Are you happy in your job? Is it offering you plenty of stimuli? Are you surrounded by colleagues who are supportive and fun to work with? Do you feel your career is leading somewhere? Are you enjoying complete job satisfaction?
How often do you ask yourself such questions? If the answer is "never", perhaps you should reconsider. From time to time everyone ought to take stock of what they have achieved and what they want to achieve. Careers need to be properly managed, just as companies need to be.
You may be lucky and work for an organisation which takes staff development seriously - where you have a mentor assigned to you to review your progress and make recommendations regarding your future. However, this practice is by no means universal, and it may be up to you to take the initiative.
Not everybody does so. Having secured a job, you may consider that the best option is to stay put and hope to gain your long service medal one day. Alas, while such a prospect may have been the norm fifty years ago, the world has moved on since then. How sure can you be that your job will exist in ten years' time?
Overstaying your welcome
Staying in one place for too long has drawbacks. For example, you could get stale and start functioning on auto-pilot; you could become complacent and imagine you are indispensable; or you may find you are being taken for granted and given the humdrum jobs that nobody else wants to do.
It has been suggested that the optimum number of years for a research scientist to remain working in a given field is his (or her) age divided by six or seven. This formula is intended to balance the need for freshness against the need for familiarity.
I believe this formula could apply to other professions as well. This means that people in their twenties would stay in one place or department for four years, and someone in their forties would move round after eight years.
People at the beginning of their careers tend to move around anyway in order to gain experience. But later - often for very good reasons - they are less mobile, and are in danger of getting "stuck in a rut". They close their ideas to new opportunities that present themselves and never wonder how long-term their current employment is likely to be.
Whatever your age or situation, you need to bestir yourself and take a long hard look at your current situation. Ask yourself the following questions.
Is my career living up to my expectations? When you started out, you probably had certain career objectives in mind. Ask yourself if you have attained these objectives yet. If not, are you likely to attain them in the foreseeable future? If the answer to both questions is 'no', it could be time to move on.
Am I gaining a wide enough range of experience? In a fast changing world you need to develop new skills, otherwise you risk becoming out of date. If your employer does not take staff development seriously, it could be time to look round for one who does.
Am I making progress in my career? While regular promotion may be a thing of the past, you need to ensure that you are not trapped in your present position, even if it is a congenial one. In this rapidly changing world, people who stand still may find, in fact, that they are moving backwards.
Am I properly appreciated? If you are regarded as a general dogsbody who undertakes all the tasks that everyone else turns down, the answer is 'no'. Appreciation should also be reflected in the salary you are getting. If it has not been reviewed for years, then you should investigate if you could get a better deal elsewhere.
Do I enjoy a good working environment? This doesn't just mean the quality of food served in the canteen. Work has a social dimension and being surrounded by co-operative colleagues and a supportive boss is a definite bonus. If, however, there are tensions at work, you would be wise to get out before the atmosphere deteriorates further.
The next step
If your answer to all these questions is a resounding 'yes', you clearly lead a charmed life. But if some of the questions raise doubts in your mind, perhaps you should consider other options. One way to shift out of your rut might be to get additional qualifications.
Moving on does not necessarily mean moving out. It is possible to move sideways in your firm or get secondment in order to recharge your career. Or you could seek greater fulfilment outside the workplace - by becoming a local councillor or magistrate, or developing a new hobby.
However, some of the most successful and fulfilled people are those who are prepared to cast off their inertia and move on. Don't become a stick-in-the-mud - self-evaluation can lead to progress.