If you wake up one morning and think “where did this year go?”, it could be because of two reasons: 1) you’ve been enjoying your work so much that time has flown, or 2) you’re on autopilot and time is simply passing you by. If the second reason hits close to home, there’s a good chance your career has stalled, i.e., each workday feels just like the last one and there are no milestones to mark your progress.
So, this week, my message focuses on the problem of a stalled career. How do you know if your career needs a reboot, and how should you go about it?
Slowdowns at work are natural – nearly all of us will deal with at least a couple such phases over the course of our careers. What’s more, a stalled career doesn’t mean permanent stagnation. In fact, it can mark the beginning of a rewarding rejuvenation.
Start by determining whether you have a problem. Here are seven key signs of a stalled career – do any of them ring a bell?
1. You can do your job in your sleep
If your work no longer challenges you or puts your talents to the test, you’re probably stuck in a career rut.
A job that’s below your capability level might offer plenty of leisure time, but very little excitement and growth!
2. You’ve stopped learning
A career on the rise is marked by a sense of passion and discovery. When you feel disconnected from your work, you stop making an effort to stay relevant in your field. A lack of interest in gaining new knowledge and skills is a strong red flag.
3. Your network is non-existent
Similar to learning, networking is an activity that (usually) comes naturally when your career is flourishing. I’m not referring to making small talk or attending events for the sake of it, but to interacting meaningfully with other professionals in order to share insights and keeping up with industry developments.
4. You have no clue what’s next
You don’t have a clear idea of what your next career move is. What are you working towards? What do you want to accomplish in the next week, month and year? What’s the next big milestone in sight? If you’re fuzzy on the answers to these questions, your career is probably in question.
5. You no longer get invites
If you’re no longer getting tapped for high-profile projects, consider it a warning sign. (Here I’m referring to opportunities that are relevant to your expertise and role). Even if you don’t feel like your career has stalled, you colleagues clearly do.
6. You don’t get asked for input
Can you remember the last time someone came to you for advice or assistance? When your career is in an upward trajectory, you’re likely to receive such requests at least occasionally, if not frequently – a testament to the fact that you’re engaged, competent and motivated to help. If people have stopped approaching you, start paying attention.
7. Your work is “adequate”
Think about the language that’s been used in your last few performance reviews and feedback sessions. Did terms like “acceptable, “fine” or “adequate” make an appearance? These phrases generally indicate a career stall.
Leaders need to consider a few additional aspects while assessing themselves. In the Harvard Business Review article, What to Do If Your Career Is Stalled and You Don’t Know Why, Elena Lytkina Botelho and Katie Semmer Creagh identify seemingly-trivial issues that halt the career growth of talented leaders, calling them “pandas”. As they explain, “Pandas look innocent, but their powerful jaws deliver a bite stronger than a jaguar’s”. Here are a few common pandas:
1. Lack of executive presence
This ambiguous phrase includes a number of issues, the most important of which is lack of confidence – research shows that highly confident executives are 2.5 times more likely to get the leadership job. Could a lack of presence be stalling your growth?
2. Non-relatable communication style
Leaders need to be able connect meaningfully with colleagues, and that means communicating in a way that resonates with most people. As the authors explain:
Candidates who used more esoteric, intellectual, or “ivory tower” vocabulary were, eight times less likely to be hired compared to candidates who used more colloquial language. Down-to-earth storytelling, drawing on memorable results, is vastly more powerful than a cerebral, academic style.
3. Weak peer relationships
While many high performers enjoy excellent relationships with their direct reports and manager, their equations with peers may not be at the same level. This plays a big role in hindering careers that might otherwise flourish – you need the support of your peers to keep progressing.
If a number of the red flags mentioned above apply to you, your professional growth is stagnating. Here are seven steps you can take to reboot your career:
1. Get concrete
In 3 Flashing Red Signs That You’ve Let Your Career Stall, Christie Mims highlights the usefulness of positive, specific thinking in regards to your career. If you’re wondering what’s next for you, map clear pathways for growth and consider each of their benefits. As Mims explains:
Revel in the positive possibilities of what the change could bring to you. More money? A better commute? More interesting work? A boss you don’t hate?
Really get concrete on what taking positive action can give to you. Imagine it, allow yourself to feel good about the future. But don’t stop there. Write it down—preferably in a place where you’ll see it every day.
Once you have an idea of what you want to achieve, focus on near-term goals, one piece at a time. Schedule a meeting with your manager to discuss your aspirations and the actions you want to take. If want to move to a different division, reach out to 2-3 contacts. Don’t get lost in endless planning – start moving. A series of small, simple actions have the power to give your career fresh momentum.
3. Look for challenges
Snap out of a mundane work routine by taking on exciting projects that push you to go above and beyond your regular level of performance. Look for initiatives within your domain, or volunteer for additional responsibilities outside your immediate job description.
4. Showcase your abilities
If your colleagues no longer see you as a vital asset for key projects and meetings, take charge of your own “reach” projects. Join or create initiatives that create value for the company as well as allow you to demonstrate your competencies.
5. Start learning
Take advantage of the career development opportunities that are available to you. Sign up for an online course to learn a new skill, join a training programme to update your knowledge, or attend conferences relevant to your field.
6. Activate your network
If colleagues and industry peers have stopped asking you for input, kick your presence up a notch. Start by prepping for and participating actively in networking events: educate yourself on a few key trends in advance, and express interest in hearing what else is new in the field. You could also share interesting articles with the people in your network and indicate your willingness to give advice on certain topics.
7. Reinvent your leadership
This suggestion applies mainly to leaders during periods of change, whether in your team or across the organisation. In If (And When) Your Career Stalls, Reinvent Yourself, Rodger Dean Duncan interviews John Hillen and Mark Nevins, co-authors of What Happens Now? Reinvent Yourself as a Leader Before Your Business Outruns You, who point out the following irony: that while most leaders strive for transformation, the fundamental business changes created by their success often stall their own careers. As Nevins explains:
Many stalled leaders go back to the well and tap what’s always served them before—their drive, their intellect or knowledge, classic management tools. But often those won’t work, because the business is now demanding that they pull back, escalate, and tap into different skills, a new mindset, and a radically changed pattern of behaviors than what made them successful in the past.
The changed setting calls for leaders to create a fresh narrative of purpose and meaning, which inspires people and carries them forward into the next chapter. Since big changes can create a disconnect, you must also find ways to realign with team members on key priorities and expected behaviours.