We can all experience something I call “career malaise”. While this may not qualify as full-blown career regret — a tired and worn path may leave you feeling listless and unmotivated. Economics may have forced you to remain in a less than challenging role, or you may simply be at a loss to identify your next steps. Whatever the reason — your feelings may signal that you have reached a crossroads. How might you look at your work differently to develop a new strategy and re-energize?
I’ve posed this question to some wise career experts. Hopefully, they help you identify what might be missing. Their advice is quite varied — and may provide the spark you need to make progress.
Here is what we discussed:
We May See Our Career Path as Inflexible
Sometimes we feel stuck or stalled because we see only one path — and that path likely travels in one direction — up the corporate ladder. If we can step back, (down or even sideways) to learn something new, interesting doors present themselves. Yes, it is challenging to be a “rookie” once again. However that same challenge can be the key to a more fulfilling future. Whitney Johnson, author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work offers this advice:
“Be willing to step back. Backward could be your slingshot.” – Whitney Johnson
We Miss Subtle Industry Shifts
In other cases, we fail to fully align with the current state of our own industry. As a result, we begin to lag behind skill-wise — and this limits our potential to find challenging work. Chris Yeh co-author of The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age is a strong proponent of managers/employees working together to create a role that not only benefits the organization — but also strengthens an employee’s career value. In other words, you are working on skills that may prevent another stall.
“If you can identify specific experiences/skills you need, try to get them added to your current tour of duty.”- Chris Yeh
Our Personal Brand Has Evolved
Exploring how we have changed over time — and aligning this with our communicated personal brand is also something to consider. Has what you truly desire to accomplish career-wise changed? Do others understand that shift? Cynthia Johnson, co-founder of Ipseity Inc, a firm that helps others develop their brand voice, encourages individuals to differentiate their personal brand in a way that is authentic — and learn to tell that story effectively. (See more of her tips here.) Utilizing digital avenues to craft and communicate your evolving personal brand, may also help align career goals with your path. She advises you take this in steps:
“It is important to include short-term and clearly defined goals while mapping out your brand strategy. If you try to do everything at once you will become overwhelmed and do nothing at all.” – Cynthia Johnson
We Are Unsure of What to Bring into Our Path
Aspects of work that may have thrilled you in the past — may no longer motivate you. What could you bring into your work that would “meet you” where you are? I love the advice of Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project) concerning work and those painful feelings of “envy”. She advises that feeling envy when considering another individual’s role, may signal elements that you should bring to your own path.
Here are a few additional ideas to consider:
- Shift your locus of control. When we shift control of our work lives to external forces (such as luck), we lose the opportunity to impact our own career. Bring that control back to home base and realize you can take action.
- Attempt to see yourself in a new way. Flexing your “envisioning” muscle isn’t easy. However. we all tend to ignore this mind-expanding step. We often focus on the “here and now” and never take time to consider where we want to go. What do you see there?
- Realize your history is still unfolding. We see ourselves as human beings that are done changing — when in fact our “history” does not end with today. Research on happiness by Daniel Gilbert points to this illusion. We are still evolving. Embrace that opportunity. If this isn’t possible at work, consider a side project (Here’s a course to explore that here.)
- Develop a personal learning “agenda”. As described in this HBR post, we have various reasons for being underemployed or under-challenged. However, it is critical to address the existing knowledge deficit strategically. Examine your skill and knowledge base carefully. Is there something you could do to position yourself to expand that base?
Stale career paths rarely grant our wishes.
However, you might grant a few of your own — by taking an honest look at what might be missing.
What advice would you offer? Share it in comments.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.