Stop feeling stuck in your career, break free and get ahead at work

How to be happy at work

What does it feel like to be stuck in your career? 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.  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.

Stop feeling stuck in your career

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 in your career 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 paranoid 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 and to unpick what their problems were. I looked 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’. 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, to stop feeling stuck in your career, 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 in your career, 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. Check out our tips on how to make failure your friend. 

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. 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 beat the curse of busy

Ants are 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.

Is your standard default ‘really busy’?

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. Click here for more information and to join the Lucidity Network.

This isn’t a blog about whether to get a dog

Lucy Gower and Gary Gower

Have you ever talked about doing something and just never got round to it? Do you have items on your ‘to do’ list that have been on it for years? Do you put things off and then tell yourself that you’ll start fresh from Monday?

Yes? I suspect that most of us have.

It’s so tiring talking about things again and again, putting them off and making excuses for not doing them.

It was happening to me.

For years I’d been talking about getting a dog.

I’d tell people how much I wanted one and how my life would be better with a dog in it. But there were so many reasons not to change, the responsibility of looking after another living thing, the cost of vets bills, insurance, food, doggy day care and then the limitations, not being able to go out all the time or go on holiday. People I spoke to fuelled by doubts and by the time I’d had the conversation with them I’d talked myself out of getting a dog.

But the topic kept playing in my mind. I couldn’t shut it down and I was boring myself. I decided that I either had to get a dog or shut up talking about it.

Then one day I just bloody got the dog.   Here he is. He’s called Gary. You can follow his adventures on Instagram at garygower_dog _diaries.

The doubters were right. When Gary was a puppy it was really hard. The first thing he did when he arrived aged 12 weeks was a poo under the kitchen table. I spent most of Easter 2018 standing in the garden in the rain training him to go to the toilet outside. The rest of that Easter was spent going backwards and forwards on the tube and bus so he wasn’t scared of public transport. We spent a lot of time sat on the bench opposite Wood Green bus garage getting him used to traffic noises and sirens. There was the night I slept on the kitchen floor next to his crate with a broken foot in a plaster cast (which is a different story) because he wouldn’t stop barking. There was the day he humped my arm while I tried to conduct a work Skype call. There was the day he chewed through my laptop cable which cost £80 to replace. There was the day that he ran amok on Southwold beach and it took a core group of 5 of us plus most of the population of Southwold over an hour to catch him. There was the day he rolled in a dead fish. There was the day he jumped up and took a hat out of a strangers hand, shook it to death and dropped it in a muddy puddle. It took months before he realised doing a poo in the hallway in the middle of the night was NOT OK. He’s been massively disruptive. I’ve never apologised so much since I had a dog.

He’s also been brilliant. I’ve learned a lot from Gary. Patience, that the simple things in life can bring great joy, to live more in the moment, not to take things too seriously and be grateful that all I have. He looks after me. Because I have to walk him every day, I have to switch off from work (and when you work for yourself and love what you do that can be hard). I get more regular exercise. People talk to us on the tube, and if people don’t like him they move and we get a seat! I’ve met new friends, discovered new places to walk and can now throw a ball really far.

Do you know what? It is a big responsibility looking after another living thing, he does cost me money and when I go on holiday either he comes too or someone else looks after him. The logistics of who looks after Gary and when causes me headaches. And the joy of Gary far outweighs all the negatives.

Do you put things off and then tell yourself that you’ll start fresh from Monday?

So my point?

This isn’t a blog about whether to get a dog. This is a blog about genuinely thinking about what you want and deciding to commit (do you want a new job, to move house, a different relationship, learn a new skill, lose weight, a different lifestyle…?) The context doesn’t matter, what does matter is that you make a choice whether to do the thing or not. The talking about the thing and not taking steps to achieve it is a tedious and tiring place to be. You deserve more than that.

Making any sort of change is hard. Do you put things off? Friends and family won’t necessarily give you the best advice either. You have to get brave and focus on what you want.

So, those things on your list; tackle them or scrub them off forever and free up your brain to focus on the things you really want to do. Ask yourself what would happen if you don’t do the thing? I didn’t want to be the person that always wished they followed their heart and got a dog. I wanted to be the person walking on the beach with my dog. What’s your thing on your list that you’d regret not doing?

Go on, channel your inner Yoda. ‘Do or do not, there is no try’

I set up the Lucidity Network to help people push forward and do the things they want to do. It’s a community of generous people who help each other get the important work done. It’s facilitated via a Facebook Community with meet-ups and online content to help members tackle the complexities of working life that didn’t come with the management handbook. You can find out more and sign up here. And if you join, you might even get to meet Gary.

Three public speaking tips from an expert panel

Tips for public speaking

I was recently approached by energy giants, Gazprom, to share tips for public speakers. Here are the top three takeaways from me and the other members of the panel. You can read the full piece here.

Speaking in front of a room full of strangers can be one of the more daunting aspects of your career, whatever your level of seniority. With all eyes on you, your inner critic can have a field day, making you worry you’ll ‘mess up’ or make a fool of yourself. Do you know what? – often, when I ‘mess up’, or go off script it’s the best bit! Here are three tips for public speakers to worry less about messing up and enjoy your next presentation.

Treat it like a performance

Approach your presentation as if it is a performance. People want to learn, and they also want to be entertained. A ‘do your best performance’ mindset can help to put you at ease and your delivery will be more fluid. Grab your audience’s attention by just being your best and real you up on that stage. Ditch your notes and if you use presentation slides, go light on text and big on images that enhance your core messages. People are there to listen to you – not see some big slides on a screen.

Get the audience involved

Get your audience involved as soon as possible. It takes the pressure off you, gives you a sense of the mood of the room and gives you a moment to regroup. Ask them a question that people can put their hands up to. Ask a question that will have a lot of ‘yes’ answers, giving the audience an opportunity to participate and agree, for example, a lot of people fell into the profession of fundraising. Asking people who else is an accidental fundraiser (at a presentation to fundraisers) gets hands raising and builds rapport because they know you are one too. Obviously adapt this to your audience! Take people on an emotional journey during your presentation by telling stories. People learn and remember more through story and they also remember how you made them feel. Having a variety of stories, data, diagrams and models helps to change pace and keep your audience’s interest. It can also offer a chance for your audience to engage emotionally with your topic.

Do your last minute prep

The last of the tips for public speakers is the few bits of on-the-day prep that will ensure you’re ready and raring to go. In case you’re running short on time, map out where you’ll be at specific points in your presentation and make a note of the things that could be left out if things get delayed. Arrive early and double check the equipment you’ll be using. Is there a mic? Where’s the clicker to move the slides along? Do a sound check (especially if you have video content), Where will you stand – or depending on your style – where will you pace about? Is the laptop fully charged? Is your calendar auto reminder turned off?  Think about what you are going to wear – both in practical terms, for example, is there a place to put the battery pack for the microphone and does it fit you properly?  If you are distracted because you’re uncomfortable in what you’re wearing it will impact on you delivering your best performance. And finally make sure that what you’re wearing makes you feel good, feel confident and ready to take on the world.

If you found this blog useful you might also like the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

Do you Dare to Lead?

Since I picked up this book, Brene Brown has started popping up everywhere and I am not ashamed to say I am a bit of a convert to her ideas – and I am not alone. Her Ted talk on vulnerability has been seen by over 40 million people. In her recent Netflix series about courage she jokes about intimidating people as she introduces herself as an ‘expert in shame.’

Brene is research professor at Houston University, where she and her team do lots of research about courage, shame, vulnerability and empathy. Her team works with top organisations helping them develop their leadership teams and improve organisational culture. These universal themes of courage, shame and vulnerability permeate all our lives, affecting how we feel, live and love. You can apply them to different parts of your life too from love to children.

She has written a number of bestsellers around these topics such as ‘Rising Strong’ and ‘Daring Greatly’. This new book, the one chosen for the Lucidity Book Club, ‘Dare to Lead’ was the result of feedback from different leaders who said they wanted a workbook, something that pulled all the different tools from her other books together to help them be better leaders.

One thing that stuck with me from the intro was how she explained that most people think of courage as an inherent trait. But she says it is not – fear is not a barrier to bravery, people in fear do brave things a lot, it’s more about how we respond to fear. This book is a toolkit to help you learn to get better at getting braver.

So what did the book group think?

This is not a quick read. During the book group, we talked about how dense the book is. It is packed with insight but it’s definitely the kind of book you are going to need to go back through a few times. It covers a lot of ground, in a lot of detail.

There are lots of moment in the book when you recognise something of yourself, your styles or someone else at work. In the first section called rumbling with vulnerability there’s a section on empathy misses and I know a few of us cringed at the realisation we had had massive empathy fails.

In the chapter about rumbling with vulnerability: she talks about the importance of learning how to rumble – this is about having difficult conversations. The book used unfamiliar terms. The language was a bit of a barrier for some, and I admit I had to go over things a few times to make sure I was really getting it.

Someone described it as very Americanised. They said they had flashbacks to Westside Story every time they read the word rumble. It nearly had them putting the book down permanently. The way they got around it was by changing the word rumble to ‘having an honest and open conversation’. You have to be committed to the book to get past this. It would definitely be a flag for any skeptics with reservations about casting aside their vulnerabilities at work and its value.

There was a bit of a discussion about how confident you would feel taking this into work and doing it with your team using the same language. We all agreed, there were things here and there that could make a difference straight away but getting buy-in from everyone would be tricky – unless it was led from the top.

It’s worth mentioning the workbook on her website that accompanies the book. It has all the personal and team exercises and the website has lots more information. There is a glossary too which really helped me while I was getting to grips with the new terms.

One of the other sections we talked about was the section on values. Brene spends a fair bit of time making sure you understand why your values and ‘leaning’ into them is important if you want to be a daring leader. Whittling down honestly to your two main values is not an easy task though. Some of the book group had managed it. If I am honest, I am still working on mine!

Amour is another of Brene term which she dedicates a whole section too. This is what we use to protect ourselves at work, and in our lives, it could be something like hiding behind cynicism or using your power over people to get what you want. The book talks a lot about how being curious and asking questions can help us understand our own armour. The book had helped one person recognise a lot of the different types of amour being lugged around her office. It also got her wondering why and thinking about how this is affecting the organisation she works for.

At the end, everyone gave one take away from the book. We had one person who was definitely going to have that difficult conversation with their CEO. Someone who would be embracing courage and speaking up, rather than letting it brew into something else. Another, working on doing empathy better, much more consciously. Someone else will be working on those difficult conversations and getting braver at saying no to clients and pushing back.

I had so much to take away from this book but the section which resonated with me the most was in the final section Rising Up. This focuses on our own resilience and how we can build it up. In it, she describes us as story making machines – wherein the absence of facts we fill it with our own story – most likely negative.

My husband has just got a senior leadership role and with that a new team, so we spent most of the last month passing the book back and forth, as I ooo’ed and ahh’ed as I came across things that I thought could help him and me.

Wanting more, I have been scouring her website. I took advantage of the free audio chapter on her website for her book Rising Up – which looks at how we can raise courageous children, and in case I was in any doubt, it confirmed I am definitely hooked on Brene.

Guest blog by Sarah Younger, Communications and Development Officer at St Michael’s Fellowship and a member of Lucidity’s Business Book Club.

Interested in joining our book club? Take a look at the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.