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Tread carefully, but don't let fear prevent you from pursuing your goals.

So you have a job. Shouldn’t you just be thankful?

Roughly speaking, we all know the unemployment statistics: More than 10 percent of workers are without jobs, and another 8 to 10 percent have given up the search or have had to settle for part-time work paying far less than they earned in the past.

A sustained economic recovery is the only thing that will remedy this terrible situation.

But what about the 80 percent or so of workers who still have jobs? By comparison, you would think that these people should be pleased just to be employed. The truth is that many employed people feel stuck in a rut, and the economic situation doesn’t make it easy to find a new employer. Pay is often flat or declining, and while health and retirement benefits are becoming more expensive, they often provide less protection and security than they used to offer.

If you’re not able to leave your current situation and find a new job, the chance to grow and advance within your current employer may be the only way to remain challenged, gain marketable new skills, and possibly get a raise. In your workplace, you’ve probably seen others in jobs you know you could do well, or you’ve heard about people in other departments getting promoted.

So how do you explore opportunities where you already work?

There’s a big part of us that says, “Job security is important, and I don’t dare aggravate my boss or get a reputation as being ungrateful. Still, I’ve done my job well, and I’d really like to look around for a better position.”

Believing that our boss will be angry if we want to do something different has been pretty well ingrained in us from the first day we began working. Our first job is to make the boss happy. The harsh truth is that in some organizations, this may be true; in those cases, you need to tread carefully. (By the way, an employer that knowingly “locks people in” to jobs probably doesn’t understand how to motivate and retain employees. Working in that kind of environment may not be a good long-term career choice.)

Preferred employers balance employees’ need for growth and development with the company’s need to be more productive by having proficient workers stay in jobs long enough to make a substantial contribution. So your first priority is to evaluate your situation: What are the risks and possible rewards of seeking growth?

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