Signs You’re too Smart For Your Job

  • Published on:
    May 26, 2022
  • Reading time by:
    4 minutes
Signs You're too Smart For Your Job

When we are bored at work, the job gets much harder. It’s hard to keep your focus. When you are too smart for your job, you might ignore the signs for a while. You might tell yourself things like this:

  • Bored? Maybe a little, but the job is secure.
  • I work ten minutes from home – what’s not to like?
  • My boss leaves me alone, so that’s something.
  • Maybe I could use more intellectual stimulation, but who wants to go through a job search?

We can tell ourselves that it doesn’t really matter whether we have interesting things to do and meaty projects to work on. We can delude ourselves that it’s all the same to us whether we compile the latest version of the boss’s favorite make-work project or dig into the coolest assignment we’ve ever had. Of course, it isn’t the same at all.

When you have a lot to bring to a job, you want your muscles exercised. You want your brain to be busy. You want to solve hard problems yourself and with other smart people. Parrots and rabbits need something hard to chew on, and so do we.


To the left is our Resources & Requirements grid. You can see that there are two axes — Job Requirements from left to right and Resources from top to bottom.

When we’re starting out in our careers, we might not have a ton of experience or wisdom to bring to work (although energy and enthusiasm make up for a lot)! If the job requirements in the subject-matter arena are low and our resources at that stage are also low (in the lower left corner of the grid) we’ve got a perfect match.

Later in our careers, we have tremendous heft and power to bring to a thorny assignment. If we’ve got the resources to meet that challenge (in the upper right corner of the grid) we’re in great shape, once again.

What happens when our available Resources and the Requirements of the job are out of whack? In the lower right corner of the grid, we don’t yet have what the job requires. We’re frustrated and angry. That’s a mismatch that sucks mojo from us and from the team.

In the upper left corner of the grid is our poor under-utilized border collie, or perhaps you. We bring enormous gifts to a job that doesn’t need them and/or a manager who doesn’t want them. That’s when we languish and gnash our teeth at night.

We can tell ourselves whatever we want, but the universe pushes us in the direction of situations that will grow our muscles and our flame. It’s time to get a more challenging job, inside your organization or out of it!

Here are seven signs you’re too smart for the job you’re in:

Your projects bore you.

The most obvious sign you’re too smart for your job is boredom. You lose your concentration when your work is more suited to polite rhesus monkeys than thinking human beings. Every job has boring parts to it, but if boredom overwhelms you such that you need sugar and caffeine to stay awake, you’re in the wrong spot.

You don’t see a forward path.

“I took a job with the State to pay my bills after my divorce,” said Elena, “and the job was so easy I figured I could stick it out for a couple of years while I got out of debt. It was grueling. Everybody was focused on advancement, but even the higher-paying positions looked like ghastly paper-pushing assignments with zero chance to make anything interesting happen.

I ended up leaving the State job after eleven months to work for a scientific institute, and they caught me at the perfect time. I was so hungry for learning that I sucked down everything I could and wrote a new middle-school curriculum for them in the first year!”

People around you don’t see a problem.

Your coworkers may be the nicest people on earth, but if they don’t understand what you’re talking about when you lay out frame-shifting ideas or if they can’t hold a conversation about anything except the way they’ve always done things, you’re in the wrong place.

Your job is not to teach every person you meet that people and things must change in order to grow. You don’t improve your game by playing with people a level (or two or three) below your league.

Your supervisor has no vision for him- or herself, the department, or you.

It’s easy to get through a job interview without asking your prospective boss what may be the most important question of all: “What is your vision for the department?” Some leaders will thrill you with their grand scheme and others will stare at you blankly. You can’t grow your flameworking for someone who has no idea what a vision is or where to get one. You have to learn from your boss, so if that isn’t happening, consider this column a tap on the shoulder.

Your employer has not seen the best of you.

You have good ideas. It should be easy to share ideas at work, and for the best ones to find an audience and to be implemented. If that isn’t happening because you’re not in a job that’s viewed as an ‘idea’ job, why are you leaving your blameless brain cells to die unused? Put them to work in a place where ideas are welcome!

The choir sings from the Tried It – Didn’t Work! hymnal.

People fall into ruts. Sometimes they stop experimenting and wondering altogether. If you work in a place where the standard response to innovation is “Tried that! Didn’t work” you must ask yourself whether your talents are being invested wisely.

No one around you looks like a mentor, a role model or a guide.

Our client Arnie said “I told my wife, my friends and myself for two years that my co-workers are the reason I keep my so-so job. Then you asked me ‘Who do you spar with? Who stimulates you mentally at work? Who do you look up to, and learn from?’ and the only honest answer was ‘No one.’ My boss is a plodder. My CEO inherited the company and isn’t invested. He’s dialing it in. There’s no one for me to learn from.”

If you see yourself in these examples, don’t panic. You don’t have to do anything today or tomorrow, but start thinking about what you’d do if you weren’t doing the job you have now. Get a journal and write in it. Design your dream job on paper first to get clear about your direction. Then, begin branding yourself for the job you want.

We can’t wait to see you chewing on the big, tough bones again. Don’t let anybody diminish your flame they can’t pay you enough to make that a good deal for you.

By Liz Ryan

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