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Bored with the tasks you do as part of your job? No energy to start any projects of your own? Not keeping up with what’s going on in your field? No longer finding your work challenging? If you find yourself answering yes to these questions, it is an indicator that you may be feeling stuck and in need of a healthy change. At least you’re not alone (because 70% of people feel the same way) and continue to spend over 50% of their waking hours frustrated.
Feeling stuck in your career can have a knock-on effect to other areas of our lives. The smallest things our colleagues do at work start to become more noticeable and less bearable. We become resentful of the powers that be and end up feeling cynical, and in some cases burnout from the endless emotional drain. We may even notice that we have a shorter temper when with our loved ones, or a feeling of emptiness when talking about our days at work. Continue reading for practical advice to help you come unstuck and forge a path toward a fulfilling and purposeful career.
Reflect on energisers and drainers
Think of your career as a ship sailing through stormy waters. While you will get momentarily thrown off course by setbacks, you still want to be heading in the right direction. Some storms are inevitable, but if you find yourself experiencing constant waves, it could be a key moment to pause and reassess. What are the stars that are guiding your professional journey? Reflect on your values, interests, and long-term aspirations. Take note of the parts of your job that energise you. These will serve as your North Star, providing a sense of purposeful direction.
Are there treacherous waters that you can avoid? Identify the aspects of your current job that drain your energy and stifle your growth. By recognizing these obstacles, you may be able to navigate around them, or at least become better at surfing the waves. If they cannot be avoided, how might they be minimised?
While we may not be in the position to immediately change jobs, we are in immediate control of changing our mindset. What have you learned from previous situations? What skills have you gained? Reflecting on our setbacks is an opportunity to gain valuable experience that will act as a stepping stone to something better. It’s always good to keep a list of these (in a notebook or on a word doc) for when interviewing for a new job.
Find self determination
Feeling stuck can often be a result of a lack of inspiration and motivation. To explore this further it helps if we use Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory, as this is a proven way to understand our own drivers:
- Autonomy: We all like to feel a sense of control in our professional lives. Taking control of your career can feel less overwhelming if you take a moment to reflect on your day-to-day tasks. “What are three tasks you enjoy doing at work and why? Are these energising tasks something you can offer to take the lead on? How can you have more say in your work and decision-making?”
- Competence: Feeling mastery in what you do not only motivates, but also provides a sense of purpose. Are you having an impact with your skills? Are you in a role which requires you to develop new and different skillsets? Have you considered upskilling with free online courses? By continuously developing your skills and knowledge, you’ll gain the confidence to overcome everyday obstacles.
- Relatedness: It’s important to feel a sense of belonging or to be part of a community in our careers. Consider your professional network and connections. Do you feel part of a community? Perhaps remote work which seemed like a good idea at first has taken that away? How can you nurture meaningful relationships within your field? What steps can you take to engage in supportive professional communities? People we see on a regular basis have a huge influence on our potential. On the other hand, choosing to spend time with complainers becomes contagious.
By nurturing these psychological needs, you can reignite your passion and drive, enabling you to navigate change and uncertainty with greater confidence.
Invest in Continuous Learning:
Continuous learning is a powerful tool for overcoming feeling stuck and embracing career growth. When we upskill, it not only increases our confidence, but also opens our eyes to different opportunities and specialisations in our field. We can discover different professional groups and with a careful bit of networking, learn about roles that specialise in different areas. What courses, workshops, or certifications align with your interests?
Seek out mentors or coaches. Mentors not only provide us with the ins and outs of a certain job, but also connect us to other people in the field. Think of ways in which you can find someone people in your desired field, Linkedin is a great avenue for this. People who do enjoy their job are often more than happy to share about their positive experiences. If you’re worried about people not wanting to be your mentor, think about what value you could provide by being a mentee.
Stay updated with industry trends: What emerging technologies, methodologies, or practices are influencing your field? How can you incorporate these trends into your skill set? What resources, such as books, articles, podcasts, or webinars, can you explore to stay informed? If there aren’t any that spring to mind, then this could be a great ice breaker with someone in the field.
Apply Design Thinking to your career:
Design thinking is a human centred problem-solving process which we can apply to our career journeys. It helps us challenge assumptions, redefine problems so they are actionable and create innovative solutions. Think about how you can adopt these 5 steps in your journey:
- Empathise: It’s okay if you haven’t figured it out yet, focus on where you are at right now. If you’ve got time to read this, you’ve also got time to give your career that much needed attention. Instead of making excuses, accept that this is a problem, remind yourself that you’ve made it this far and you are now ready to move forward.
- Define: Get clear on what it is that’s missing. Is it money, impact or expression (the chance to be creative)? Perhaps even one of the motivational factors mentioned earlier?
- Ideate: Time to get creative and explore possibilities and all you need is a pen and paper. What alternative career paths or options have peaked your interest? Sometimes the things we enjoyed as a teenager can be a telling sign of something we’re passionate about. What have you not thought of? How can you put a career idea into action? Have you thought about setting up informational interviews? These are brief talks with people in the field about their job.
- Prototype and test: Any plan without action is just a thought. What short-term projects, volunteering opportunities, or internships can you pursue to gain firsthand experience in different fields or roles? What have you learned from your prototypes and tests? Did you find it energising or draining?
In summary, feeling stuck can leave you yearning for change, uncertain about your next steps, and struggling to navigate the ever-evolving professional landscape. However, recognising your energisers, motivators and opportunities for growth can help you break free from the limiting beliefs and uncertainties that hold you back. Life design thinking empowers you to be the architect of your own career, enabling you to overcome feeling stuck and design a professional journey that brings fulfilment and purpose. Through careful reflection, you can gain clarity and lay the foundation for a more meaningful and satisfying career path.
Feeling stuck in your career impacts multiple areas of life, with many experiencing frustration. To combat this, reflect on energizing aspects and draining elements of your job. Use Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory to address autonomy, competence, and relatedness in your work. Continuously learn, seeking mentors and staying updated with industry trends. Apply design thinking to your career: empathize with your current situation, define what’s missing, ideate possibilities, and prototype/test options. This empowers you to architect a fulfilling career, breaking free from constraints, and establishing a satisfying path.
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