Career and Jobs

How To Recognize When You’re In A Career Rut—And 7 Ways To Break Free

We’re nearly halfway through 2022: are you where you’d thought you’d be, professionally speaking?

It’s one thing to be just shy of your goals but another to feel you’ve hit a professional plateau.

A few hints that you might be in the latter camp:

  • You’re not motivated the way you once were
  • You’re frustrated because you don’t have an answer or resource that might help you progress
  • You’re spinning your wheels and lack a clear direction
  • You suspect something’s amiss, but you’re scared of what’s next, so you brush it off or procrastinate on taking action

If any of these red flags ring true, you’re probably in a career rut.

Though it seems obvious, many people don’t realize they’re stuck career-wise. They ignore their discontent by busying themselves being busy or use their fear as a way to avoid confronting their reality. But the first step in solving a problem is identifying it as a problem. And once you do, you can take steps to overcome it.

Here are seven ways to break free from a career rut:

1. Change your mindset.

When you’re feeling stuck, it’s tempting to wallow in your misery. But staying in a negative headspace won’t help you move forward. Instead, shift your mindset to one of positivity and possibility. Remove the shackles of what is to consider what could be. Get curious. Allow yourself to envision what the career of your future unstuck self might look like, even if it varies from your current professional scenario.

2. Help others.

One of the best ways to deal with feeling stuck is getting out of your head and helping someone else. Proactively offer assistance to those struggling by putting yourself in their shoes. It’s amazing the shift that occurs when you move from a selfish position to one of service. When you help someone solve a problem, you feel better, which changes your mindset and paves the way for more good.

3. Practice gratitude.

Another way to get out of your head is to practice gratitude. For example, write a thank you letter to someone who’s impacted your life or make a list of things you are grateful for. This becomes a virtuous cycle for positivity and good and a win-win to help get you back on track.

4. Get clarity.

Getting out of a career rut requires clarity and begins with one question: “What do I want?”

Though simple, that question isn’t easy for most to answer. Some wrestle with insecurities and fears about coming to grips with their true desires; others have never pushed the pause button on their busy lives to give themselves space to do so. If you’re in the middle of a career rut, now is the time to answer that question honestly—even if the answer is different from what you thought it might (or should) be.

5. Ask for help—and be open to receiving it.

Isolating yourself when you’re feeling stuck will only make you worse. Instead, reach out to ask for help once you know what you want. A trusted friend or mentor can also offer words of encouragement in a supportive and non-judgmental voice. Chances are, they’ve been there before and can help you find your way out.

But the other side of asking for help is opening your mind to be in a position to receive it. Do your best to listen to the advice given, understanding that it might include an unfamiliar path. Rather than resist it, remain flexible and adaptable to up your odds of moving past your current plateau.

6. Incorporate self-care.

Beating yourself up or ignoring your needs is counterproductive to your progress. Research shows that self-care drives success, so get into the habit of treating yourself the supportive way you would a treasured friend or colleague. This means being kind and caring toward yourself rather than harshly self-critical.

And make sure to listen to your body—are you having frequent headaches? Is your energy low? It’s probably time to replenish yourself. Nourish your body with proper rest, relaxation, nutrition, and movement. Enrich your mind with educational and uplifting podcasts, books, TED talks, articles, and videos. Recharge your spirit through meditation, prayer, or reflection, spend time in nature, and visit with friends and loved ones.

7. Get out of your comfort zone.

Stagnation thrives in the comfort zone; it’s where career ruts are born. If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done. Getting unstuck is about pushing yourself to take risks and reaping the rewards. At work, showcase your expertise by being proactive in asking for challenging assignments, offering to lead a new business pitch, or volunteering to train new hires. Outside the office, bolster your professional development by taking ongoing educational classes, joining industry boards and committees, and connecting with those who inspire you professionally.

The key to breaking free from a career rut is taking action because action begets more action. By following these seven tips, you’ll get unstuck in no time.

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