Updated: Aug 9
Are You Feeling Stuck in Your Current Job?
The good news is feeling stuck means you’re not in survival mode – remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? When you’re focused on surviving, you’re not very picky. The bad news is, when money is no longer a primary motivator, it’s not always obvious what the core issue is that is blocking your job satisfaction. The anxiety, frustration, and crankiness that accompany feeling stuck can be seen as prompts from your soul that you must do something to get un-stuck. If you don’t, illness and even depression may be next.
In my last role, I felt such joy for 18 months, and then I started feeling this growing dissatisfaction even though I was successful and loved my team and the mission. I kept trying to convince myself that I should be perfectly happy to stay in this role at least until I secured my PhD – that the stability, income, even the success should outweigh the growing angst I was feeling. Even a particular challenge that contributed to my dissatisfaction became a sign that it was time for me to explore what was next for me. The only problem was that I didn’t know what that was. After a bad dream and a near panic attack I got up the courage to reduce my work schedule to three-quarters, accompanied by a 25% pay cut of course, and that allowed me to further develop what is unfolding as my dream career of facilitating meaningful conversations. I had to be frugal, but the peace and joy that came with the time to explore far outweighed the money and title.
Mid-life is a definite turning point for many who begin to feel there is something missing, and those who answer their soul’s call may leave high-paying jobs to pursue a childhood passion that had to be set aside in order to meet the expectations of parents or society.
It seems that millennials generally are experiencing the need to find meaning in work earlier in life. While some label their restlessness and refusal to pay the same price as their baby boomer colleagues as entitlement, my conversations with millennials reflect a desire to have a meaningful impact as soon as possible.
In this post, I offer some common ways people feel stuck in their current roles AND some concepts and tools to increase knowledge about getting to the root of the stuck-ness. Learning why you do what you do and think the way you do often results in a flash of insight about what to do next. Finally, I offer a template for having difficult conversations that I created that is adapted from the best-selling book Crucial Conversations.
Ways We Feel Stuck
General unhappiness – I think this is more complex than it seems. While happiness comes from external events and can be fleeting, I wonder if part of the issue is the need also for a sense of joy or peace, which is more permanent. For example, the long commute to work or the negative energy of co-workers could certainly contribute to a lack of happiness at work. But once at work, if a person feels valued and is able to develop or utilize all of their natural strengths (CliftonStrengths) or be true to their psychological type (Meyers-Briggs), they may feel a deeper sense of enjoyment in their work.
Lack of Confidence – Sometimes what is standing in the way of feeling joy at work is the lack of confidence to deal with a difficult boss or co-worker or to ask for the professional development, raise or promotion you want. This can leave you feeling disempowered and helpless because there’s a gap between your current situation and where you want to be and you don’t know how to bridge that. Many of us have authority complexes. All the boss has to say innocently is “Can you come into my office,” and our palms start sweating and we feel like little children waiting to be scolded by our father. Many of us also have a tendency to avoid conflict instead of facing it head on.
Turning Passion into Work – There seems to be a strong message out there to follow your bliss and only do work you’re passionate about. Of course, this has to be balanced with earning the money you need to pay the bills. It seems to me however that simply making sure that you devote some amount of time every day to what you’re passionate about, even if it doesn’t generate money, can help bring joy to your life by compensating for the part of the day that is not completely fulfilling. On the other hand, the very act of daily commitment to expressing your passion may result in a level of expertise or excellence that gets you noticed and turns into a new lucrative career.
How to Get Un-Stuck
The path to getting un-stuck is the path to increasing self-knowledge. To get to the root of why you’re feeling stuck you need to get to know yourself more. Here are some ways to do that:
Learn about your natural strengths and then consider whether you are able to develop and utilize them in your current role. I recommend using CliftonStrengths. For example, my combination of strengths (connectedness, relater, maximizer, activator, and intellection) sets a very high bar for what kind of work and environment will be satisfying for me. I need to be able to create something with all the connections I see, develop strategies and approaches, and engage with people.
Consider your psychological type and whether you are able to be your natural self in your current role and work environment. I recommend using Meyers-Briggs and going a little deeper than understanding your natural temperament by considering your weaker functions. Unlike strengths, where it is the expression of the combination of your top five strengths that makes up for weaknesses, everyone has to have a basic development of all of the psychological functions. For example, as an INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, judger), I need to be alone or get up and walk a way several times per day, I see things that others do not see, and I absorb other people’s energy. This means that I need a great deal of flexibility in how and where I work throughout a given day. My productivity comes in intense spurts and is not evenly spread out over the day. I cannot rely solely on my intuition, especially if I’m making a case to someone who knows things through the senses and data.
Dig Into Your Complexes. The foundation of how you relate to people and to the world was laid down in childhood. Even if you had a wonderful childhood, you may have developed ways of relating to others that might be getting in the way now. Deference and extreme admiration of your father may have translated to an inability to question authority, even when it is necessary. An unintended message of perfection may have turned into a self-imposed glass ceiling. Being eternally optimistic may have become denial of reality and a feeling of being on a hamster wheel, expecting a different result without taking a different action.
Any Kind of Change Requires Difficult Conversations
Once you have started to uncover the root of your stuck-ness, you will be either excited or terrified about trying something new in order to get un-stuck. This may require having to face someone – your boss, a co-worker, your spouse – who is used to your being one way and may not be ready for the new you.
I love the 1st principle – Start With Heart – in the best-selling book Crucial Conversations, and I created a template that combines this principle with how to set up the conversation. I’ve used this template successfully over the past 15 years and I’ve taught others how to use it as well. What I love most about it is its intention to show respect and caring for the person who you have the conflict with. The template helps you frame your discussion in a way that the other person is more likely to hear what you have to say without feeling defensive. To get my template, shoot me a note at email@example.com.
Join me at my Art of Careers workshop
Monday, April 22nd, 6:30-8pm at Elle Studio
Changing your life and moving towards your passion and bliss does not happen overnight. Join me to dig in a little deeper, and consider my on-call coaching services as an ongoing support system. Click here to register for the workshop. Click here to learn more about my services.