What to do when you feel stuck in your career
We all have times when we feel stuck in our careers, when we’re not advancing as fast as we’d like, or it feels like we’re not advancing at all.
I know I’ve had those feelings many times in my career and, frankly, the more senior we are, the more likely it is that we’re going to have those situations because the air just gets thinner and there are fewer slots available, and it even happens to the very best of us.
I remember back a few years ago, actually, it was many years ago now, and we had a great senior guy heading up our division. He was my boss’ boss, and he was great yet he had been in his seat, in that role for a long time.
It had the rest of us wondering, is that the last job he wanted to have? Did he want to advance some more? What was going on in his own career thinking and what did that mean for all of us? So, the usual.
One day, we had the chance to actually talk to him about this. It was, sort of, a more relaxed setting and he told us that he had in fact recently had a conversation with his own boss where they talked about the future prospects, and he told his boss the following: he said, “Well, I don’t want to die in this job.”
We were so amazed at that line, “I don’t want to die in this job.” It said so many things in just that one little sentence.
First, it was brilliant at saying, “Hey, I have ambition to do more”, without threatening or being threatening to his own boss. It’s different than saying, “Yes, I’d like to have your job in 12 months’ time.” That’s threatening but “I don’t want to die in this job” is not.
Second, it said to us that even somebody that senior does have the same experiences that we have, a feeling stuck at certain points in time.
Third, it gave us great hope because he wanted to move forward and that meant we were going to have an opportunity to move forward.
So, sometimes that stuck feeling just means that we need a change. But sometimes we can’t make that change, or we don’t want to make that change, or some personal circumstances make it difficult for us to make that change, or maybe there’s no obvious change.
Even in those circumstances, there are strategies you can employ to stop feeling so stuck and to also set yourself up to advance in the future.
So I’ve got three strategies to share with you today. First is, grow the pie. Then there’s invest in yourself and, of course, invest in others. So let’s take each of those in turn.
Grow the pie
When I talk about growing the pie, what I mean by that is either doing more with the business you have, or adding to the business opportunities for the company as a whole.
So in that first vein, doing more with the business you have, I have an example of a former colleague who is heading up the retailing group, so covering retail companies. He felt he had done pretty much all he could with that particular client group. How could he grow the pie?
Well, he had this great idea that said, private equity firms in their portfolios, they have investments in and would like to make investments in retailing companies.
So he did a run of all the retailing properties and companies that were being held by private equity firms and he went to his private equity coverage colleagues and said, “Hey, shall we go and pitch some of this together?”, which they did and it grew the pie for each of their franchises and also for the firm. Win/win outcome.
The other side of things, expanding the opportunity set for your company. A friend of mine was in the litigation department of a big Fortune 100 company and she noticed that there were a lot of possible litigations coming up and that would cost the company a great deal. So she started putting together a process that would help to resolve these disputes early, an early dispute resolution process.
This became so successful that it caught the eye of the CEO who wanted her to roll it out to the rest of the company. Because of that, she saved the company, or helped save the company, a lot of money and also got herself a promotion 18 months later. So all of these are win/win. Love it.
The second strategy is…
Invest in yourself
This is all about helping to keep up with the rapidly changing world.
The things that were hot five years ago are no longer hot today, many of them, and the things that are going to be hot in five years, well, we don’t even know what they are. So you’ve got to keep up and keep learning those things that are going to be next.
I’ll give you an example of that, which is my father. Many years ago, he was 51 at the time, and he was pretty much at the… well, he was quite advanced as a scientist in a particular field of medicine.
He looked forward and said, you know, “This field that I’m in now is pretty mature. It’s not going to be at the cutting edge going forward.”
So what he did was, he started to learn about a related area that was growing and he started to do talks about it, attend conferences on it and really retooled himself, and that turned into some partnerships with others in related fields of science.
Today, those fields are called biomedical engineering and bio engineering and, what I understand to be, the most popular majors in college campuses everywhere.
So that’s one aspect of investing in yourself – intellectually.
Another aspect of investing in yourself is about the physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing so that you can set yourself up to be and operate at your best at all times.
That’s particularly important when you are feeling stuck. So this means simple things like eating right, getting exercise, sleeping enough.
These are things that Arianna Huffington talks about really effectively and, by the way, if you haven’t read her book, ‘Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder’ yet, I’d recommend you do so.
Now, the third strategy is about…
Investing in others
This is so energising. It gives you an opportunity to become a better leader and it also gives you a chance to get out of your own funk. Get out of your own little, you know, my problems type of thing.
So get out there and mentor people. Set up networks internally and externally. You might want to just do more to invest in building up the talent in your team. Or maybe it’s something external related to some of the causes that you feel most passionate about, but invest in other people.
You’ll feel great!
So these are three strategies that you can use individually or together and they are designed to help you right where you are to stop feeling stuck.
I’ll just end with three quick takeaways:
- The first is, take action. You’ve got to take action, otherwise nothing happens.
- Second, don’t just keep grinding it out doing the same things that have been de-energising to you. In fact, more is not always better, right?
- And then third is always, always, always do your very best because you never know. Every day is a potential audition for that next wonderful opportunity.
That leaves just the following question for you…
What are you going to do to stop feeling stuck, and how can you help someone else whose feeling stuck to stop feeling stuck?
I look forward to hearing all about it.
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Very nice! Great stories to make your strategies come to life.
Many thanks for your comment, Kevin. If you too have stories that come to mind, we’d love to hear!