Feeling lost in your career? How to get unstuck and have the work life that you want

It’s a weird time right now. We’re all riding the corona coaster as best we can. While some have been on and off furlough, others have been keeping the organisation ticking over and many have been getting through home schooling and taking one day at a time. We’re all facing uncertainty. Many of us are facing restructure, redundancy or being asked by our employers, yet again, to do more with less.

I’m having a lot of conversations about career opportunities and how the situation is actually helping people get unstuck right now though. Restructure, redundancies and realising we can live differently, with less, has provided an opportunity for many people to rethink, regroup and reset. Many people who were feeling dissatisfied with their career before Covid-19 hit have taken the opportunity to think carefully about what they want their working life to look like in the future. They are now working on new strategies to get themselves unstuck and get the work life they want.

Over the years I’ve helped hundreds of people who’ve told me they feel stuck in their career to get unstuck. People have told me that something had to change for them to break free and be happy, but they lacked the confidence to take that step.

Covid-19 has forced rapid change. Work has changed and jobs have changed. And you don’t need to be stuck in your career. This is an opportunity to rethink what you really want from your work life and go and get it. Go on, get yourself unstuck.

Read on to find out how you can stop feeling stuck in your career, and have the confidence to break free, get unstuck and get the work life you want.

Here are my top ten tips for getting unstuck and getting the work life you want.

1. Make time for you

If you’re feeling stuck, frustrated, or unhappy with 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 to take to stop feeling stuck and start getting ahead. Book some time into your day 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, it signals it’s important (to you and your colleagues) and also stops others spotting a gap in your day 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. I asked for advice, unpicked what their problems were, and looked for opportunities for collaboration and connections.

It paid off. 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 and focus on how you can add value to other. That’s where your next career opportunity is most likely to come from.

3. Surround yourself with 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’re wanting 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.

4. Work on your personal brand

Jeff Bezos defines a 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. That can actually keep you feeling stuck in your career. It’s really 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. Get unstuck and be accountable

Achieve your career goals faster, and 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 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 organisation’s

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 live a better life? Do you feel strongly about your company’s ethics and social responsibility? Does the company culture allow 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 in your career 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. Many of us have been forced out of our comfort zones right now, perhaps we’ve been on and off furlough, been through restructure or redundancy.

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

This is true even if the devil we know is a 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.’ Here they challenge and support each other to build their confidence by regularly leaving their comfort zones.

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. Failure is simply the natural path to success.

The 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 others, or even being fired for failure.

However, if you’re going to stop feeling stuck in your career, you must be open to learning from failure.

Reframe failure by viewing everything as an experiment. You can’t have a failed experiment, you just learn whether something works 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.

10. Get unstuck – ask for help

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

No one person can be expected to have all the answers. That’s why we need a group of people that we can go to for help to get unstuck, 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 group. You can do that with a tool called a ‘Me Map’:

  • Write down all the things that you might need support with, like 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.

 

When was the last time you took some time to reflect on your work life and identified the right opportunities to pursue?

Are you ready to fully step into your greatness and get that dream leadership role?
Are you asking yourself how you can get support and what you should be prioritising?

It’s hard, working alone to bring your big dreams into focus, prioritise the steps that will get you there fastest, and stay on track amid distractions.

You are not alone.  Take this as your call to get clear on your next career steps.

Join Juliet Corbett and me, for a 90-minute webinar where we’ll show you our tried and tested process to identify your strengths so that you can harness the accelerators already driving you and pinpoint your sticking points holding your career back.

Accelerate your career webinar with Lucy Gower and Juliet Corbett

We’ll also give you the tools to take action straight away and make significant progress in your career.

The webinar is for you if…

  • You know what you want your work-life to look like, but you’re not sure how to get there
  • You’re facing challenges that are getting in your way of creating what you want
  • Dips in confidence are getting in the way of you making progress
  • You’re ready to take action but you’re procrastinating about where to start.

We can’t wait to see you online on Thursday 22 April – 12 pm (UK time). Sign up today!

Is lockdown making your creativity nosedive?

Do you feel like your creativity has taken a nosedive in the last year? Are you struggling to focus or getting ‘brain fog?’ Do you struggle to find inspiration or motivation?

I was thinking about this. If you’ve nodded to the above, it’s no wonder really. And don’t give yourself a hard time about it. Here’s why.

For the majority of people, we’re in the flow with our creative thinking when we’re relaxed. For example, I’ve asked 1,000s of people to tell me where they do their best creative thinking. They answer that it’s when they’re relaxed and not thinking about work, when they’re walking the dog, running, driving or in the shower.  Whilst a deadline might help some people focus, the majority of people think more creatively when stress and anxiety are low and when they’re doing something non work related.

Now lets think about our stress and anxiety levels over the last year. Broadly speaking would it be fair to say that they have been heightened these last few pandemic months?

Many of us are feeling isolated, and at the same time finding it difficult to disconnect work time from home time. Many employees and managers are fighting feelings of presenteeism as they adjust to flexible working. Working flexibly doesn’t mean being available from 9-5 yet many people feel they should be at their desk and available that whole time which can cause a huge amount of stress.

In addition to this, human beings crave certainty. It’s a basic survival instinct. When we don’t feel safe (like when we’re under stress) it triggers a threat response and our bodies are flooded with cortisol and adrenaline and we get ready to fight, flight or freeze. Our blood thickens and moves away from our prefrontal cortex (where we do our thinking which explains brain fog) to our vital organs. This was helpful when survival looked like running away from or fighting a wild animal, but less helpful in today’s working environment. It’s also exhausting.

It’s no wonder that our creativity is impacted by living in a higher than ‘normal’ state of stress and anxiety.

Where do good ideas come from?

According to Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, creativity is making new connections by putting old ideas together in new ways. Therefore, to be creative, we must expand our portfolio of knowledge so we have more old ideas that we can put together when needed.

In order to have concepts to bring together we need a portfolio of resource, we need experiences, we need inspiration. Over the last year of lockdown and social distancing we’ve become increasingly more isolated more insular and as a result lacking new experiences and inspiration.

Consider the difference between working from home and working from an office. At home we get up we’re in the same space and we’ve got the same things around us.  We might doom scroll social media or watch TV or look at the news but the amount of new stimulus for our thinking is massively reduced than if we were leaving the building on a regular basis.

Remember back to the days of commuting. You leave your home and walk down the street, consciously and subconsciously you are taking in information.  You notice a new shop window display, read the headlines on the newspaper stand, notice somebody in a colourful hat that reminds you of the time you played ‘Guess Who?’. Your brain is gathering material to turn into connections for creativity.

It’s not just what you see either, you’re experiencing sensory overload, different smells, sounds and textures. Even by the time you arrive at work the amount of stimulus that you’ve opened your brain to is way more than perhaps the stimulus that some of us have had in the last year of working at home. If ideas are connections put together in different ways and the premise is that we need to have a portfolio of ideas and connections to go to for our creative thinking the pandemic has significantly inhibited our creative thinking portfolio.

How to give your creativity a boost

If stress and lack of variety are having an impact on your creativity then test out my tips below.

  • Pay more attention to and be more deliberate about lowering your stress levels. Look after yourself, eat healthily, get exercise and take regular breaks. When you are stressed or anxious it’s very difficult to think creatively.
  • Start to notice. For example, go for a walk and focus on noticing. I’m a big fan of the fake commute so when you’re going for your walk round the block notice your surroundings. Look for details. Are there plants growing out of cracks in the pavement, what is distinctive about the buildings you pass, or the cars that are parked on the street?
  • Decide to be curious. Play and experiment. Take the course that interests you, learn the instrument you’ve always wanted to play, read the book you never have time for. Can you ask more questions and set yourself a challenge to learn one new thing every day?
  • Talk to other people. Replace the water cooler chat where ideas are exchanged that’s missing when we work from home. Allocate time at the beginning and end of phone calls or Zoom chats for those random conversations about anything.  (That’s one of the reasons we organise random connections over at the Lucidity Network)

If you feel your creativity has taken a nosedive then come and join us over at the Lucidity Network. With regular training topics, group coaching and random connections it’s the place to get your creative mojo back.

Testimonial for the Lucidity Network

Thank you to Kate Sanders-Wilde and Tammy Palmer for your chat that inspired this blog.

Are you human at work – or do you leave your best bits at the door?

Being human seems like something that shouldn’t even be considered as something to work on. Surely it should just be a way of being that comes naturally?

Yet, so many of us feel that we need to be ‘professional’ at work to fit in or impress and as a result we leave emotions, empathy, vulnerability, self-awareness, passion – all the things that make us wonderfully unique – at the door when we come into work.

In a working world of increased automation, our human skills are more valuable now than ever before. Customers, supporters, clients and colleagues want to be able to interact with humans who speak their language and with whom they can connect. They want to deal with real people who are empathetic, honest and transparent.

To be human at work simply means using the skills that we are born with as human beings, the skills that set us apart from technology. These skills include creativity, innovation, collaboration, communication, vulnerability and empathy.

There are noticeable symptoms of not being human and not bringing your whole self to work. We can feel disconnected. We don’t share our interests with others around us, even the colleagues we work closely with and talk to every day. We don’t speak up or ask questions, feeling that we should remain quiet. All of this means we go through our working lives and don’t ever feel fully known. This can lead to feeling disengaged and unmotivated.

This distinction is even more important when working remotely. On the one hand working remotely has us allowed to be more human. We’ve had Zoom calls with children, pets and partners making unexpected appearances, we’ve nosed into colleagues houses and perhaps know more about each other’s lives now than when we worked in an office. On the other hand, when we’re not able to meet in real life we have had to be more deliberate at connecting with people, remembering to ask others how they are, waiting for the answer that comes after the initial standard response of ‘fine’ and allowing time and space for the water cooler conversations that are about more than work projects and deadlines.

‘Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.’  Harold Whitman

When we’re ourselves at work, we feel understood and known by our colleagues, and as a result we experience a greater connection at work. We no longer have to segment our lives between ‘professional self’ and ‘real self’, going through our working day with that uncomfortable feeling of holding something back. By bringing our whole selves to work and encouraging our colleagues to do the same, we can genuinely play to our strengths, make a greater impact and be happier and more fulfilled in the process.

If any of the above has struck a chord, here’s my three tips for being more human at work.

  1. Be Curious

Being interested in others, asking them about their interests, passions and past times, is a great way to signal that it’s OK to share more than just work-related chat. Make a point to get to know the people you work with. Encourage them to talk about their interests, passions and how they’re feeling. Understand what makes them human. Take time to listen to what’s important to them, as well as to understand their quirks and their dreams.

  1. Give yourself permission

It sounds simple but give yourself (and your colleagues) permission to be yourself. Encourage individuality. Help others drop the robot mindset by providing opportunities to integrate more of what makes them human into everything they do every day. For example, find out what people love doing outside of work. What skills and experience do they bring to problem solving? If John is a scuba diver what can he teach us about teamwork from working in a buddy pair, like divers do underwater?

  1. Identify what good looks like

If we’re not clear about expectations, it can knock our confidence and when this happens our true selves can feel diminished. Be sure to set expectations clearly – for yourself and for others. The Gallup Q12 employee engagement research shows that their number one predictor of performance is when an employee rates their response to ‘I know what is expected of me at work’. Your question here is ‘What does good look like here?’ This will always lead to a valuable conversation, increased clarity that you’re all working to the same end goal, and allow you to play to your strengths.

For the full training pack on how to be more human including a webinar with Samantha Woolvern and further resources join the Lucidity Network.  A place for curious humans who want to bring their whole brilliant selves to work. There’s more information on how to join us here.

Why I don’t advise you to try…

A while ago I found an old diary that I used to keep as an early teenager, the one where I used to write down what was No1 on Top of the Pops together with things I wanted to buy when I had a job, as well as general thoughts. I think Adrian Mole might have inspired me. Although my diary was distinctly less interesting than Adrian Mole aged 13 and three quarters. I seemed to spend a lot of time with my friend Clare Chapman looking wistfully in Rumbelows window at clock radios.

My diary contained a list of New Year Resolutions. One of them was to ‘try and be nicer to my brother.’ Jon Gower I’m sorry. That was such a poor attempt and intention.

The bit I’m talking about here is this word ‘try’. 

Think about it. Your friend who is usually late says ‘I’ll try and be on time.’ You know they’ll probably be late. You agree to try to walk 10,000 steps a day. You’re probably going to fall short. You try to finish work on time and inevitably you end up working late again.

When I’m working with clients and I hear them say they’re going to ‘try’ my heart sinks. Because I know the likelihood of them achieving the thing is immediately lowered because of how they are talking about it and therefore approaching it.

The likelihood of them achieving the thing is lowered because of what happens when we say ‘try’. By saying you’re going to try you’re already sending your brain a signal that it’s OK not to achieve the thing. Your intention is to try – not to succeed.

Setting intention is important. There is a big difference between telling your brain you’re going to try and telling your brain you’re going to do it. Start with a positive intention. Tell yourself (and others – we’re more likely to succeed if we’re accountable to others) that you’re going to arrive on time, you’re going to walk 10,000 steps and that you’re going to leave work on time.

I don’t want to go all Yoda but he did have a point when he said ‘Do or do not, there is no try’.

When I challenge people on the use of ‘try’ one of the things that comes up is this notion of failure. That it’s OK to try and fail. I agree. It is. However you’re already signalling that a fail is likely by simply setting out to try. Commit to achieving. Then if you don’t manage it, then that’s OK. Changing anything is hard enough, so set yourself up with the best chance of succeeding by aiming to achieve not just to try.

If all you’re wanting to do is ‘try’, it’s probably worth a conversation with yourself about whether you really want to do the thing in the first place.

So the next time you set out to ‘try’. Have a word with yourself. Are you serious about achieving this thing? If no, then unpick that – why not? If yes, then set out to achieve it. If you set out with the intention to achieve it and then you don’t – then that’s OK.

At the Lucidity Network we ask people to set their intentions every single week. Because when we set an intention we’re more likely to have success. How we set our intention is important. Set out to achieve not just to try. If you’d like to join us and increase your chances of success – get in touch at lucy@lucidity.org.uk. 

Note* I am nice to my brother all the time.

Is it time to pay attention to your leaky bucket?

leaky bucket

When did the standard response of ‘fine thanks’ get replaced by ‘busy’ or ‘really busy’ or soooo busy’? If you don’t say that you’re busy do people think you’re lazy? Or boring? Or both?!

Everyone is busy. It’s like a rite of passage. But why? Hasn’t life got easier, more automated? What are we all so busy doing?

Are we busy photographing our lunch for social media? Or multi-tasking across multiple apps and web platforms to stay up to date with the latest news and trends? Or are we just expected to live at a faster pace – to achieve more?

Where are you on your ‘to-do’ list? Is it growing rather than shrinking? You are not alone. In the Lucidity Innovation Leadership Launchpad report, the top reasons that people didn’t do ‘innovation’, or any kind of strategic thinking was because they were too busy, too stressed and they just don’t have enough time.

Is stress catching?

If everyone you surround yourself with is in a state of stress it becomes a problem. It begins to self-perpetuate, we start to feel that we have to be busier or achieving more than our stressed-out friend’s family and colleagues.

Tim Ferris author of The 4-hour work week claims that, ‘you are the average of the 5 people you most associate with’. Think about who those 5 people are. If what Tim says is true, what does this mean for you stress levels?

The problem is, if we spend our time being too busy to look after ourselves our stress levels increase to such a level that we reach burn out. A physician called Hans Selye defined a three-stage reaction to stress called General Adaption Syndrome or GAS. In stage three he said:

The body’s resistance to the stress may gradually be reduced, or may collapse quickly. Generally, this means the immune system, and the body’s ability to resist disease, may be almost totally eliminated. Patients who experience long-term stress may succumb to heart attacks or severe infection due to their reduced immunity.’

This is serious stuff. To live healthy lives, we must learn to reduce our levels of stress and build our resilience. When we are striving to do our best, to deliver work for other people, to look after our family and to climb a career ladder we often forget that to do all these things we must be OK.

I heard a quote recently ‘You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm’

To get the results we want, it’s important to take a step back and recharge, otherwise we’re just like a leaky bucket, constantly on the go, our energy draining out through the holes. We need to do two things:

  1. Plug the holes – get the root cause of the stress
  2. Refill the bucket – replenish our energy.

Tips to help you keep your bucket full

  • Reframe your thinking – stop telling people you’re busy as your default. When you tell people you’re busy, it often makes you feel more stressed.
  • Take time every day to prioritise. It might just be 10 minutes, for example, at the end of the day to plan your priorities for the following day.
  • Take time every day to list and then reflect on what you’ve achieved that day. Write them down.
  • Get a mentor or a coach; a trusted person to help you focus on what’s important and make progress and help you to manage the feelings of being really busy.
  • Start to notice what triggers your stress, is it a person, a situation? What physically happens to you when you are experiencing stress? Feeling hot or cold, like you can’t think straight, agitated? Start to notice your stress triggers and your response.
  • Next time you feel your stress triggered, try and manage it, for example, go for a walk or phone a friend.
  • Say ‘no’ more often. If you are really busy and taking on something else is too much, then say so. You could offer a different solution, e.g. is there someone else that could help, or negotiate deadlines, could it be done next month when you have more time rather than immediately?
  • Make time to do the things that you love, whether that’s spending time with friends and family, the movies, theatre, reading a book or going for a run. All these things are your fuel – they refill your bucket. Don’t wait until your bucket is empty before you do them. Do them regularly and keep your bucket full.

Let me know how you get on.

If you’d like some help with making time to think, upping your productivity, and reclaiming your ‘me-time’ you might benefit from joining Charly White and me for our next one-day online training to build your resilience, confidence and creativity on 18 May – 9.30 am – 4 pm. Learn practical tips to lower your stress and build your resilience in order to think clearly, combined with practical tools to help you think creatively to solve problems.

At the end of this one-day training you’ll have:

  • A toolkit of techniques to help you notice your stress and anxiety triggers
  • Practical tips and tools to lower your feelings of stress and anxiety, and help the people around you with this too and avoid the fight, flight, freeze state.
  • A set of tools to help you think clearly and creatively to solve problems
  • Confidence to put your learning into action and keep momentum even on the tough days.
May 2021 Resilience and creativity workshop
https://lucidityinnovation.lpages.co/may-2021-resilience-creativity-workshop/

This resilience, confidence and creativity training webinar is for anyone who is responsible for leading and motivating a team, and who would like to build their resilience and creative problem-solving skills. Book now!