Everyone begins a career with the hope of finding job stability and over time, make that job or series of jobs into a career. Sometimes people know the details of their career as it progresses, while others try to figure it out as they go along. Whether or not a specific plan has been developed, it is possible for a lull to occur where it seems progress is no longer being made. The challenge for a lull period is how a person handles it or addresses the emotions that likely will accompany it. A brief period of feeling stagnant that you overcome by establishing new goals may only feel like a bump in the road. But if a feeling of frustration about your job or career has developed, and it has been sustained long enough that you are consciously aware of it, this may be a time when you have become stuck in a career rut.
What Do You Want from Your Career?
One of the most effective starting points to work from to deconstruct what you are presently feeling about your job or situation is to decide what you want to do with your career. This doesn’t mean you need to know the specifics but it is a time to determine what your expectations are or should be. For example, do you want to eventually lead your organization or build your own business? The point is to help you better understand the lull period. It could either mean you know where you want to be and you are not making progress, or you don’t have any specified plans and that by itself can lead to an awareness that you aren’t making significant steps forward in your career. It is possible to work through either scenario and it all starts by examining your current job.
Self-Assess Your Job
Begin by trying to remember why you accepted this current job. There was something that prompted you to accept this position, even if you took it just for the income. This will serve as a starting point for your self-assessment. As you continue to reflect upon why you began you can then ascertain if there were any expectations you held about the future of that job. Then consider how your time in this position has evolved. Did it live up to your expectations? You will likely recall both positive and negative events, if applicable, but the idea is to determine what you have gained from this job and pinpoint the time when you felt frustrated or that you were no longer making progress. This is an important step because you will either realize that there was a triggering event or you will find that nothing has changed and what is at the heart of what you are feeling. This allows you to begin changing your focus or your purpose for that job.
Are You On Track Now?
If you have followed the process outlined, by this point you should have a better understanding of your present job and how it has progressed over time. You also have an idea about the purpose of your career. However, if you don’t yet have career goals, that needs to be your first priority. Don’t be concerned about looking too far ahead and if you are in a job just because you need that income – that still serves as a purpose for going to work. But now the next step is to see where your job fits into your career. Take into account the career goals you have established and where this job places you within that timeline. This can help you see the value in the work you are doing now and it will help you discover that every job has a purpose. This current job may not be the best match for your career but it is helping you to redefine and/or use some of your skill sets.
Warning Signs to Watch For
#1. More of the Same: If you have been in the same job performing the same tasks and not progressing, then it is very likely you may be stuck. The question is whether or not it is done by choice. Are you seeking out other tasks or opportunities, or are there none available? Have you talked to your supervisor or manager about doing more? It does not always have to involve taking on more job tasks. For example, perhaps you could lead a project or meeting. The point is to be proactive and get out of this rut.
#2. Living in Fear: Are you living in fear of making a change? Fear can be a powerful de-motivator and create negative feelings that lessens your self-confidence. It can stop you from taking advantage of opportunities primarily because you eventually stopped looking. It may take some practice but you can learn to work with it – if you take an objective rather than emotional position. Don’t try to figure it out either as you may never know what first sparked your fear, and your search you may actually cause you to become even more frustrated.
#3. You’ve Stopped Learning: Are you no longer interested in professional development? That is another reason why you can become stuck, you’ve stopped doing something that can provide value for your career. The purpose of ongoing professional development is not to please anyone else, rather it is meant as a means of bolstering your resume as you acquire and/or further develop your knowledge base and skill sets. It can also provide you with networking opportunities as you connect with others.
#4. You Experience Stress: Are you experiencing prolonged stress, anxiety, or apprehension? If so, any of the signs can be an indicator you are not moving forward in your career. It is possible that many jobs are of a stressful nature; however, if you are highly motivated and enjoying your job you would have a better ability to manage the potential for stress. The point is to recognize stress as an indicator and develop plan to address it.
#5. Work Is No Longer Enjoyable: Do you no longer enjoy going to work or performing any aspect of your job? There are many reasons why you might feel this way and one is an indicator of your dislike and/or dis-engagement from the job. This does not mean you have to feel elation every workday but if the job was actively causing you to feel fulfilled – you would be more likely to enjoy it. When work is no longer enjoyable it is time to set new goals.
Take Control of Your Career
One of the most difficult lessons to learn about a job is that regardless of circumstances, you always have some measure of control and you can decide how you feel, how you will respond to conditions, and the performance you put into your job. You also have control of your career. While you may not find an abundance of new opportunities, you can be proactive and develop your career profile – and that includes the affiliations you belong to, the networking channels you create, the ongoing professional development you complete, and the skills you develop.
As you learn to be proactive you create a sense of self-empowerment so that when you do reach a lull in your job you understand the temporary nature of it, and you use it to prompt a time of self-analysis. You can be focused on the moment of feeling stuck or you can stay on track with your career goals and make strategic changes at the right moment. And if you feel stress or fear, or any other negative response, then you must address it and not hope that it will just go away on its own. Over time you are likely to find that the more you observe and address the warning signs, the fewer times a bump in your career becomes a rut.
Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has a lifelong love of helping adults learn and providing guidance with professional self-development through his work as a college professor, trainer, career coach, and mentor.