Career Rut

In A Career Rut? Here Are 4 Ways To Get Unstuck

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Perhaps you jumped straight into a job after grad school and now, five years later, you’re bored, unfulfilled, and spinning your wheels. Or maybe you’ve excelled in your position, but now you feel that you’ve risen as far in the company as you can go. In other words, you’re stuck in a career rut.

In a tight job market, people who are dissatisfied with their jobs tend to stay put. Does that mean you have to stay in a job that doesn’t challenge you, provide meaning, or offer long-term career benefits? Not necessarily. It’s possible to change your behavior, attitude, outlook, and workplace relationships in such a way that today’s dull job becomes tomorrow’s exciting career opportunity.

In other words, you don’t have to quit your job to get out of a career rut. All you have to do is start moving in a fresh direction.

Here are four tips for creating forward movement when your career seems stalled:

Step 1: Imagine Your Destination

Before you get in a car, you know where you’re going. The same is true for your career. Take some time to write down where you’d like to go next. The more specific your goal, the better. Set a date by which you want to accomplish this goal. The purpose of this activity is twofold.

First, writing down a career destination helps you draw a distinct contrast between where you are now and where you’d like to be. It may even help you articulate, in your mind, why you got stuck in the first place. Second, having a concrete goal statement that you can read daily adds fuel to your process of moving forward. It’s motivating and encouraging.

Step 2: Identify Your Obstacles

Write down everything that may block your progress toward accomplishing your new career goal. Don’t censor yourself—just make a list of every obstacle you can think of. Now, make three columns on a page and place your obstacles into one of three categories: (1) Things I Can Control; (2) Things I May Be able to Influence, and (3) Things That Are Out of My Control.

This is a critical step because, as behaviorists have learned, it’s a great relief and very energizing for us to understand that we can’t control everything. Cross out everything in column three. Now you can put all your energy into all the obstacles you can or may be able to control.

Step 3: Try On Some New Behaviors

Try on a new you. Think of your job as an opportunity to learn and experiment. For example, if you’re someone who moseys in at five minutes after nine each day, try coming to work at eight for a week or so. You may get to know a whole different set of coworkers at that hour, or you may discover that you can work on skills that you normally don’t have time to develop.

Another way to try on new behaviors is to ask outside experts or inside mentors for advice and feedback on what you’re doing right and where you could modify your behavior. Observe movers and shakers in your company to see how they behave, whom they talk to, and what their habits are. Try to adopt some of those “success behaviors.”

Step 4: Change The Way You Communicate

One of the main reasons people get stuck at a certain level in their job is because of what behaviorists call mismatched communication styles. How you communicate with influential people can either lead to misunderstandings about your effectiveness and intention, or instant affinity and a positive impression.

Analyze your own communication behaviors. Are you assertive and quick to act, or introverted and a strategizer? Do you talk before you think? Next, pay attention to your boss’s style. If your boss is direct and “get it done” but you need time to process information and plan, you may come across to her as slow, procrastinating, or even resistant to feedback or authority. Try to modify your approach to match her style. Use the same words your boss uses; match her tone and approach to the degree you can.

Try these four steps and after a month or so, do an inventory of how you feel about your career. Do you feel more challenged and hopeful? Are co-workers and managers treating you differently? Are there new doors opening up for you at work? Career ruts can be caused, largely, by one’s mindset. Changing your thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes is the best way to get unstuck.


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