Just like the theme song for Friends, sometimes everyone feels like they're stuck in second gear. Feeling stalled in your professional life can be particularly frustrating, and you might not be aware of unexpected habits that are causing your career rut. If you've comfortably settled into your rut, feeling miserable and frustrated means you may have unintentionally stopped doing the things that make you feel good and can propel your career forward.
What's more, when you feel beaten down at work, your self esteem takes a hit, and you might start to doubt your abilities. This can lead to staying in a job you don't enjoy because you're afraid you're not good enough to get hired anywhere else. Or, perhaps you're so desperate to get out of your current situation that you're applying for every open job in your field without thinking it through, which means you risk trading one uninspiring role for another.
"It didn’t matter what jobs I applied to, all I knew is that I needed to get out! It took years for me to finally figure out that applying to jobs online didn’t work because I needed to understand myself better first," Anna Runyan wrote for the blog Classy Career Girl. "As soon as I did that, that dream job just starting popping up left and right. Eventually, I didn’t even have to apply for jobs because those jobs would just come to me."
This is basically the same concept that's explained in the book The Secret. Once you know what you want and put it out into the universe, you'll begin to attract it. If you're feeling stuck in a career rut, it's time to consider whether or not these unexpected habits are holding you back.
1. You've Stopped Networking
If you spend your work day watching the clock until it's time to go home, and you've stopped connecting with other people in your field IRL, you're limiting your opportunities. According to a survey posted by LinkedIn, 85 percent of jobs are filled via networking versus applying online.
If you'd rather stick a pen in your eye than go to a networking event, there's an app called Shapr that allows you to connect with people before you meet them in person. This basically eliminates all of the awkward glad handing that comes along with group networking events.
2. You're Following The Money Instead Of Your Dreams
With soaring rent costs and a mountain of student-loan debt it feels like you'll never pay off, it can be tempting to accept an uninspiring job that comes with a big paycheck over a lower-paying job that actually leaves you feeling fulfilled. The struggle is real. If you're the kind of person who needs to feel inspired in your career, money can provide you with security and $8 coffees, but it won't make you happy. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.
If this sounds like you, it's time to ask yourself some hard questions about what you really want out of your life and career. In Forbes, career coach Ashley Stahl also recommends consulting a career coach who can help you successfully navigate making a career change.
3. You're Committed To Your Mistakes
Sometimes people commit to mistakes because they spent a lot of time making them. However, because every experience teaches you something, nothing is ever really a mistake, and resigning yourself to your rut because you're too stubborn to make a change will only make you more miserable. While it might seem daunting to make a change, I interviewed three women for Bustle last year who changed careers in their 20s and 30s because they realized they had fallen into classic career ruts.
One person even got a master's degree in a field she later abandoned after less than a year on the job. Even though making a career pivot was a challenge, they all succeeded, and they're all much happier now that they're doing what they love. While fear of failure is real, don't let it take over. "Life is too short to live in in fear," corporate sales specialist turned Pilates instructor Jen McNeely previously told Bustle. "If you fail, you’ll learn something for the next time, but what if you don’t fail?"
4. You're Engaging In Self Sabotage
Content Marketing Manager Ted Karczewski wrote for Fast Company that some of the best advice he ever received was to examine himself. "A friend of mine once told me, 'Before you blame others, first look within to uncover self-doubt.'" If you're not moving forward because you feel like you're not good enough, you're actually getting in your own way.
"In my experience, it took a few ridiculous job offers to realize just how much I’ve already accomplished, and how far I can go when I finally learn to trust myself. Your career trajectory will never take a linear path; it’s not supposed to be that easy," Karczewski explained. "Learning how to calm the nerves in the face of criticism and self-doubt will help ensure you stay on track. After all, you’re the only person capable of holding personal and professional success back."
5. You're Afraid Of Change, Failure, Or Both
Fear of the unknown is the number one thing that keeps people in a rut. Even if you're unhappy in your current career situation, the fact that it's familiar can help you convince yourself that sticking to what you know is better than being mired in uncertainty.
"There are lots of questions and thoughts like these that keep us stuck in the job we hate. The fear keeps us going around and around in circles in our heads," Career Coach Mrugank Patel wrote on the Noomii Career Blog. "One day we want to make a changes, but when it comes time to take action, we give up due to fear. This is the most common symptom I see with my clients. They are head-stuck, not job-stuck."
6. You're Afraid Of Success
Why would anyone be afraid of success? This is actually pretty common. "If you try something and fail, you go back to what you knew. You may not be happy about it, but you go back to your comfort zone," James Sudakow, author of Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit … and Other Stupid Stuff We Say in the Corporate World, wrote for Inc. "If you try something and succeed, you head into uncharted territory. Things are different. Things change."
Even though you might want to succeed in your career like a boss, success comes with increased responsibility, visibility, and judgement. It's much easier to stay in your safe space, even if that isn't necessarily what's making you happy. If you're stalled because you're afraid of stepping into unchartered territory, you're probably going to keep spinning your wheels until you make a change.
7. You're Not Learning New Skills
One of the most important things for career advancement is keeping up with your professional development. This means regularly learning new skills and mastering tools that are relevant to your job. A lot of companies offer professional development for their employees. If you company does, make sure you take advantage of it. If they don't, consider getting a membership to Lynda.com where you can stay on top of your professional development on your own time.
Staying on top of the latest trends in your field will make you a more attractive candidate for future employers. "Continuing professional development is important because it ensures you continue to be competent in your profession," the website Continuing Professional Development explained. "It is an ongoing process and continues throughout a professional’s career."
8. You're Not Having Productive Conversations
If you're not speaking up at work about what's bugging you, you could be doing yourself and others a big disservice. "Many of us have a habit of being too 'nice' and trying to spare someone’s feelings when they make a mistake," Amy Sandler, corporate mindfulness trainer and coach for Radical Candor, a training and development company based on the best-selling book of the same name by former Google exec Kim Scott, tells Bustle.
According to Radical Candor's website, Radical Candor is when you care personally and challenge directly; and while it sounds simple, it's rare in today's workplace culture. "We all make mistakes, so it’s actually an act of kindness to tell someone so they can correct it," Sandler says. "But instead, because we Care Personally about this person — but aren’t willing to Challenge Directly — we don’t say what needs to be said, or just offer a verbal pat on the back. Often what we’re really trying to do is avoid dealing with the other person’s emotions. And unfortunately our inability to have those difficult conversations can come at a real cost for that other person and our relationship."
If you’re someone who has a tendency to spend time in the Ruinous Empathy quadrant — high on Caring Personally, but low on Challenging Directly, these tips from Radical Candor can help you have more successful conversations at work, and the book is one of Bustle's recommended summer reads. In general, a career rut is usually temporary, and you are really the only one who has the power to pull yourself out of it (with a little help from your peers and career coaches). So my friendlies, go forth and slay. Because, being happy at work is the least you deserve.