You might need a little boost to your career growth. Or maybe you don’t.
There is a quick and easy way to tell. It goes like this.
Look at Your Career Growth
Your career is either moving forward or it’s moving backwards.
If it feels like your career is at a standstill, you probably realize that that is just an illusion.
Because while you think you are standing still, the rest of the world is moving forward. Things are changing. New trends are emerging. Technology is advancing. Business is evolving.
The pace of that change around you might be slow, but the impact is going to be big if you let this “standstill” go on for too long.
You might already be trying to advance your career.
Maybe you’ve tried to land a new job. Or to earn a promotion. Perhaps you’ve tried to get on a new project or client assignment.
If these things haven’t worked out for you, you might feel a little stuck. And frustrated. Discouraged. Angry, even.
That’s how I felt when this happened to me (all of the above!).
Which led to some dark places…
Like commiserating with other disgruntled folks (misery really does love company!).
And feeling my self worth evaporate (what’s wrong with me?).
Even arriving at acceptance for a time (Maybe this is as far as I am meant to go. I should be happy to have a job at all, earning enough to provide for my family. Maybe I should just grind it out and focus on hobbies.)
None of that helped, of course.
Because feeling stuck sucks.
Are You Feeling Stuck?
It could be that you don’t feel like you’re learning anything new.
Maybe you just can’t find any good opportunities for career growth.
You might feel bored. That’s a sure sign of being stuck.
Because being bored you usually means that you feel don’t feel challenged in a meaningful way.
It could also be that you don’t feel up for certain new challenges. Like your options are limited.
Maybe you see some opportunities but you don’t feel like you have the right skills or experience to chase after them.
That’s discouraging too.
The worst part is that it can feel like it’s all out of your control.
You might realize that much of your career fate is mostly in the hands of others.
Someone else needs to hire you. To assign you to a great project or client account. To keep you motivated and engaged and challenged. To cultivate your growth.
Someone else controls the work that you are assigned. They set the parameters for success. They make the decisions. They evaluate you. They provide the new opportunities (or not).
It stinks when they fail you.
How to Start Taking Control
But what if you looked at this a little differently?
What if you flipped things around?
Could a small shift in strategy make a big difference in your career trajectory?
I think so.
It’s the way that I ultimately escaped some major career misery myself. And opened up new, seemingly impossible opportunities for myself.
The one thing that had the biggest impact for me was this. Shifting my focus away from things outside of my control and toward things within my control.
I tried to stop fretting over what “they” were doing or not doing to advance my career. And I focused much more energy on trying to figure out what I could do on my own to advance my career.
Embracing a New Approach
My new strategy sounded good. But it wasn’t easy to figure out how to implement.
Probably because this felt pretty “unnatural” in many ways. This wasn’t how I learned that things worked.
All my life I worked to please the teachers in school, to please the boss at work, and to do all the things that I was supposed to do in order to get ahead. All those things that the system said it wanted from me.
That had all ultimately led me to a dead end. But it was the only system I knew.
Now, I had to find a new approach.
I looked a lot of places for advice and ideas. I read a lot of books. Attended seminars. Hired a coach. And tried lots of things that didn’t work.
The one thing that kept me going was that I at least felt like I was doing something. I was trying.
I was putting my energy toward something constructive. Even if there weren’t immediate results, I was determined to find some way forward.
And I did.
It’s a way that doesn’t work overnight. It doesn’t show immediate results.
But it is an approach that definitely does work, if you embrace a slightly new perspective.
Here’s how it works.
The Secret: It’s Skills and Experience That Build Careers
The way we grow in our careers is by building skills and experience. That’s why we rely so much on the boss, the organization, new job opportunities, great client assignments, or whatever other opportunity that can help us to leap forward.
Each of those opportunities brings the chance to stretch ourselves. We develop new skills. We gain new experience. We learn a lot.
That all prepares us for the next, bigger opportunity. That’s how we keep leveling up.
Knowing this, and aiming to take greater control, all we have to do is to give ourselves new skills and experience.
Don’t wait for it to come from someone else.
You might be wondering exactly how you can do that?
Other people hire us, give us assignments, and determine our success, not us.
That’s not entirely true.
Because you can certainly take it upon yourself to learn new skills. And you can definitely challenge yourself to do new things that will give you valuable experience. Both of these endeavors will help you to level up your career.
How You Can Take Action
The key thing is to take action.
Learn new skills. There’s really no excuse these days. So much online learning is cheap or free and extremely high quality. It’s available nights and weekends, anytime that fits your schedule.
Identify the skills that are most valuable to your career, and start acquiring them now. I guarantee you that this level of initiative and motivation will be a boon to any future interviews.
Plus, you will have the skills. Which means you can start to apply them in the job you have right now. You will gain recognition and respect by showing up with more game. That may lead to new opportunities right where you are.
Gain new experience. You may need to get a little creative here. Because the skills you want to develop may not be directly applicable to the work you are doing now.
But you can find other outlets if you change your frame of reference. If you can’t find ways to apply new skills or gain new experience at your current job, look beyond the walls of your organization.
There are always professional associations, community organizations, and other groups that need help. You can volunteer your time while gaining valuable experience.
Maybe you work in IT but you want to learn about marketing. You’ve studied marketing and learned a lot about the industry, the latest trends, and how successful organizations implement marketing programs.
You may not have the ability to apply that directly in your day job, but you can probably find a way to do that in some outside organization.
Volunteer at one of these groups, but don’t join the IT committee, join the marketing committee. It’s a low risk environment for you and valuable for them. Win, win.
There are lots of things you can do. Once you start looking for opportunities, you will see them. Once you start seeing them, you will realize that there are many of them out there for you.
Here are some of the things I did to start taking action (not knowing where it might lead):
- I started blogging. I was not sure what the heck I was doing, but I was determined to do something (and to learn as much as I could about blogging).
- I started volunteering. I got involved in all sorts of different organizations. I met great people. I stretched myself. And I helped some great groups.
- I started organizing get-togethers and meet-ups. They say you are most influenced by the 5 people you spend the most time with. So I started getting together others who wanted to make their careers better too. We helped and inspired each other.
- I started going to new events (in different locations and in different industries). I learned so much by stepping out of my comfort zone and surrounding myself with new people and ideas. Much was new, and surprisingly, many themes were similar. It was fascinating to study business and success from so many different perspectives.
- I started networking more. I made a point of connecting with new people and connecting different people to each other. There is no substitute for great one-on-one conversations with interesting people.
- I got involved in my professional association. I volunteered to do many different things. I stretched my leadership skills and met lots of great people. People who run these things are usually go-getters in their industries.
So what did all that get me?
Over time, it gained me a ton of great experience, expanded my network, and upgraded my skills.
This ended up allowing me to make great progress in my career. Because, as I learned new skills and gained new experience, I eventually brought it back into my work.
I was able to see problems from new perspectives and generate better ideas and insights. I became much better at leadership. And I increased my confidence, along with my willingness to try new things. I kept expanding my comfort zone.
This led to new responsibilities and a promotion in my day job. I eventually got recruited out of that job and landed a much bigger and better job. I was invited to speak at conferences. I was hired to teach at two prominent universities.
And I continue to grow and evolve.
Which leads to maybe the best part of all: happiness and career satisfaction.
Because happiness at work and career satisfaction ultimately come from the opportunity to grow. And if you can find ways to control that, to challenge yourself, to continually work to level up your capabilities, you can start to fuel your own happiness.
It’s a neat trick.
One that I am happy to share with you.
It’s not easy. It’s not quick. And it doesn’t follow a predictable, linear path.
But it’s totally worth it.
To Sum It All Up
Career stagnation stinks. It can get you feeling stuck.
But the obvious solution may not always be the best solution.
You can’t wait for other people to get you un-stuck. Waiting for your company, your boss, or your favorite client to continually give you challenging work is not the best strategy.
Instead, you are probably better off by taking matters into your own hands.
After all, who is better to know what skills and experiences will serve you best in the long-run. Who better to align your interests with your career development?
So, take action. Start learning new skills. Start giving yourself new experiences.
If you can’t find those opportunities to stretch in your current job or organization, look outside.
Getting out to new and different environments can be invigorating. It may take you a little bit out of your comfort zone–but that’s sort of the point anyway!
You can meet new people. Gain new experiences. And push yourself to grow.
It’s up to you to take the initiative. To own your career development. To take your journey to the next level.
If I can do it, so can you.
And the benefit is that the act of doing it–of trying to stretch and grow and challenge yourself–will help you to become happier and more valuable.
Go for it!