4 Actions to Take When You're Stuck in a Career Limbo
Do you feel like your career is in limbo? Maybe you’re waiting for your boss to move up, a merger to be decided, or a downsizing to be completed.
As achievers, we want to be challenged and accomplish new goals. But sometimes, events around you make that impossible.
For those of us geared toward forward progress, that can be hugely frustrating.
It could happen to any of us
This happened to one of my clients when the company she joined agreed to merge with another company. While senior management said they were in “business as usual” mode during the 12-18 month merger approval period, everyone was distracted, fearful and anxious. Many projects were put on hold.
Would their contracts be honored? Should they be looking for a new job or finally start that new business? What kind of leadership opportunities could they hope to have while things were in flux?
As the saying goes, when the world gives you lemons, make lemonade. And that’s what my client did.
4 Actions to get out of a career limbo
When your career feels like it’s in limbo and circumstances prevent you from channeling your full productive energies into the job at hand, here are four things you can do.
1. Do what you can internally
Identify the set of projects that you can move forward and take all possible steps to advance them. This provides an outlet for your energy, helps your organization, and ensures your time remains effective and valuable.
For my client, there was one specific project that didn’t rely on the outcome of the merger. Fortunately, it was also an exciting project that she personally enjoyed and wanted to pursue.
Also, it’s the perfect time to tackle those non-urgent projects like organizing your files or creating a process that will help you when things change. By using this time to get organized, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running when the time comes.
2. Look after people
Do what you can for the people around you – especially your team. My client was particularly concerned about losing the people she had recently recruited to the company on a “temp-to-perm” basis.
She went to her boss to negotiate on behalf of her team, saying “what can we do for our people?” They agreed to formalize and extend the team’s contracts and, in the process, her boss asked what he could do for my client too. A benefit she hadn’t been expecting.
However things turn out in the organization, when you show that you care for your team, it conveys a positive character. And that stays with you no matter where you work.
3. Reframe this time as a golden opportunity
Whenever there is discomfort, there is an opportunity for learning and growth. So, when there’s a lull in the action or when things aren’t going the way you’d like, look on this time as a golden opportunity to find a new way forward and expand into new areas externally.
For my client, the merger-related uncertainties meant she only had a set number of productive hours in her day. The rest of her time was spent trying to push initiatives that weren’t going to move ahead. At the same time, for someone used to giving 120 percent, stopping at 80 percent felt frustrating.
When she reframed the frustrating time into “free time”, she began to take courses related to her field as well as ones that she had always wanted to explore. She joined external networks and started looking into volunteer roles for local charities. She also started saying “yes” to invitations to speak at conferences.
And this leads to the fourth important thing you can do.
4. Build your brand
When you feel like you’re in limbo, it’s a great time to be building and investing in your personal brand. By “personal brand”, I’m talking about your brand identity independent of any organization or external group that you don’t control.
Anytime you create opportunities that help you learn, grow and be visible, you are doing things that help build your brand, and when you’re doing all three of those things, you’re putting yourself in a great position to attract new opportunities and people. And this is the path out of limbo.
The biggest “aha” for my client was that her brand is more than her identity within the organization. And she had been pinning all her hopes on the company to provide her with the platform to demonstrate what she can do.
Do what’s right for you
Give the organization the benefit of the doubt and the right of first refusal, but also do what’s right for you.
That applies to all of us. We are independent of any single entity, whether that’s a company, partner, or children. You are more than just one of those roles, so don’t pin all your identity on any one. That’s way too much pressure, especially for your family, and they will thank you for being a strong, independent person in your own right.
So, when you’re feeling “in limbo”, take heart.
Stop pushing on the locked door. Instead, look at and do what is possible, look after the people around you, reframe the situation as an opportunity, and use this time to build your brand. In doing so, you’re sure to make good use of your time and emerge better positioned for whatever comes next.
Which of these strategies would most help you get out of career limbo?
Leave a comment and let me know.
This could not come at a better time. It seem as if you knew exactly what I am going through. I started to focus on fixing some issues that are outstanding and it really helped to build my brand and make me feel less despondent. Thanks a million
Excellent post!!! Although I am now retired, I found this to be very helpful! It’s stuff you can do no matter what!
Thank you very much for this interesting information!!!
For me “To do what’s right for you” is important. In particular I like the phrase “Stop pushing on the locked door.” This approach gives you the possibility to balance your life and grow as a person.
Hi May, many thanks for a great post! Always interesting and thought provoking.