Being Overly Content Can Be Detrimental To Your Career

Every year, there's inevitably a headhunter or a competitor who gives me a ring. They eagerly ask if I'm interested in leaving my current firm for a hefty salary increase. And every year I turn them down. Perhaps I'm overly content. But, I respect the people I work with, like the camaraderie, and believe in my firm's management and future.

My 10th year anniversary is coming up. And just like how I freaked out for a couple days before turning 30, I'm starting to wonder whether I've become overly content and too comfortable with what I have.

Dodging bullets is a myth. But, I can safely proclaim that I dodged at least one bullet by not taking an offer from a firm that inevitably went bankrupt. Phew, I sometimes remind myself. But, what about the other firms I wonder.

If I joined them, would I be making more money and doing more in my career than ever before? Maybe, I don't know. What I do know is that many who have job hopped have indeed made an incredible amount more. And they have rocketed their careers way more than if they had stayed.

Is It Stubborn To Be Overly Content?

It's sad that loyalty is often rewarded with below market pay. We call this the “loyalty discount”.  The late, great John Wooden of UCLA basketball fame never made more than $36,000 a year. This is despite him winning an unprecedented 10 NCAA championships in a 12-year period. He was overly content and never entertained other offers.

Nick Saban on the other hand, played LSU like a fiddle. He bolted to the Miami Dolphins after winning a championship at LSU. And then bolted again to Alabama for a mega 8-year, $32 million contract! With Nick proceeding to win another championship at Alabama, it's safe to safe he maximized his income and his career.

Work Loyalty Can Be Overrated

Gone are the days where people work for 30 or even 20 years at a single firm simply because people have more options, and the competitive environment is that much greater.

Firms have proven in this volatile environment that they will fire and layoff at will to cut costs and appease shareholders. Being a 15 year veteran used to mean something. Now it just means maybe you're too expensive.

With the track that I'm on, if I don't change soon, I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up being one of those 20 year-to-lifer type employees. I do think loyalty is admirable, but at what cost? If people are banging down your door, at the very least open it and let them in.

Wondering “What If”

One of my worst fears is wondering “what if.”  10 years from now, I don't want to obsess about wondering how my life would be different if I took this job or made this decision. 

It's too bad we can't live parallel lives. All we can do is weigh the pros and cons, ask our loved ones for their opinions, and make a decision.

We have a responsibility to be loyal to the firm that provides for us. But, we have a bigger responsibility to be loyal to ourselves and our family.

If a firm is underpaying or mistreating you, speak up. They are literally taking away opportunities. Maybe you want to send your daughter to private school. But, because your firm isn't paying you a market rate for the past 10 years, you're literally $100,000 poorer in your bank account.

The point is that loyalty goes both ways. Your firm has to be loyal to you as much as you are loyal to them. If you are too content in your career, your managers are going to sense your complacency and potentially take advantage of you. 

Don't get overly content. Make sure to have a heart-to-heart talk at least once a year or two, and preferably during your year end reviews. It really is great to be happy with what you have. Just don't let your employer take you for granted.

Further Reading

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59 thoughts on “Being Overly Content Can Be Detrimental To Your Career”

  1. I say wonderful post. And I only have a quote which I somehow find fitting to this post:
    ” Contentment is not always the fulfillment of what you WANT, it is the realization of how blessed you are for what you already HAVE.”

  2. I am quite content with the current level of my finances however that contentment allows me to contemplate without fear about what my next step is in life.
    I am not mal nor discontented, neither am I complacent. I eagerly look forward to the next thing in my life but i think being content allows me to make a better decision with regards of weighing the pros and cons of a situation. I find that these days I am less hasty and it is easier for me to recover from mistakes whereas before being discontent could have and it has caused me to compound mistakes.

  3. Great advice. I think what people don’t realize is that they’ll be even more comfortable with a higher salary. Sure, it may take time to get used to, but eventually you will get back in your same rhythm.

  4. I think you stress about work and money too much ;) Okay, so you are probably being provocative to get lively debate, but y’know, there’s more to life than money.

    You’ve got the right to your priorities, but in some ways I wonder – after all if more money is what you’re after then heck, you sound bright, go into business yourself. You never get rich working for somebody else…

    FWIW I am one of those lifers – I switched jobs early in my career, to get myself to where I wanted to be. Then it comes time to look at the other things that make life worth living. There’s more to life than work.

    Now, I want out. The company has changed, globalisation is worsening conditions in professional careers, and there’s still life to live and less time to live it in. Sure, I could earn the price of a fancy house as cash in the next 10 years. So what? I already own my current house outright, and owe nobody a thing. I’ve had enough of this work/slavery lark, I have screwed my outgoings down without losing too much quality of life. You’ve only got so many years on this earth, how many more do you want to spend looking at the inside of an office wall or at the company computer.

    I’m with ERE and his Mexican fisherman here. Freedom is priceless – which is why it’s worth considering paying the opportunity cost for it. Each to their own, however – if you fear contentment, run away from it :) Ask not, however, what you are running away from – ask what it is that you are running towards. What are your aims, ideals, values, and live them. If it’s Benjamins lining the walls, you know what you got to do…

    1. Ermine – Thanks for your thoughts. There might be a reason why there’s a lot of talk about work and money on this site…… it’s a personal finance blog!

      I’m not sure if I’m stressed about money or work. What’s more is the stress of having too many options and wondering what to do, since there are always headhunters and people calling to make the move. I think it’s natural to wonder what else is out there.

      I’m not with the Mexican fisherman story b/c it’s the JOURNEY which I’m having so much fun with. If all I did was chill out of the beach and fish, I’d get bored. The reason why chilling out on the beach is so much fun sometimes is because of work. There has to be balance.

      I think you’d love this post:

      Cheers, Sam

  5. There is always something better out there. But there is also always something worse.

    Job hopping might be a great way to boost you career when you are young and unattached, but I imagine that it becomes a drag as you get older.

    If I ever found a decent paying job in a good place with nice weather and good friends, I doubt that I would leave until I was laid off. Losing all those intangibles just isn’t worth the salary bump.

  6. I wonder if I am too content from time to time. I guess (lucky?) for me, I got a big sign when my company was sold. I will be forced out there to find something new. And as someone who did not get a big raise with my MBA, due to a company manager pay freeze in 2010, I could probably do a lot better on the money front elsewhere.

    However, I did have a job I hated in the past. I worked 7am-7pm and was treated like a freshman in a fraternity. I am treated much better here, and that counts for something.

  7. Live Cheap – Some great thoughts you have there. The “loyal” will always look down upon the “mercenaries” b/c the loyal pride loyalty, but also have a certain amount of envy others are making more and getting bid away.

    A lot of mercenaries do work out, and work out very well. This is what causes the loyal to always wonder. The strong the belief in yourself, the more you wonder!

  8. Being content really is the end game. It’s ok to wonder, but also to wonder how bad things will be if you did make the move!

  9. SAM,


    1. Forest: “follow your sense and add a little heart and keep plugging forward.”

    2. Dr. Dean: ” the decision to be based on how excited you would be at your new job… Make decision-then move on!”

    3. Roshawn: “if a job can enrich you with awesome opportunities and more… you at least have to strongly consider it.”

    YOU REPLIED: “…but I don’t know when we’ll ever know when we achieve that potential.”



    4. Allan: “keep your relationships with your previous employer and colleagues intact…” “the relationships you keep will help you out no matter what” in the future.

    1. Thanks Lovingkind for consolidating some of the good advice! Hmmmm… “when we DON’T feel like change anymore”……….. So I guess I’m not there… b/c I’m getting the itch to change, but it hasn’t become a full on rash yet!

  10. I think there’s a fine line between contentment and complacency. When you’re doing all you can, you usually feel content. But when you think you have more potential, you may feel complacent.

    And going off your basketball analogy, Kevin Garnett was loyal to Minnesota for a long time, but they didn’t surround him with people to help him win it all. Once he left for Boston, he immediately won a ring, and is on the verge of winning another!

    Loyalty is great, but it’s not the end all be all of virtues.
    .-= Darren´s last blog ..The Rule of 72 – How It Helps, And How It Doesn’t =-.

    1. Good examples you use regarding contentment and complacency. Feeling content is better than feeling complacent…. it’s a great feeling doing all you can, even if you don’t fully succeed. You feel comfortable knowing you did your best.

      Looks like the Lakers are gonna shut down Boston this week! Too bad I’m not a fan of either.

  11. When you go to a new employer, you need to prove yourself all over again. That takes a lot of work. The first six months at a new place are intense.

    If you have been coasting for a long time, that can be a good thing. But there are other times when not doing the extra work of proving yourself again means that you can put more effort forward in other areas of life — exercise, reading, work around the house, whatever.

    .-= Rob Bennett´s last blog ..Investing: The New Rules #7 — Dollar-Cost Averaging Is a Loser Strategy =-.

    1. Although one has to prove themselves all over again, that’s pretty exciting to me.. simply that challenge.

      You bring a good point about recognizing the ease of the current job and using the extra time you would have spent proving yourself at a new job to do other things. In fact, I’ll start thinking that for the extra job I’ll need to spend 2 more hours a day working, hence I’ll just spend 2 more ours having fun with my hobbies! thnx!

  12. Hey Jeremy – Really good points, especially the one about being fulfilled and achieving constant growth. I think my mind gets messed up as well when I’m not utilizing everything.

    It’ll be rare when you have an amazing company approach you AND give you a better offer. It’s usually one ore another. But if you do, promise me you’ll take it and never look back!
    .-= admin´s last blog ..The Emergency Fund Fallacy =-.

  13. In the past I was the “ultra-loyal” and used to actually resent people that left my company. Then I started to realize people need to take care of themselves, as I saw colleagues getting laid off. Personally, I get the headhunter calls now and then and in the past, I used to get into these salary discussions and even interviewed a couple times but in the end I’d always say, “Why the hell am I doing this? I don’t plan on leaving.”

    For me, I’ve stuck around due primarily to security and lack of the “dream job” opportunities, but realistically, at some point, I’ll probably bite. Another major factor for me is I don’t want to move my family around constantly chasing a buck. It’s only money after all. But if I started to feel my job was in jeopardy, I’d definitely be more aggressive.
    .-= Darwin’s Money´s last blog ..10 Ways Spend Less Time at work – Guaranteed! =-.

  14. Allan @ Rich Money Habits

    I actually did this about 3 and a half years ago. A new opportunity to work in a foreign country came and I grabbed it. It was one of the better decisions of my life. Not only was it more rewarding financially, but it also widened my perspective in terms of other people’s culture and work ethic. It’s interesting that after 2 and half years away, I came back home, and now work as an IT consultant for my old employer. I think, through it all, what I learned is to keep your relationships with your previous employer and colleagues intact. It’s a small world and nobody knows what will happen in the future. But the relationships you keep will help you out no matter what.

  15. Sam,

    I’ve had a very different experience as someone who has job hopped already. How much are you earning per year in your current role?

    In my company that I am running, we have had a great year (delivered more than 350% of budgeted profits this year) however I will not get a salary increase as I ‘earn too much already’. I will be challenging this however with new investors coming on board I need to ensure I can stay in good graces with them and ask delicately.

    I’ve had several recruiters contact me about jobs but all have been below or substantially below where I am today. It’s quite disheartening, really.


    1. Mike – How does it feel to not be able to experience the upside in your companies profits, no matter what compensation you guys agreed on originally? I bet not very good, and that’s part of the frustration of corporate employment. We all hug the middle roughly, in a band that moves up with our experience and level.

      If you are being contacted for jobs substantially below where you are today, that should make you feel good about the job you have today then!
      .-= admin´s last blog ..The Emergency Fund Fallacy =-.

      1. Sam,

        You’ve got it mate. It feels pretty bad to hear you will get paid if you meet your budget but there is no upside for delivering more- in fact it hurts you because the baseline is inflated for the next year.

        That is the upside of being the majority owner- I’d be reaping the benefit of $9M instead of $300K… understand that you need to make the owners more money than you earn by a lot, but for Pete’s sake share the upside a little…


  16. MyFinancialObjectives

    I have been wondering this quite a bit actually recently. I have honestly started to be come bored with my job I think. I need more of a challenge, or better yet, a whole career change. I like business development, managing people, money, processes, right now, I’m in IT. It’s good money, but work that I’m not really all that interested in. Once I have my MBA, I plan to make some serious changes though. Good topic.

    1. Boredom has become my biggest fear, and i’ll touch upon this in the future. If you’re not interested, change. Getting an MBA is an admirable goal, just watch the expense and opportunity cost side of things.

  17. Money Reasons

    I’ve been thinking that “What If” thought quite a bit lately.

    In your case, I think it okay if you’re just content at primary work though. I say this mainly, because you have so many great side things going on… I bet in a few years, you’ll even be considering a book…

    Great thought provoking post as usually!

    1. Hi Don-san, it’s b/c you’re debt free and now can do whatever you want! Or perhaps it’s because life is just zooming by so quickly we want to do more!

      I must admit, even with all these little projects going on, I can’t help but wonder if I can do more. As Jon said in the first comment, we are wired to be curious beings.

      I’m under no delusion that a book is a big time sink and unlucrative thing to do. However, that would definitely be a good life goal to have, and you can be a part of it!
      .-= admin´s last blog ..The Emergency Fund Fallacy =-.

      1. Money Reasons

        I think you are right on both accounts! Being Debt free give me more confidence, and watching my kids grow up so fast… creates a kind of urgency to do something original and exciting!

        In your case, I think either way you go, it would be a win-win scenario with either path that you take!

        Yep, no hurry on such a book yet, afterall, the Yakezie story is just starting :)
        .-= Money Reasons´s last blog ..Red Box Review =-.

  18. I think it is important to make the distinction between being happy or being comfortable. If you truly are happy with what you are doing then there isn’t much reason to change. While new opportunities and new experiences help to make you happy, so do working with good people and following a vision you believe in. It sounds like you are happy now.

    Comfortable is the enemy of happiness. Basically it means you are not particularly happy with your situation but it is too risky to change. This is the world’s biggest dream killer. Kill comfortable before it kills you.

    I was far too comfortable in my life in Japan. I needed the excitement and challenge that uncertainty brings. Now I am happy. I am not comfortable any longer but that is what makes life worth living.
    .-= John Bardos – JetSetCitizen´s last blog ..Is it Nature or Nurture that Determines our Talents? =-.

    1. John – Really great point! I am comfortable, but I wouldn’t say that because I’m comfortable I’m not happy. For the most part, I’m pretty happy and sometimes I long for some new adventure and excitement. Will pure adventure and excitement increase my happiness, definitely. Is anything purely exciting and adventurous without its pitfalls, no. It takes work and risk.

      I think we are pretty much on the same wave length as I’ve read extensively about your stories in Japan. Good luck on your new adventure! I agree that it’s good to shake things up!

      Best, Sam
      .-= admin´s last blog ..The Emergency Fund Fallacy =-.

  19. Jon DeGroff

    You bring up some great points!

    I have realized one thing over the last few years: you can be extremely loyal to your company-but how loyal will they be to you in a rough time? That’s a question that we have to ask ourselves.

    I’m self employed, but I have a contract with a firm that I do much of my business through. I get offers rather often to offer me a salary and higher commissions to do the same thing for their company. However, I’m loyal to the Managing Partner who gave me that contract. He’s helped me out too much in my career for me to turn on him this way. Even though I would love to have taken some of the offers out there, I don’t believe it would ultimately be the best choice for me, and I don’t think I’m blinded my my loyalty.

    Best of luck in the inevitable decisons regarding this that will face you in your future!

    1. Jon – It really is important to ask yourself how loyal your company will be during rough times. Companies exist to protect themselves and spread around their risk. If there is a strong sense the company isn’t loyal to you as much as you’d like, it’s time to start preparing for a contingency plan.

      Good on you for staying loyal to your Managing Partner. I think that will pay off in the end.

      Best, Sam
      .-= admin´s last blog ..The Emergency Fund Fallacy =-.


    Great topic.

    Gone are the days when we work for one company for 30 years and retire. Men change jobs every 4.5 years, women around every 3 years.

    So you are overdue for a job change.

    There is no such thing as loyalty these days… And job security is a thing of the past. If anyone thinks their job is secure, they are hallucinating.

  21. As with any decision making an employment move is a big one-especially in today’s economy. Taking the leap can be a BIG risk. I have been on both sides of the coin as I worked as a headhunter for 7 years-my goal was to pull “good candidates” away from their current position. On the flip side I have been asked on several occasions to take the leap and declined on all but one-my current position. It was a huge leap for me; different field, new company, and as with any job change new company dynamics.

    Overall I am glad I made the leap, I love my new career and all the opportunities it has afforded me.

    My advice is to thoroughly investigate all offers and consider your family and how any changes may affect them.
    Social Media Specialist
    CareOne Debt Relief Services

    1. Suzanne – You’ll have to share with us here or at some point how you successfully lured candidates away from their current positions. I’d love to know what are the tricks you used, besides more money. Thnx!

  22. I get these calls all the time too, and I often wonder the same thing, but one thing I keep reminding myself is that the grass always does seem greener on the other side and then you get there and realize there’s issues and problems at that place too!

    Since I’m an independent contractor, I’ll take my freedom and schedule any day over being an employee – most of these calls are to get me to work for someone. I don’t think I’ll be making that tradeoff any time soon.

    Good post!
    .-= Jason @ Redeeming Riches´s last blog ..Small Business Taxes and 2 Other Concerns for the Self Employed =-.

  23. Great post.
    Technically, I think Saban went to coach the Miami Dolphins. And then went to Alabama.
    I sound like a Noodge, but just wanted to clarify.
    .-= Matt´s last blog ..How to Stick to Your Financial Goals =-.

  24. I suspect not being content is the American way? The “busy-ness discount”? I am reminded of the story of the American tourist and the Mexican fisherman ). That describes the situation very succinctly. American’s work very hard so that they eventually can enjoy the life of those who hardly work.
    .-= Early Retirement Extreme´s last blog ..Early Retirement Extreme – My story =-.

  25. Roshawn @ Watson Inc

    Awesome post Sam! With respect to your question: “Isn’t being content the end game?” I would say no for a lot of people in your position. I believe growth & ability to reach your potential would also play into your decision. Money is always nice, but a hefty salary and discontentment don’t necessarily make such a transition worth the trouble. However, if a job can enrich you with awesome opportunities and more money, and you are in a position where you are not shooting yourself in the proverbial foot by taking such an offer, you at least have to strongly consider it.
    .-= Roshawn @ Watson Inc´s last blog ..Will the Economy Collapse In 2011? =-.

    1. Roshawn – I always strongly consider, and I always decline b/c I’m content. When things start getting a little too out of whack, such as expectations or compensation, I just try and have open dialogues for us to come back to center.

      Growth and ability to achieve one’s potential is certain a great journey…. but I don’t know when we’ll ever know when we finally do achieve that potential.
      .-= admin´s last blog ..The Emergency Fund Fallacy =-.

  26. I think the money offered to change is nice. But the decision needs to be based on how excited you would be at your new job-challenges and new adventures. The location, costs of moving, family considerations all have to be weighed.

    It is easy to worry about regrets later on, but if goes the other way too! You could “regret” taking the new job. You will never eliminate the what-if’s but they are a waste of time!
    Make a decision-then move on!
    .-= Dr Dean´s last blog ..Compounding: You Don’t Understand It’s Power! =-.

  27. To be honest, Sam, I think that if you’re happily settled in a secure position at a stable company, you should count your lucky stars! One of the reasons why so many people move from job to job is job security isn’t what it was 20 or even 10 years ago. My background is in an industry that is, shall we say, notoriously “volatile”; trust me, job insecurity is no fun at all.

    I say stay!
    .-= Miss Thrifty´s last blog ..Erica’s Garden Pantry: shooting for the sky =-.

    1. Interesting perspective Miss thrifty. I’ve never thought about moving because of job security. There was a time a decade ago when I would feel more at risk, but after a while, you save up money, build up your skills and services, and simply should be able to market yourself well enough so that job security becomes an afterthought.

      It might almost be like the Emergence Fund Fallacy. If one just thinks on emergency fund levels, then they are really scraping the bottom of the PF barrel and need to improve.

      Thanks for the reminder anyway, since job security is something I’ve taken for granted b/c of a situation where there always seems to be someone knocking on the door. Some day, it will stop, I understand.
      .-= admin´s last blog ..The Emergency Fund Fallacy =-.

      1. Miss Thrifty raises a valid point, in my opinion. In my small company there are at least 20 people who have remained 5 yeasr or more. Several have stayed more than 10, one has been there 20 years. We have also had our share of job hoppers. At present, though, I’m sure that most of the long-timers, myself included, are staying put because of the recession and the difficulty of finding other work in our area. And yet there is no question of the existence of your “loyalty discount”; I was certainly earning more generous raises and bonuses in my earlier years with this company, and this is something very much on my mind as of now as I prepare for a meeting with my supervisors.

  28. It’s a funny thing, in some professions the longer you’re with them, the more seniority you build and the more you’re rewarded in different ways. Take teaching for example; teachers with 15+ years of seniority don’t worry about being let go or bumped to another school, our unions insure this, each year teachers get raises for years worked (and additional credit for courses). These teachers might feel a bit of complacency, but it’s worth knowing they don’t have to worry about losing their positions. Perhaps I’m feeling a little bitter right now! There aren’t any teaching jobs in my area….argh!
    .-= Little House´s last blog ..Wise Bread Post Today =-.

    1. If you’ve worked for 15+ years as I teacher, I really think there should be higher pay and more perks. It makes no sense in many private industries why there should be a wider and wider loyalty DISCOUNT. Why should people in the private industry have to continue jumping from job to job just to make a market wage is perplexing.

      Tell us more about teaching jobs Little House. Is the reason why there aren’t teaching jobs b/c of the budget deficit and cuts?
      .-= admin´s last blog ..The Emergency Fund Fallacy =-.

  29. Great post Sam. I think we continue to wonder if there’s something better out there…because there is! :) If we have the idea that it can be better, than it’s up to us to take the action steps and have the mental fortitude to forge ahead and find that better opportunity. Now, this path may not be for everybody, as security and knowing the familiar feels better than the unknown. But, if we want different results, we do different things to achieve that.
    .-= Kristine´s last blog ..Save Money by Using Ebay =-.

  30. Mike @ Saving Money Today

    I have been guilty of being too content and not keeping a close enough eye on the job market. It’s easy to become comfortable where you are. And the grass is not always greener on the other side. I know plenty of people who have left for more money and regretted it.
    .-= Mike @ Saving Money Today´s last blog ..The Financial Impact of the Super Bowl =-.

  31. The ¨grass is always greener¨ syndrom is ingrained in our chemistry, I am convinced. I see friends who have it all and still wonder about roads not taken and opportunities & alternatives that they passed up on. I am convinced in the end the goal is to find your conviction after careful thought and then act- a man can only do so much without driving himself crazy…

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