Feeling hopeless about your current job?
Do you feel hopelessly stuck in your career?
Here's how to get free
Do you dislike your job enough to be miserable
but not enough to leave? Do you endlessly
think about other options, only to discount
them and end up staying right where you are?
If so, you may be stuck in career paralysis. It's
not a nice place to be; I know because I spent
at least seven years there. Rather than face the
pain, I tried to run from it. I lived for holidays
and got drunk at the weekends to help me
forget the dread of Mondays.
While there were plenty of practical barriers to
change, it was the psychological and emotional
barriers which really kept me stuck. Here are
five steps to help if you feel similarly:
(1) Recognise that you are not a type
Careers advice often rests on the idea that you
are a "type" of person who can be matched to
the "ideal" job. But you are not; you're a
complex human being with multiple, often
competing, priorities and values.
Instead, think in terms of your decision
criteria. This involves clarifying the most
important things to you in an ideal future
career, including what you need to earn, skills
you want to develop, how much risk you can
take and what kind of values you stand for. It's
fine if your criteria conflict; the aim is simply
to be very clear on what really matters to you.
(2) Identify all your options before you
When thinking about new careers, most of us
think about the same old options. But the only
way we can decide which direction is best is by
understanding all the possible options. Often
what is missing is some consideration of
alternative careers – those not advertised or
which are created from scratch.
To do this we need to allow ourselves some
creative freedom. Generate as many options as
possible, listing everything which holds some
appeal. Then get out there: go to talks, read,
explore and follow interesting leads. If
something appeals, write it down. Your mind
will immediately want to analyse, but try to
resist for now.
(3) Evaluate your options
Instead of asking which jobs you could do,
evaluate your options using your criteria. Score
every option against each of your criteria. This
may take time, but the results are usually
fascinating. Which options can you get rid of?
Which options have come top? For the options
you retain, do some more research and then
re-score, gradually narrowing your options
down to a handful.
(4) Get into action
In career paralysis, people tend to get
"headstuck" – they are stuck inside their minds
rather than stuck in reality. Psychologists have
a phrase for this: cognitive fusion. Being
"fused" with our thoughts means we mistake
thinking for experience.
To get unstuck, we must get out of our minds
and into our life. This means taking some
considered risks, such as a radical sabbatical or
crafting experiments. But the key is to start
replacing thoughts about a change with the
experience of change. It is action that changes
thinking, not the other way around.
(5) Your mind is not your enemy
But it is not your friend either. Even when you
get into action, your mind will try to derail the
process: "You haven't thought this through,
there must be a better option."
It's easy to fuse with these thoughts and defer
action. But remember that your mind's
primary job is to keep you safe; it will not want
to take risks.
It's tempting to wait to feel certain about a new
direction, but this can be a trap. Rather than
trying to change your thoughts, or waiting to
feel 100% motivated, see if you can focus on
taking action even in the presence of doubts
and uncertainty. That's really the key to getting
unstuck. If you can move towards your values
while accepting your doubts and fears, not only
will you escape career paralysis but you will
never be headstuck again.