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Feeling stuck in your career? How to be happy at work

Have you ever caught yourself in a daydream where you’ve gone for that upcoming promotion and you’re now the boss at work? Or how about the one where you’ve summoned up all your courage to quit your job and live your dream? Or when you’ve changed career path to do what really makes you happy?

Then you’ve snapped back to reality and realized that you’re not the boss, not living your dream and not even happy in the career path that you’re on.

Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of individuals who’ve told me they feel stuck in their careers, that something had to change for them to break free and be happy but they lacked the confidence to take that step. My mission is to make sure that nobody feels stuck in their career because of a momentary lapse in bravery that’s dragged on for too long.

Vera is one of those who feel stuck in her career.

She’s been working in the same role for 17 years. She started young and progressed quickly. Although she’s successful and the envy of her peers, she is bored, restless and feels that there’s something missing. She can’t quite pinpoint why or what, but she knows that that she’s not fulfilling her purpose, that she feels stuck and is not sure what to do to move herself forward.

Sounds familiar? Read on to find out how you can stop feeling stuck in your career, break free and get ahead at work. If you stay until the end I’ll also let you in on Vera’s story.

Here are my top ten tips for becoming unstuck, breaking free and getting ahead at work.

1. Make time for you

If you’re feeling stuck, frustrated or unhappy at how your career is panning out, the first step is to work out why.

Maybe you’ve arrived in your current career by accident and haven’t ever made time to deliberately think or plan what you’d love to do and how you’d get there.

Prioritizing time to think is the first step you need take to stop feeling stuck and start getting ahead. Book some time into your diary where you can have an uninterrupted meeting with yourself. This is your thinking time.

Work out what makes you happy at work, what doesn’t and where you might want to go. Decide on the steps you want to take to progress your career in the direction that you want it to take.

For example, are there training days, evening courses or online learning that you can do? Have you considered getting a mentor to help you get ahead?

By booking in a meeting with yourself, (I have a client who calls it her ‘meeting with Marvin’, the android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with a brain the size of a planet) it signals it’s important (to you and your colleagues) and also stops others spotting a gap in your diary and filling it with a meeting.

2. Grow your network before you need it

Who you know is more important than what you know for career progression. Don’t wait until you’re feeling stuck in your career to start expanding your networks. Do it now.

Adam Grant the author of ‘Give and Take’, says you’re 58% more likely to get a new job through your weak ties than through your strong ones. Your strong ties are those in your immediate circle whom you interact with often. Your weak ties are your friends of friends. They move in different circles to you, they know different people, make different connections and are more likely to introduce you to new and different opportunities.[1]

When I was thinking about setting up my current company Lucidity, I turned up to every networking event, I drank a lot of coffees with a lot of different people to understand what they did, to ask for advice, to unpick what their problems were and look for opportunities for collaboration and connections.

It paid off because when I launched my business, I let my network know how I could help them and soon I had my first clients.

Pay attention to building and nurturing your networks, focus on how you can add value to others – that’s where your next career opportunity is most likely to come from.

3. Surround yourself by people who inspire you

According to Tim Ferriss, ‘You are the average of the five people you most associate with’ and his associations with different people ebbs and flows depending on what he’s working on and trying to achieve.[2]

For example, if you are trying to be fitter, it’s easier if you hang around with people who love doing exercise – they help you to up your game.

If you want that promotion, a career change or to set up your own business seek out people who are excelling at it already. They’ll have valuable things to teach you about breaking free and getting ahead and they’ll also help you to up your game.

4. Work on your personal brand

Jeff Bezos defines personal brand as ‘what people say about you when you’re not in the room’. People will talk about you when you are not in the room anyway, so you might as well be deliberate about what you’d like people to say!

Your personal brand isn’t about pretending to be something you’re not. It’s about being your best ‘real you’. It’s about owning your strengths and being purposeful about how you want to be perceived by others.

What do you want to be known for? By being more deliberate about how you want to come across and what you’re looking for in your career, you’ll increase your chance of attracting the right opportunities.

Once you’ve given your personal brand some thought, make sure that you show up online. Is your LinkedIn profile up to date? And if you don’t have one, get one. Make sure it communicates what you want to be known for and that it’s consistent with your other social media profiles.

Try these 5 Steps to Master Networking Skills and Perfect Your Personal Branding.

5. Be accountable

Achieve your career goals faster, grow and learn by making yourself accountable. Tell other people your goals and a timeline. and have them to hold you accountable.

For example, you might want to get a promotion by the end of the year, have decided the sector you want to move to by the end of the month, or have got your new business idea before the next pay day. Whatever your ambitions are, you can tell a friend or a colleague, or share about this with a mentor or a mastermind group.

When we tell other people our goals and intentions, they hold us accountable and we are more likely to make progress faster.

6. Make sure your values are aligned with your companies

All the professional development, goal setting and networks in the world won’t make you happy if you’re working for a company that ultimately has opposing values to yours.

Figure out what’s important to you in a job. For example, does your company’s product help people to live a better life? Do you feel strongly about your companies’ ethics and social responsibility? Does the company culture allows employees to be themselves and shine? Or maybe flexible working and more holidays for employees with families is where your heart is?

Some companies put their employees well-being at the core of their business, others put profits first. If you feel that your values don’t match the core values of your employer, it could be a reason why you’re feeling stuck and unhappy.

It’s important to work through this and identify whether it’s the job that is not right for you; or if it’s a great job but the organization or sector is wrong for you.

7. Get out of your comfort zone

Your comfort zone is your safe place. For any change to happen, you have to step out of your comfort zone.

It’s actually much easier not to change anything and to keep grumbling on about how you’re stuck and unhappy in your career, than to step outside of your comfort zone to address the fearful unknowns associated with change. It’s part of the human nature that we’d put up with the devil we know than risking the devil we don’t.

This is true even if the devil we know is your boring unfulfilling job: because we’re wired to think that making a change to find a better option might actually leave us worse off.

If you feel stuck, it might be that your confidence has got the better of you.

To get ahead at work, start taking small steps outside of your comfort zone. Consider what you’re scared of that is stopping you from making a change. Then tackle that in small steps.

For example, if you know that to move into the job you want, you’ll have to do more public speaking. But public speaking terrifies you so much it’s stopping you from going for the job. Then start small to build your confidence. You can speak up more in team meetings, then slowly build from there.

You might also choose to set up or be part of a specific group. One of my clients, who found that confidence was holding her team back in achieving work goals, set up a ‘get out of your comfort zone club’ where they challenge and support each other to build their confidence by regularly leaving their comfort zones.

They’ve learned a lot and achieved all sorts of things from public speaking, to eating crickets, to heart surgery.

8. Learn to embrace failure

Failure is part of life. A New York University study found that children learning to walk averaged 2,368 steps and fell 17 times an hour.[3]

Truth is that we don’t get everything right the first time. We fail, we learn, we pick ourselves up and we try again.

In my experience, it’s common that whilst the theory of learning from failure is supported, the reality of being open about failures to enable personal learning is much harder to achieve.

We don’t like to admit that we’ve failed. We have a fight or flight response to failure. It’s a normal gut reaction to ask ourselves ‘Will I get away with it if I don’t tell anyone?’ We are fearful of criticism, of losing face in front of our peers, our managers or the people we manage, or even being fired for failure.

However, if we’re going to progress our careers, break free and get ahead at work, we must be open to learning from failure.

Reframe failure by viewing everything as a test, because you can’t have a failed test – you just learn whether something worked or not. Think of Edison inventing the lightbulb, when he said, ‘I’ve not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’

9. Build your resilience

Resilience is the ability to tackle difficulties and setbacks, to bounce back, regroup and to keep going.

Getting unstuck in your career, taking a different path and achieving the results you want will take resilience. Having resilience is also the capacity to choose how you respond to the unexpected things that life throws your way and adapt and thrive in times of complex change.

Given that the world we live in is in constant flux, and the only thing that is certain is uncertainty; the ability to adapt and bounce back is an important life skill as well as a career skill.

In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth’s research shows that when measuring success, the ability to persevere beats talent every time. You can also check out how gritty you are here.

Learn more about how to build resilience in this guide:

What Is Resilience and How to Always Be Resilient (Step-By-Step Guide)

10. Ask for help

It can be hard to ask for help, it can make us feel vulnerable.

No one person can be expected to have all the answers. That’s why we need a troupe of people that we can go to for help, people who can pick us up when we have setbacks and also help us to celebrate success.

My advice is to be deliberate about creating your troupe. You can do that with a tool called a ‘Me Map’, here’s how:

  1. Write down all the things that you might need support with, for example, help with career progression, interview practice, making new connections, talking through business plans, learning from failure, etc.
  2. Next to each thing, write the names of the people you go to when you need that particular thing.
  3. Make sure you get in touch and regularly connect with them.

Final thoughts

Remember Vera? After 17 years in her career as an Editor for Vogue, she switched professions and went to work for luxury fashion designer, Ralph Lauren for two years. At 40, she resigned and became an independent bridal wear designer.

That’s right, I’m talking about Vera Wang, one of the most influential bridal wear designers in the world.

If she had ignored her instincts that were telling her to switch careers and break free, if she had stayed in her comfort zone or let the fear of failure stop her in her tracks, she would not have fulfilled her purpose or bought her extraordinary design gift to the world.

You too can stop feeling stuck in your career, break free and get ahead at work by applying the tips in this article. Start small by incorporating three new things in your first week, and then adding more as your comfort zone and capacity expands.

Remember no matter how stuck you feel, it’s never too late to make a change and leading the career that you truly want.

Join the Lucidity Network

The Lucidity Network helps people who feel stuck in their work life to get unstuck and have the career that will make them happy.

The Lucidity Network is a generous community that help each other be happy in their work life. Members get access to new training materials and expert webinars every month,  group coaching, a business book club and mastermind groups. All these things in the Lucidity Network address the 10 points above to help you get unstuck, take charge and make your work life the happy place you want it to be. Don’t miss out on making your work life what you want it to be.  For more information and to join the Lucidity Network click here. 

A version of this blog was first published by our friends over at Lifehack.

Three tips to avoid burnout

I’ve commented on busy as a badge of honour before.  Like when when someone asks how you are, your default response is ‘busy’ or ‘soooo busy’.  We fear that if we’re not really busy, we’re judged as being a poor leader, lazy, or not doing our best.

The danger with busy is that if you’re not careful, your constant busy can lead to burnout.

A burnt out leader will struggle because burnout drains your energy. It prevents you from thinking clearly, and from inspiring and motivating others.

Burnout is serious. It’s a combination of professional exhaustion, general disillusionment, and a lack of motivation and interest.

It’s not just the odd day when you feel a bit under par. The effects of burnout build up over time, and impact individuals over the long term.

Symptoms of burnout vary from individual to individual, and include insomnia, low energy, a loss of interest in work, headaches, and irrational irritability with colleagues, friends, and family.

Burnout results in low productivity and low creativity. You’re less likely to spot opportunities when you’re feeling burnt out. And even when you do, you don’t have the attention span to act on them.

If you’re constantly exhausted, anxious, annoyed and overwhelmedand you prefer to watch generic television shows and eat chocolate than hang out with your friends and family, it may be a signal that burnout has got the better of you.

You can prevent this. You have to put strategies in place to look after yourself – and encourage your team to do the same – to prevent burnout happening in the first place.

You have to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help and lead others.

If you’re in danger of burning out, a quick fix like a spa day or a holiday might help. But it doesn’t offer a sustainable solution.

To prevent burnout, you must implement strategies and habits that create lasting change.

1. Get moving

Do more exercise. Your body and mind will be able to handle the effects of stress more easily if you take regular exercise. This isn’t about doing a mega workout at the gym. It’s more important to find exercise that you enjoy and that you can make a habit. Check out this excellent atricle on no gym workouts from our friends over at Groom and Style.

It’s one of the reasons I got a dog because it means that I have to walk every day. Research shows that in addition to improving fitness and cardiovascular health, walking outside can also increase your creativity and well being.

Walking helps me to think straight and get my thoughts in order. If I walk at the start of the day, it helps me to plan my day and prioritize urgent tasks.

Doing exercise can help you to sleep better and when we’re rested we’re capable of making better decisions about pretty much everything from work problems to what we eat for dinner.

2. Do something all-consuming

For some people, this is about practicing mindfulness and focusing your awareness on the present moment. For others, it might be immersing yourself in a good book or a film.

For me, I prefer improv. Several years ago, I was running a workshop on stepping out of your comfort zone. I believe that it’s important to lead by example, so I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone and do something that scared me.

I signed up for improv classes. In my experience, it’s better than therapy. When you are practicing improv, you can only think and be in the moment.  You have to fully apply yourself to be able to respond to the others on stage.

Find your thing that is all consuming and means you have to switch off from everything else, and do it often.

3. Ask for help

As leaders, we sometimes feel that there is an expectation to know all the answers. This can make us feel stressed and under pressure. It’s not your role to know all the answers.

It’s more important to ask the right questions and have a network of people to go to who will have some of the answers. Build your troupe of people who you can ask for help.

These are not the people who tell you you’re amazing no matter what, these are critical friends who have your best interests at heart and will be candid and kind. Go for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and connect with people regularly to build your networks before you need them.

Do these things regularly. Make them a habit.

This is not you being selfish, this is you preventing burnout. This is you putting on your oxygen mask first so that you can better lead and help others.

If you’d like some help to better lead and help others check out the Lucidity Facebook community. A place to ask for help, share ideas and practical ways to be happier at work.  

A version of this blog was first published at About Leaders. 

Do you have a mind of a leader?

A guest blog by Helen White.

At last months’ Lucidity Network Book Club meeting we discussed, ‘The Mind of the Leader: How to lead yourself, your people, and your organisation for extraordinary results’ by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter. 

I found ‘The Mind of the Leader’ book through The Harvard Business Review (HBR) – a great up-to-date source on the latest insights and advice on workplace skills and issues.

Leadership skills are valuable to everyone whatever kind of organisation you work in and whatever level you’re at. Understanding and practicing good leadership skills and attitudes helps us all contribute our best to our organisation. Learning about good leadership and working on my leadership skills has also really helped me personally to better manage a lot of challenges at work.

The Mind of the Leader particularly appealed to me because I’ve come to realise that leadership is a mindset. The right mindset is key to being a good leader, to yourself, your team and to your organisation.
The book is well written – good language, style and structure. It’s jargon light and very engaging. I particularly like the ‘Quick Tips and Reflections’ at the end of each chapter, and the useful practical support throughout the book.

For the Lucidity book group members, the key message from the book is that to be an effective leader you need to employ and balance 3 key things: Mindfulness, selflessness and compassion. But what does that really mean in practice? Here are some tips:

It’s important to be present in any conversation, meeting or situation. Silence your inner voice, block out distractions, genuinely listen and observe. Don’t just pretend you’re listening while your thinking about or doing something else, or thinking about what you want to say next.

Adopt a beginner’s mind. Look at every person and situation – including yourself – with fresh eyes. Ask open questions. See and hear what’s really there, instead of what you expect / want / fear / assume. It’s important to recognise when you’re making assumptions and that your assumptions are most likely wrong, and unhelpful at best.

Trust is key. As a leader you need to show trust in others, in order to be trusted.

Recognise and put aside your ego. Fear based, self-protection egoism can be just as damaging as arrogance based egoism – both are borne out of self-absorption.

Adopt courageous selflessness – focus on how you can best serve the organisation, not just yourself or your corner of the organisation. What’s really best for the organisation as a whole?

Understand the difference between empathy and compassion, employing the latter rather than the former. Adopt self-compassion as well as compassion for others.

Be accepting of failure – your own and others’. Move on quickly and positively from life’s mis-steps. Learn positive lessons. Don’t blame or punish.

Actively seek feedback to grow your self-awareness and understand the impacts of your behaviours.

Acknowledge and accept your emotions and those of others. We are all emotional beings with complex lives and emotion-driven internal narratives.

And finally, develop equanimity: Mental calmness, composure, evenness of temper. View life’s successes, failures, frustrations as ebbs and flows, without getting too high or low emotionally. Adopt a stoic mindset – accept what you cannot control. Focus on what you CAN control, which is yourself – how you choose to think, talk and behave.

Helen White is a policy and financial capability expert.

The Lucidity Network book club is one of the elements of the Lucidity Network.

The Lucidity Network is a community of generous people who help each other get the important work done. Facilitated via a Facebook Community with group coaching, mastermind groups and online training content which includes training materials on mindset, failure, and mindfulness. The Lucidity Network helps you to tackle the complexities of working life that didn’t come with the leadership handbook. The Lucidity Network is open a few times a year. To be the first to know when the Network is open for new members and get special early bird offers sign up to Lucidity Insights or join the free Lucidity Facebook Community.

Three tips to beat the curse of busy

When someone asks, ‘how are you?’ is your standard default ‘really busy’? Are you constantly responding to urgent and important requests on different devices with no time to think straight? Do you feel like you are on a hamster wheel running round and around with no time to stop and consider what you are doing? You are not alone. In the recent Lucidity Innovation Launchpad survey 82% of people told us they don’t have time to think because they are too busy fire-fighting everyday tasks and managing an ever increasing ‘to-do’ list with no time to do it because they are in constant meetings, juggling conflicting priorities and are stressed out at being pulled in all directions.

Based on our research and experience it would seem that we are in the midst of a busyness epidemic. Huffington Post described busyness as a sickness. And we would agree since excessive busyness can cause fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain.

We’re so busy responding to other people’s ‘urgent and important’ we don’t take stock of whether the activities are truly urgent or important. We don’t take time to consider, if what we are busy about, are the right activities that will get us the best results. The stress levels associated with this sort of constant busyness are bad for us. Our health suffers, concentration ebbs, decision making is impacted, we miss opportunities and we can lack focus and become inward looking.

“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” Henry David Thoreau

That’s why over at the Lucidity Network we put some training material together on beating the curse of busy and making time to think. Here are our top three tips:

Tip 1. Work when you are at your best Humans are not programmed to work between the conventional office working hours of 9-5. Some people are best early morning, others are night owls, and some thrive at 3pm. Save time by working out how you can do the most difficult stuff that requires real thinking when you are at your Note your working patterns over the next week and notice when you do your best thinking. When are you in a slump? Start to plan your day to do the difficult tasks when you are at your best and take a nap (we’re serious) or do the tasks that take less concentration when you are in your slump.

Tip 2. Get rid of distractions If you are attempting to do meaningful work turn off all distractions. Switch off your email, put your phone out of reach where you can’t check Facebook or WhatsApp and turn off all notifications. If you work in an office put headphones on (even if you are not playing anything through them, they can signal ‘do not disturb’ or if your office environment is too distracting book a meeting room or work from home. Interruptions stop your flow and your brain’s thought process. Once you are distracted, the brain has to find where it was, re assess the situation, and then make the effort to get back to that stopping point. That can take 15 minutes per distraction which adds up to a massive amount of wasted time. Research also shows that people in a flow state are five times more productive than they otherwise would be. Turn off all your notifications, for example on email, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram to give yourself a chance of concentrating for more than 10 seconds.

Tip 3. Work in short bursts Humans work best in short bursts. The optimum short burst time i.e. the length of time worked vs when a break is needed will vary from person to person. Start by sitting down to focus on a piece of work for 45 minutes. Then give yourself a 15-minute break. Set an alarm to make sure you do it. Go for a walk around. Have a stretch. Breaking up your time prevents boredom and helps you to maintain a high quality of work. Lengthen and shorten your bursts to work out your optimum time.

And I’ll give you an extra one for free. Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is simply not effective. It’s true that we can do several tasks at once, but we don’t do any single one of them well. Researchers have shown it’s more efficient to do one task after another rather than several things at once.

The Lucidity Network offers more help on making time to think, including a webinar interview where Productivity Ninja Grace Marshall shares her best tips for productivity as well as training bundles on resilience, confidence and creativity. It’s a community of generous people who help each other get the important work done. Facilitated via a Facebook Community with group coaching, mastermind groups and online content to help you tackle the complexities of working life that didn’t come with the management handbook.

The Lucidity Network is closed for membership right now while we make some renovations over the summer. To be the first to know when we open the doors again to new members become part of the free Lucidity Facebook Community. Or if you are based in London, come along to our next Lucidity Network and Not9to5 event at the Crown Tavern in Farringdon. Come and be inspired by Catherine Raynor, founding director at Mile 91, an agency that specialises in story gathering and management for charities and change makers. Catherine will share her tips on how to make your organisation one that tells powerful stories. For more information and to sign up go here. Hurry though as places are limited.

Your views are really important

It feels like everyone and their dog is asking for feedback for absolutely everything. Because ‘your views are very important’. I seem to be noticing a lot more incentives to encourage feedback too. If all goes well I’ll be off on a cruise with my new iPad before the end of the month.

Fundamentally this is good. It makes absolute sense to check with your customers that you are delighting them, find out what else they want and provide better products and services that meet their needs. Feedback after all is a gift.

And you have to make it easy.

There have been several occasions when I’ve wanted to win an iPad (sorry – give feedback) and haven’t been able to. For example recently I was with a friend in a restaurant and we were given a card asking for feedback with our bill. You had to scan a QR code, which took us to a web page where we had a lot of questions to fill in about the service, the look and feel of the restaurant, food choice, standard of food, waiting staff outfits… and the list went on.

There was a serious amount of questions. The page froze when we were halfway through so we tried again.  It took ages so we tried again. This time we just put any answer to get through the system (yes bad I know but that’s what people do if you don’t make it easy).  The web page still froze us out and we gave up. We didn’t win an iPad. We don’t know if the restaurant received our feedback.

So while I’m a big fan of asking your customers for feedback, if you are going to do it, then do it well so that you get feedback that is useful. Below are some tips that might help you.

  • Make gathering feedback part of everyone’s role. Insights that you get from a chat over coffee, or speaking to a participant at an event or speaking to a customer on the phone can highlight lots of opportunities for improvement without the need for formally asking for feedback.
  • Make sure there is a place for feedback to go. It might be a person, or an email address. But there needs to be somewhere where this valuable information is collected.
  • Make it easy – if I have to scan a QR code, or go to a web page that doesn’t download or have to answer a lot of questions I’m going to get bored or not bother or just tick ‘good’ for everything to get to the end and a chance to win an iPad.
  • Ask the relevant questions – what areas do you really want to know about?  Don’t ask me everything and anything.
  • Test it – get someone to sense check the feedback form/website process/whatever it is, get someone to fill it in that knows nothing about your business. (I’m sure it wasn’t only me that got bored, couldn’t access the site and then gave any old answer)
  • Thank people – ask for their data with the right permission statement so that you can go back to them (or make sure you don’t contact them again depending on their preference) with offers/information or whatever is appropriate. (Presumably the one I tried did this – if only I had got to the end…..)
  • Do something with the feedback – if it just sits on a spreadsheet then it’s a pointless exercise.
  • And finally as a customer – if the feedback is clunky, difficult or doesn’t work – feed that back.

A version of this blog was first published at Lucyinnovation. Feedback and comments welcome.