What happens when you feel like you're stuck in a career rut? How do you get moving in a different direction? I think we make things more complicated than they need to be. Here are three steps you can take.
1. Admit that there's a problem.
The first step is to recognize and accept the reality of your situation. As I've written before, one of the most important things you can do when you want to make a change is to take a scrupulous, unflinching look at what's going on. Be clear about what is and isn't working and where you want to see change. The more honest and complete you can be in this inventory, the more energy you will gather to make change. (This is what some of the people in the Recovering from the Toxic Workplace course are discovering)
One way to to do this is to simply write about your current experience. What is happening? How are you feeling about it? Who's involved? How long has this been going on?
Another way to explore the situation is through visuals. The Career Clarity Image Sessions are a great way to get clearer about what's happening and they can help you see issues and connections you might miss through writing alone.
2. Paint a vision of the future.
Robert Fritz, in his excellent book, The Path of Least Resistance, says that the energy for creation comes from the tension between our vision for what we want and the reality of our situation.
In the first step, you looked at your current reality. Now it's time to paint a vision of what you want--what would your career look like if everything was in place?
- Makes it real.
- Sparks passion.
- Ignites creativity.
- Forces clarity.
- Defines a path.
- Encourages positivity.
Your career is an act of creation and visualizing an outcome is a powerful way to create the necessary tension between your current reality and your imagined future.
3. Build a Bridge
You have reality. You have your vision for the future. Now you just need to build a bridge from here to there.
I encourage people to focus on taking small, daily actions that move you in the direction of your vision. Often it feels overwhelming to plan some major career overhaul, but by dedicating some time every day to building that bridge, you can start to create some real momentum.
What kinds of things can you be doing? Here are some suggestions:
- Keep a One-Sentence Journal--At the end of each day, write one sentence about your experiences. What did you learn? What questions are coming up for you? What was a small win for the day? This can help you track what does/doesn't work for you.
- Create a 6-month (or 3-month) plan of experiments--What are things you could try out? Maybe stretch projects? Learning new skills? Trying a side business or committing to reading some new books? Experiments are a way for us to learn more and to discover more about what we want to make happen. Plan these out in short increments with a focus on learning and you can start to evolve toward your new vision.
- Do some de-cluttering--Sometimes our problem is that we need to do some mental de-cluttering to make space for a new vision. If you're feeling bogged down by a sense of "there's too much going on!" work on doing some mental (and possibly physical) de-cluttering. You may also want to focus on creating more time for yourself.
- Schedule 50 Cups of Coffee--meet and talk with people who can help you clarify your thinking, learn more about a subject area, make new connections, etc. Relationships are the lifeblood of a career and the more we open up to diversifying our circles of connection and deepening those connections, the clearer things become for us.
- Ask more questions--When answers are in short supply, we may need to start asking ourselves more questions. Instead of pushing yourself to "figure things out," try focusing on getting more curious.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
You didn't get stuck overnight. Career stagnation is something that develops insidiously, over time. So don't expect that you are going to get miraculously unstuck within a day or two. Have patience and let things evolve.
Also be aware that some of our sense of being stuck comes when our identities begin to shift and our jobs aren't keeping up. The things that used to engage us about our jobs may be changing. Or we are starting to care less about some things and more about others. Our sense of who we are and what we value changes over the course of our lives and often we get "stuck" when the personal changes and the professional realities are not in alignment.
Finally, you will not begin to get unstuck until you are willing to try some things out that may feel risky or "out of your comfort zone." The only way to get free of career quicksand is to start pulling yourself out of the muck and onto firm ground. At first this may feel strange. You are used to being in the quicksand. But soon, you will begin to appreciate being on firmer ground. But you have to be willing to step over to it first.