You went to college, got a degree and now have that job you’ve always dreamed about. You work in your industry of choice, you put on fancy work outfits you always envisioned for yourself (for me it was an Audrey Hepburn vibe) and you have a fun group of coworkers to share lunch with.
So why do you feel hollow, empty and unfulfilled?
This wasn’t something you had prepared for, and there certainly wasn’t a course in college about how to overcome this feeling. The unfortunate news is, you are in a career rut. The good news is that although it may feel impossible to get out of…you can fix it.
Before you assume you need an entirely different career path, seek out alternate ways to get yourself unstuck. From coaching many clients around the world, I have found that the majority of people are only a few millimeters off course, and simply need a slight, educated career brain to help redirect them back onto course.
If you feel stuck, one of the best ways to get out of a rut is to build up your professional network and support system. Here are three ways to improve your community and pull yourself out of this hole:
1. Seek inspiration.
When work, and life, begins to feel flat, the first thing you can do is seek out inspiration. This starts with asking yourself, where can I go, or what can I do in my life right now to feel the energy of inspiration? What is that thing for you? Is it dancing? Cooking classes? Nights out with friends? A jog on the beach? When you get inspired, it leaks everywhere else, channels creativity and demands more of you.
Inspiration is all around you, and it’s simply a matter of finding it, or choosing to see it.
As an author, I find immense inspiration in reading books, and have a library of books centered around career development whenever I need some motivation. Order a book to read at night or get it on audible to listen to while you drive on your commute into the office. This way you are starting and ending each day with a hit of inspiration.
Another way to seek inspiration is through other people. Notice that some relationships expand the aperture through which you see the world, and others will not. Sign up for a masterclass by your favorite coach or attend a conference in your industry. Begin to seek out people in your field that are seeking expansion. It’s those types that will likely inspire you to make the change you yearn for. If your finances or timing don’t allow for a big event, you can always hop online and use LinkedIn as a resource to seek out and connect directly to someone who sparks inspiration.
Do a quick search with keywords for your industry and once you find a profile of someone you find inspiring, send them a message to connect over the phone or in person. What’s key here is to find their email address, versus messaging them on LinkedIn. You don’t want your outreach to get lost in their LinkedIn noise!
When you meet, ask them all about their story and background. Studies reveal that when people talk about themselves, it actually activates the same part of the brain that lights up when eating great food, taking drugs or even having sex. Self-disclosure creates a neurological buzz that is deeply gratifying. Who knows what opportunities they may send your way as a result.
During this search for inspiration, ask yourself, what is it about their qualities, background or career that you wish you had more of in yourself? When you turn to others and evaluate their career you will learn a great deal about what your own wants and dreams are.
2. Meet with your career sponsor.
You might be reading this and think, what is a sponsor? A sponsor is a champion and advocate for your career who works within your organization. This would be the person that puts your name up for promotions or endorses you for a new career role.
This might sound similar to a mentor, however the two serve very different purposes. A mentor is someone that will offer you advice and who has been where you are, or is at least a few steps ahead of where you’re at in your career. Mentors expect little in return, while sponsors put themselves on the line to support you at work. They are investing in you to become a leader or one of their own proteges.
The great thing about having a sponsor when you are in a rut is that they will provide guidance and be willing to help you seek out new opportunities if desired;they will help you take action when the time comes.
Ask for their feedback on what you can do to make improvements in your current role, or what opportunities they see within the company that you may be a good fit for. Use this conversation as feedback to set goals for yourself at work, because people who set goals are more successful, and science shows that taking steps towards accomplishing something makes you more happy.
3. Network with people you don’t know.
This rut might have put you in a head space where you just want to go home from work, throw on sweatpants and be all alone. Sometimes solitude is great; other times, not so much. When you talk with other people, your brain will actually function better and enable you to see more clearly.
This also means you need to expand your time beyond those five best friends you have and reconsider the repeated choice to attend the same old workplace happy hours. Get out and meet new people in different environments. Their newness comes with a dopamine hit for you, of new ideas, new lifestyles and new possibilities. Growth can come from having conversations with different people beyond your bubble. This is the best way to catalyze your career and get unstuck. Plus, you are more likely to remember events or experiences better when they take place in a new or different environment. Your memory will improve and so will your ability to make new connections. Each connection can be a doorway into a new mindset at work or a new career path.
If this career rut does steer you towards a new job or career altogether, don’t worry, you are not alone. Studies reveal that the average 35-year-old will have changed jobs up to 10 times before age 42, and expects to change careers altogether 6 to 8 times before retirement.
The next time you fall into a career rut, don’t forget the only thing that is truly stuck is your thought patterns. You do have the power and control to make the changes needed to get yourself out of it.
You’re often just a conversation away from clarity.