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.

Do you feel stuck in your career?
Have you been in the same role for ages?
Do you know that you could be happier and feel more fulfilled with your professional life
… and yet you feel stuck?

You can stop feeling stuck in your career. Break free, get unstuck and get the work life you want by applying the tips in this article.

Since I am having so many discussions with people in my network about career changes, I’ve decided to dedicate a full hour helping you to work through ways to get unstuck and also leave you with concrete action steps to move you forward.

Join me on Tuesday 6 October at 12.30pm (UK time) from my free webinar Getting unstuck in your career.

You’ll be in good hands because my passion is helping people get unstuck, unlock their creativity and get the important work done. At the end of the session you’ll have thought about why you’re stuck, worked through some ways to get unstuck and have some actions to move you forward.
Free webinar  getting unstuck

Remember, no matter how stuck you feel, it’s never too late to make a change, get unstuck and land the career that you truly want. Come and join me on this free webinar. I can help you make the change, get unstuck and have the work life that you truly want and deserve. Join us here.

From sticklebacks to midwifery – my innovation story

Genevieve and her sister Pat - an innovation story

An innovation story by Genevieve M Hibbs. 

When and why did I start to innovate?  That is a good question. My late older sister, Pat, undoubtedly had something to do with it.

Pat, who had physical challenges that throughout her life she intelligently and persistently fought to overcome, was five years older than me.  We lived in the vicarage of a feudal village in Yorkshire. The population of the village was a hundred people, though more came and went as the government took over the Grange as a rehabilitation centre for the RAF.

When Pat was at home, she used her superior knowledge of the natural world to manage the livestock and natural resources of the purpose designed, vicarage property and its rural environment.  She regularly teased and challenged me with her knowledge and ideas.

We explored all the local ponds using fine kitchen sieves to discover microscopic and larger creatures.  We collected daphne and other microscopic creatures to feed the sticklebacks and ever-hungry dragonfly larvae that we kept in battery tanks.

We took our goats and ponies out to local green roadside verges where we tethered them to stakes to feed on the grass and herbs.  Eventually, Pat hired a field to which we could ride using just halters (no saddle!). We would leave the ponies there while we went to senior school for the day.

After leaving school I worked unsuccessfully in a dress shop.  That involved cycling twelve miles both ways each day. Then, I worked at a Christian holiday conference centre for a year.  Now as I look back, I can see that my approach to work has always involved innovation.

My first job there, was cleaning bedrooms.  I worked out that if I did the basic work in each room every day and concentrated on getting some part of one or two rooms really clean, over time, the whole area became quicker to clean.  I did not discuss my methods.

Junior staff all helped with washing up.  The boys were very competitive about their speed.  I did not comment on speed, but worked to be able to win, especially to exceed my own previous performance.

My second job was in the kitchen, preparing vegetables in the morning and washing up the cooking pots and utensils in the afternoon.  I worked out that I could have control over the time spent in the cold vegetable room. The speed of peeling a sack or more of potatoes using the manual rotating potato peeler could be manipulated by amount of water, time in the machine, and the state of the potatoes.  How much would go to waste and how much time would one need to spend taking out ‘eyes’. This experience provided a case-study within my later PhD in cybernetics, “Information handling: concepts which emerged in practical situations and are analysed cybernetically.”

At the holiday conference centre, I attended their six-month Bible school and then went to West London to start my general nurse training.

When we were three months into our training, the matron interviewed us.  Matron told me that I was progressing quite well but was slow.

I didn’t comment to her, but did reflect that being slow was OK, because what I was trying to thoroughly understand what I was doing.  When I had understood, I would be faster than any of the other nurses. Previous competitive situations, especially those against myself had shown that was a realistic expectation.

This approach really paid off, when I was doing midwifery training.  I came on night-duty for my first 12-hour shift on a ward with mothers and their new babies, I was faced with a ward full of yelling new-borns and their exhausted and exasperated mothers.  Over the course of the first night I managed to get the babies fed so that they and their mothers could sleep. The mothers then had a much better chance of continuing to breast feed.

‘Innovation’ did not become part of my vocabulary until very recently, but my learning strategy inevitably led to smaller and larger innovations in many different contexts.  Curiosity and attention to the effects of details were essential.

Genevieve M Hibbs former: nurse (general and occupational health), midwife, Christian missionary, lecturer, elected councillor and mayor.

Image credit: Genevieve M Hibbs. Genevieve with her sister Pat.