Want to know one of the most common reasons that people come to me for career coaching? They feel stuck in a rut. Whilst we all experience ups and downs in our jobs, being stuck in a rut is different. It’s deeper, a more chronic and consistent feeling, not dissimilar to a feeling of groundhog day.
How do you know for sure if your career is stuck in a rut? In my experience, the biggest sign is that you are disengaged from your work. This might show up as:
- Feeling apathetic about your role
- Losing motivation and drive (although this has happened a lot in lockdown)
- Losing confidence
- Self-sabotaging behaviours
- Feeling anxious and overwhelmed
- Suffering ill-health (mental and/or physical)
- Daydreaming about getting a new role or changing career (for a year or more)
- Questioning your career to date
I think it’s important to note that burnout can feel similar. The difference between burnout and a rut is that when you’re stuck in a rut it’s only your work life that is affected. If you’re burnt out then your whole life can be affected.
Why do our careers get stuck in a rut?
There are three common reasons our careers get stuck in a rut.
We don’t feel challenged
The first is that we have stopped being challenged and/or stopped progressing. Maybe there is no scope for learning in your role or you’ve reached as far as you can go in the company/department. You might be feeling bored or complacent. You may be wondering to yourself “is this it?”.
We don’t feel appreciated
Alternatively, you may be working hard, feeling challenged but receiving no recognition. This can turn to resentment, lack of confidence in your own abilities and feelings of being unappreciated and undervalued.
We don’t feel we have meaning
Sometimes our values change because we have a big life event or we have challenged a belief we hold. Sometimes we stumble across something that adds meaning we didn’t know we were missing. It may not be possible to integrate our values into our current role or add in that new passion. This means we feel we aren’t making a difference or that our career no longer has or cannot provide us with meaning.
Getting your career back on track
If anything you have read so far is true for you then there are some things you can do to help yourself. Ask yourself these five questions:
What’s going on?
Take some time to evaluate what’s going on. Have you stopped progressing? Are you feeling underappreciated? Are you stuck in your comfort zone? Is it something else? Once you know what is going on then you can take action. This might feel really scary (in which case, some coaching or mentoring might help) but that’s OK. It takes courage to say that you want to change and even more to actually step outside your comfort zone.
What do you want?
Set yourself a meaningful career goal and make a plan to work towards it. This will keep you motivated and give you some focus. Think about what you will need to do to reach your goal and make a step-by-step guide to do it, focusing on one thing at a time.
If you want a new job you might raise your online presence on LinkedIn or update your CV. For a career change, you might research your options or engage a specialist coach to help you stay accountable.
If it’s recognition you’re after it might be worth talking to your boss about how you’re feeling. Everyone wants to be seen and heard so make sure that you’re recognising others in your team. This helps you feel good and they will too.
What are you avoiding?
Sometimes we need to make the decision we’ve been avoiding. This could be looking for a new job (because yes, job searching can be painful). Maybe it’s getting professional help for your health or your career. It could be making that commitment to invest in yourself.
Remember that it is usually fear which stops us from reaching our potential. Calculate any risks so you can make decisions based on information rather than fear.
Figure out what you’re avoiding and then take action. Your future self will thank you for it.
Where can you add meaning?
If you’ve become increasingly passionate about something, let’s say sustainability, can you introduce some initiatives at work to get folks/the company thinking about how they can be more sustainable? Perhaps your values have reshuffled, is there a role within the company that would meet them? If not, you may be looking at a job/career change. If you’re looking to make a difference, are there additional responsibilities or challenges you can take on?
What is it costing you to stay in the job you’re in now?
If the status quo is worse than the thought of change, it’s time to take action and commit to changing your circumstances for the better.