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Stuck in a Career Rut

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

No amount of security is worth the suffering of living a mediocre life chained to a routine that has killed your dreams... Maya Mendoza

I have been stuck at my level for over 10 years, what is the organisation planning to do for people like me. I am qualified for more senior roles but have not been selected for any of them and it is very demotivating.’ I get this or similar questions a lot in staff forums and individual sessions.

This challenge is common to many people seeking career growth. They feel stuck in a job which had started as an entry point to a career journey that was supposed to progress into more senior roles. At least in their thinking, that was what was supposed to happen.

The inherent trap in this outlook, however, is that it can set you up for a passive role in your own career – expecting things to happen to you, instead of you actively shaping the career you want to see. Of course, depending on the specific circumstances, one may have proactively sought to grow – doing what they feel sets them up for success; but still failed. So, what can you do when you feel stuck?

Start with owning your career growth. Take personal responsibility for shaping the next steps. Do not wait for something “out there” to happen to you but pursue an intentional introspective process to examine what you really want and why you are stuck. Consider the possibility that you could leave and find another job outside of your organisation. Why haven’t you pursued this? What are the reasons you have chosen to stay? How important are they to you? Are you afraid of going out into the ‘unknown’? Why? What is your deepest fear? Are you under pressure to progress? Is that pressure internal or external? This process will enable your ownership of the process and provide the clarity you need to take your next steps.

It is also important to know and understand your context. For example, does your organisation have robust career management processes or not? Can you seek support to identify opportunities and take deliberate measures towards your career targets? What is the level of churn? In cases where strong career mechanisms are absent, it leaves very limited avenues for support. Also, low churn organisation tend to have less frequent opportunities for growth as people tend to stay long in their jobs. It is easier to move in your career within the same organisation if people often leave; as this creates the ‘space’ for other people to get into those roles. There may be more questions you need to ask relevant to your environment. Do that analysis – it will provide more clarity on the options available to you.

You can also jump start your career with deliberate actions that set you apart. Many people make the mistake of focusing on what is lacking, what other people are not doing for them or should do for them. Distinguish your workstyle by shifting your attention from what you perceive as lacking to other issues. For example, maintain an open attitude to feedback. Ask your supervisor, (or even colleagues) what you are doing well or where you can improve. Take their feedback seriously and work on those areas. Remember they may initially feel uncomfortable with this conversation. Give it time and pay attention to specific situations that allow you to give your very best to your supervisor and colleagues.

Supplement this by networking with people within and outside your department; but don’t be too pushy. Telling everybody about how you are looking for a promotion every time you talk to them may paint you as shallow and opportunistic. Give time for these relationships to grow and then share your plans, seek their advice and support after you have built trust and respect with them. These relationships will work for you even outside of the ‘promotion’ arena. Many times, managers seek out talent without being pushed. Every manager wants good people on their team so by being the ideal team member, you may be ‘scouted’ in the long run.

Demonstrating that you are an ideal team member may also set you up for possible promotion with your current manager. In addition to seeking feedback, move your focus of conversations with your Manager from asking for a promotion to helping solve problems, volunteering to lead projects, taking on additional work beyond your primary responsibilities and exceeding expectations when you deliver.

Ultimately, your career move may be your decision to stay or leave the organisation. If you have done a thorough job of examining the underlying issues for your feeling stuck, you will be in a better position to act. If you feel you have done everything you can to demonstrate your suitability for promotion and are still being passed over; then you may need to take the big leap and leave. In the meantime, you can still look for other opportunities outside while maintaining exceptional standards in your current job. You can make the stay more positive by focusing on the good things in your current job or organisation. It may be that it is the job content that is no longer exciting, but your salary or benefits are very competitive. It would do you good to constantly remind yourself of that and be grateful for it. You would be surprised how a change in perspective can reenergize you, even when you are feeling stuck. So, take responsibility, give your very best, remain positive, be grateful and decide what you want to do.

Always rooting for you …

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