(MoneyWatch) The artist Jackson Pollock is reputed to have been perennially uncertain about when one of his famous "drip" paintings was finished. If he stopped too early, the picture lacked tension; but if he worked on it too long, it became a mess. This is a fundamental problem all artists, designers and inventors face: When is it time to stop?
The same question can be applied to jobs and careers. When have you learned as much in one job, or even in one career, as you can? At what point will you start to wreck what you've created by staying too long? Everyone I have ever interviewed on this topic has told me that they stayed in their job, or profession, for at least one year too long.
The reason was always the same -- they didn't start looking around until they were miserable. Early warning signs had been ignored, and it took at least a year to find the next opportunity. So what are those early warning signs? See if any of these apply to you.
Boredom. If nothing at work challenges you, that can be nice for awhile. It's rewarding to do something well and know it. But before too long, you get bored, then frustrated, then angry. When that sense of comfort starts to dawn, run.
Gossip. If you spend more time thinking about your colleagues than about your work, something is wrong. Office politics aren't just tedious -- getting embroiled in them can ruin your reputation. If you find yourself gossiping, try listening to yourself. You won't like what you hear.
Lack of promotion. If you've gone for promotions and not gotten them, ask for feedback. If you can't get a plausible explanation, then the reason is likely office politics -- which you can't change -- or something no one can explain. In either case, the company isn't on your side any longer. Take the hint.
Cynicism. If you are more cynical than idealistic, more snide than creative, then you are approaching burn out and should get out. Cynicism feels smart but it discourages everyone, even when it's funny.
It's just about the money. Whenever I've heard myself telling my kids that I work to pay the bills, I recognize I am at a low ebb. It isn't that I don't need to pay the bills; of course I do. But the minute that's the only reason I can remember for why I work, I'm in trouble.
The industry has changed beyond recognition. I left broadcasting when I thought that the revenue pie wouldn't get bigger; there would just be more competition for each tiny slice. If what you loved in your business is being driven in directions you loathe, you can't change that. Stay and despair or leave with hope.
What is at stake is your reputation. If you hang around when you're bored and frustrated, your reputation will suffer. Legend has it that Pollock's friends would creep into his studio and take his paintings away when they thought they were done. They protected (or helped make?) his reputation. So ask your friends: Have you become as tiresome as you are tired of your job?