It’s one of the most common workplace complaints—feeling stuck at work. Do you start and end the day thinking about how your career doesn’t seem to be going anywhere? Maybe it feels like everyone else is getting promoted—except you. Yet you are continually told what a great job you’re doing, and the work seems to keep piling up! Then you start thinking things like:
“Where am I going to go?”
“I’ve been here so long I might as well stick it out.”
Or “It could be worse.”
Imagine being in the middle of a conversation with a dear friend, and when the topic of your marriage comes up, you say, “Well, it could be worse.” It sounds crazy, right? But we’re often willing to make those kinds of compromises in our professional lives without thinking twice.
Fortunately, the tide is turning. A recent study by Oracle found that following the pandemic, most workers feel differently about what defines their success. Workers are letting employers know that flexibility and skill development are now an essential part of their employment. The survey of more than 14,600 employees across 13 countries found that while people feel stuck at work, they are ready to regain control of their futures.
So, if that sounds like you and you’re ready to get out of your professional rut, these strategies will get you started.
Identify the source of the ‘stuckness’
The first step is to understand where these feelings are coming from. Do you feel stuck at work because your manager won’t allow you to advance? Is the corporate culture incompatible with your own values? Are you overworked and undervalued? Take a step back to analyze where these feelings are coming from and what you want to be different. Be specific. One way to do this is to create a vision board or just write down in detail what you’d like your career to look like. Another valuable exercise is to list your top ten values and then narrow them down to your top five. At that point, you can determine whether your values are compatible with your company’s.
Shift your perspective
Sometimes success comes when you move beyond focusing on what’s not working. By changing your thinking, you could end up changing your outcomes. Author and clinical psychologist Beth Kurland, Ph.D., offers this four-step practice: notice, accept, inquire and shift.
- Notice: Notice what you are telling yourself about the situation. How are you interpreting it, and is what you are thinking accurate?
- Accept: Accept your initial feelings about the situation. Acknowledge what you are feeling and accept the emotions that are present.
- Inquire: Inquire whether there might be alternative ways of looking at the situation.
- Shift: Shift where you focus your attention and notice what happens in your body and mind.
Change your habits
They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. When you feel stuck at work, try changing your routine. Sometimes feeling stuck is a sign of boredom. Look for ways to add unique experiences to your day. For example, expand your network, pursue a new hobby or head outdoors. Research shows that being in nature can lower stress, increase mental well-being and enhance creativity. Even small behavioral changes can result in impactful results over time.
Play devil’s advocate
Let’s say you feel stuck at work because you’re not getting promoted. Then envision yourself sliding into your manager’s spot. Would that truly make you happy, or are you just suffering from career comparison syndrome? Comparing yourself to colleagues can leave you feeling frustrated and anxious. But it doesn’t help in creating the life you want. Instead, it just takes away valuable time and energy that you could have spent on building a successful career. The real question to ask yourself is, “what would make me happy?” Then you can develop a plan to get there.
When you feel stuck at work, identifying specific career goals can motivate you and give you a sense of purpose. Even if it seems out of your reach, it’s better to have a stretch goal than no goal at all. It’s a lot easier to stay stuck and blame it on our boss, the economy, or that we’re doing it all for our kids. Instead, ask yourself what you want to achieve in the next six months or a year. If that seems too far out, start small, like in the next month or two.
All these steps are useless if you don’t actually do something about your situation. Remember, you are in the driver’s seat. Once you identify a goal, start taking action in small ways. For example, maybe you want to gain a new skill. Begin researching classes or certification courses. Talk to your boss about attending a relevant seminar or conference. Or network with people who have that expertise and find out how they became competent in that area.
There is no magic bullet or secret formula to getting unstuck. But if you put yourself at the top of your to-do list every single day, the rest will fall into place.