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Strategies for Growing When You Feel Stuck in a Career
In a prior post, I talked about ways to get your momentum going when you’re in a rut or your motivation is stalled. If you’re feeling stuck in a career, you might have already tried that. I closed by saying, “Just because you’re stuck doesn’t mean you’re staying.”
One of my very wise friends countered, “being stuck doesn’t mean you have to go either.” His comment got me thinking about staying versus going when it comes to managing your career.
We’ve all been there. You have a good job and yet you feel stuck. Maybe you’re not moving up at the pace you did earlier in your career. Or perhaps your boss isn’t going anywhere so you’re tapped out for promotions—or stuck in her shadow. Or perhaps you’ve reached, what Whitney Johnson refers to as the top of the S-curve—meaning you’re no longer learning anything new.
When you hit a career plateau or you’re languishing in a dull job, it doesn’t mean you have to go, at least not right away. Perhaps it’s time to look for ways to bloom where you’re planted.
With that in mind, here are a few ideas to grow and thrive even if you are feeling stuck in a career.
Book a meeting with yourself.
If you’re bored, frustrated or unhappy with your career path, the first step is to figure out why.
Adam Grant, organizational psychologist at Wharton and author of “Think Again” recommends regular career and life check-ups, just like your annual doctor’s appointment. These scheduled times allow you to pause, reflect and activate a rethinking cycle.
Some questions to consider:
- Am I happy with the career path I’m on?
- Do I have the lifestyle I want?
- Does my daily work align with my long-term goals?
- Have I reached a learning plateau? If so, what’s next on my learning curve?
- Are my values and the organization’s aligned?
- Do I have the skills and experience to make a career jump?
The goal is to gain more clarity on where you are, where you want to be and ultimately to determine whether to go or stay. I’ll never forget a quote by Carol Bartz, former CEO of Yahoo!, who, to paraphrase said, “Be sure you’re running to something and not from something.” Too often, we assume the grass is greener somewhere else and we leave when staying might be a better path.
Once you have taken stock and have a sense of where you’re headed. It’s time to be intentional about getting there.
Boost your value.
If you determine that you’re in the right place for your longer term goals, consider riding out a career lull by doing what my brother-in-law calls “your job—and.” With the “and” being something that helps you bridge a gap in your skills, gain new experience or increase your visibility. For example, volunteer to lead a new project; mentor a colleague to gain leadership experience; get involved in an industry association; take a course or earn a new credential.
If you’re reluctant to take on too much, you can evaluate the “and” through the lens of growth opportunity it provides. Ask yourself:
- Is this something that’s going to put me in the path of interesting people to work with? People who I haven’t worked with, and would like to?
- Is it something that will stretch my responsibility? Or something that will help me gain new skills?
- What’s the time commitment? Does it have an end date or is it an ongoing obligation?
Learning new skills and taking charge of your own professional development provides a new sense of purpose in your career. It also ultimately boosts your value—not only for your current role but also for future opportunities.
Shift your mindset.
You may decide to stay with specific goals in mind.
A client of mine determined that the company she’s working for isn’t a good cultural fit. Rather than making a move now, she’s staying to achieve two key business milestones that will give her critical experience she doesn’t currently have. By taking stock of the situation and shifting her mindset from, “this isn’t the right place for me,” to “I’m here to get X and Y experience,” she’s staying with the specific intention of gaining experience that will set her up for future success.
Another client has chosen to stay in place until he reaches a certain age, at which time he will have more financial flexibility to change careers. In the words of a dear friend of mine, he’s “stuck with a purpose.” He continues to work hard, to plan for and explore opportunities. Rather than feeling stuck, he’s inspired to be more intentional about expanding his network and building skills and experience for his next chapter. He’s keeping a growth mindset and staying positive.
Widen your circle.
Many of us have a tendency to isolate when we feel stuck when we would benefit more from widening our circle of conversations and connections. After all, promotions (and career moves) are often not only about your skills and experience; they’re about internal and external relationships. If you want that promotion or a career pivot, seek out people who inspire you. They’ll have valuable things to teach you.
Stuck in a career–Who, you? Whether you stay or go, you never know where the next opportunity will come from. So, stay positive, show up at your best—and grow where you’re planted.