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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
- 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.
- Next to each thing, write the names of the people you go to when you need that particular thing.
- Make sure you get in touch and regularly connect with them.
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.