting you take the risk.
Why not? If you can’t make it the job of your dreams, you’re going to leave anyway.
2. Are they headed in the right direction?
There’s no question job security plays a huge role in your decision to stay or leave. Nevertheless, if you can’t see a future of change for you within your organization in the next couple years, then it may be time to start looking elsewhere.
Is there opportunity for growth? Are you able to be yourself at work? Are you able to share the passion that made you take the job in the first place with your manager or supervisor?
If you truly feel your job will never allow you to reach your potential, then you have two options: ride the bus, or get off.
3. What difference can you make?
We all want our work to make a difference — to someone. We all want someone to appreciate our effort and not just our time.
If your job is one where your takeaway upon your retirement will be “I did my time,” then it’s time to leave.
The following Monday morning, I walked into my boss’s office and told her the story about the man who spent three years of his life riding a bus to a job he didn’t love. She was noticeably uncomfortable.
“Let’s not let you become him,” she said.
4. Be true
It sounds a bit cliché but only by being true to yourself, will you also be true to your employer. Tell them why you care about the company and explain what you really want to achieve within it.
It sounds risky, but you’d be shocked and amazed by just how many bosses are waiting for employees to step forward.
This was originally published on the OC Tanner blog.