Common signs of a "stuck" career and tips to get unstuck.
Updated: Sep 13, 2020
According to the Oxford dictionary a career is “an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress”. I prefer to think of a career as “a set of experiences we gain that allow us to learn, grow and contribute over time”. These experiences may or may not span different roles, companies or industries.
You may have a stuck career when you feel you have stopped learning, growing and/or contributing in the way you want, and you can’t figure out how to move forward.
We each have unique stories about where we are in our career journey and where we want to be. Where we are and where we want to be might be aligned. This is generally a great place to be. Lack of alignment however is not bad in and of itself. It’s a trigger telling us we are ready to learn, grow and contribute in NEW ways. It provides us with a great opportunity to start evaluating what other experiences we want to pursue – fueled by emotions like curiosity, motivation or excitement. It is also extremely common to feel uncomfortable when we are pursuing career growth or change. (Also described as wanting to barf while excited.) Change always brings uncertainty along for the ride - and our brains do not like uncertainty.
Prolonged misalignment however, can turn into a stuck career – often fueled by frustration, desperation or fatigue. We resist or avoid the discomfort of moving forward and instead feel terrible staying where we are now. It’s a bit like preferring the devil you know to the devil you don’t. But what if neither option – to stay or to move - involves a devil at all?
Here are some of the common signs of a stuck career that many of my clients (and myself) have experienced, along with empowering tips to help get yourself unstuck.
Sign #1: You dread going to work each day.
You may be counting down the weeks to vacation, the days to the weekend or the hours left in the workday. You may start to buy lottery tickets in the hopes you’ll win and can retire immediately. You may press snooze 100 times before peeling yourself out of bed to get ready for work. (To be fair, I do this even though I love my job. Morning person, I am not.)
In all seriousness, when you are not enjoying your work, it becomes nearly impossible to show up as your best YOU at work and at home. I remember at one point in my career, I posted this question to my Facebook friends – “Does anyone actually like their job?” I desperately wanted to find out if liking your job was a “thing” and if so, how do I get it? Turns out it IS a thing and I DID get it…without changing my job at all! I did it by getting really honest with myself about the role my mindset was playing in how I experienced my job. I started asking myself empowering questions like these:
How can I love (or at least like) my job right now?
What other learning, growing or contributing can I squeeze out of this current role?
How is this experience serving my career exactly as it should?
What are all the ways I have control over this experience?
How can I make this experience more fun?
If you choose to think your situation is terrible, your mind will expertly find all kinds of evidence to prove it is in fact terrible. Making peace with your current situation puts you in the best mindset to decide how, why, and when you might make a career move.
Moving toward something is always preferable to running away from something.
Sign #2: You have no idea what you should do next.
Perhaps you've decided that you want to make a career move but you don't know what to do next. "I don't know" sounds harmless enough but it is in fact an incredibly powerful thought that can easily become a habit. Your brain loves to be efficient - it would rather rinse and repeat what it already knows or not work on figuring things out at all. It would also prefer that you stay where you are rather than venture into something new and uncertain. (If you stay in your cave, you will be safe!) "I don't know" or "I have no idea" trigger confusion and prevent your brain from finding an answer.
It's infinitely more helpful to decide that you are figuring out what to do next.
This will trigger your brain to start thinking about exactly how to figure it out. It will open up space for ideas to come to mind. Here are some suggestions to help get you started:
Determine one small thing you can do to figure it out and then do it. Repeat.
Get a journal and your favourite beverage (tea for me), put on some music and allow yourself to DREAM without constraint! Adulting often stifles this critical skill.
Lose the perfectionist fantasy that "your purpose" will descend upon you. What if you just followed your curiosity?
Another way to lift the pressure off is to stop worrying about whether your next move will be the "right" move.
What if the goal isn’t about ensuring every experience in your career is the right experience but ensuring that each experience allows you to learn, grow and contribute?
Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that our career is not the job we are in today or the one we choose next. It is a long journey over many years, with lots of twists and turns and interesting opportunities around every corner, for each of us, if we are willing to embrace the adventure and keep moving forward.
Sign #3: You’re not ready to make a move.
Perhaps you know what you want to do. When you are stuck, you often determine you are not ready to make a move and then avoid deciding what must happen for you to go for it. Or perhaps your brain has done the sneaky trick of creating a list of things that must be in place to make a move, only to add more things once those get checked off. Or it may simply decide that all the obstacles in the way are insurmountable. Your brain will then find all kinds of evidence to prove this is true. This pretty much ensures you will never be ready. Remember, your brain thinks it is protecting you by keeping you in the warm cave it is familiar with.
To get past this, I've found it helpful if you start by creating two lists:
Outline all the reasons why you are ready right now. Ensure you right down at least 10 reasons.
Outline all the reasons why you are not ready right now. For every reason on this list, include at least one way you could overcome that obstacle.
The two most common obstacles that come up are lack of time and lack of money. I recommend you think about time and money like a math equation that can always be solved by addition and/or subtraction. (I am a math geek but luckily no calculus required here.) Looking factually at exactly how you currently spend your time or money and how you can make time or money often reveals options you couldn't see before.
However, the most powerful way to move forward is to stop believing you have to be ready to do so.
Your career is about learning, growing and contributing through various experiences over time. Learning takes place when you lack knowledge and growing takes place when you overcome obstacles. The reality is that you will never be fully prepared or ready for what you choose to do next. What if that was part of the adventure - part of what made it fun? What if you believed and then decided that you were willing and able to handle whatever came your way? Then you'd be ready for anything, at any time.
The only thing wrong perhaps, is permanently hesitating on the verge of courage. ~ Sue Monk Kidd
If you need help moving forward with your career, be sure to check out my Get Unstuck coaching program here.