Are you playing small? Keeping your head down, doing good work?…
Have you said to yourself “I feel stuck at work. What can I do?” Often this obstacle occurs 5 – 10 years into a career. You’ve progressed along a predictable path. Perhaps you’ve advanced to a senior level in your profession, but haven’t made the jump into management. An itchy feeling is growing: “I need to have more impact on the world, to live my purpose.”
The first step to getting unstuck is figuring out what you want, and where you do your best work. You can articulate attributes of your desired role by following the advice in this blog “Finding the Confidence to Say “NO””
Once you have a few words or phrases on what you’re looking for, these analogies might help you create actionable steps to move forward.
Are you in the right chair?
If you feel ‘stuck’ in your current role, “the chair,” may have become too comfortable. Or maybe you’ve been sitting in it so long it’s become uncomfortable! Looking at your current responsibilities, how well do they match to your desired role? What’s missing? Can you ask for projects in areas where you’d like to learn more? Are there things you’ve mastered in this role, but no longer enjoy doing? There may be an opportunity for your manager to identify someone else you can cross-train and coach to pick up those activities – enhancing their skills and freeing up your time for higher value-added work. That’s a win-win-win for your group!
Example: Working with her boss, a leader swapped least and best -favorite responsibilities with a colleague. The leader was relieved to shed responsibility for internal communications, and excited to pick up responsibility for external partnerships. The leader thrived by leading industry-wide strategic initiatives that supported the company’s direction. The new responsibilities showcased her skill in relationship building, convening and driving change. She achieved a career goal to expand her network and build her brand in the industry.
Are you in the right room?
The “room” is your group, department or division within your company. If you find this “room” to be comfortable and it offers the opportunity for career growth, switching chairs might be enough to re-energize you. But maybe you’ve had a chance to walk down the proverbial “hall” and glance into other rooms. There might be another room with a working culture that better matches your values or that provides a different view into the ecosystem outside that appeals to you. Perhaps the people in that room are a “supplier” or “customer” of your current role, where your experience will bring valuable perspectives. Maybe that other room is full of people with a completely different function (engineering, finance, marketing, legal…) and you’d like to expand your skill set. It’s easier to shift to a different function within a company, where your reputation and network are established (you know your way around the building), than to make a function + company shift in the open market.
Example: An ambitious Project Manager who felt held back in a stagnant business unit, used his network to explore new opportunities and was recommended by former colleagues for a PM role in an agile, customer-oriented group. The pace of the work in the new group gave the PM many opportunities to up-level his technical and interpersonal skills to prepare for promotion, which he quickly earned. Rather than being boxed in by the status quo, now he feels supported and propelled forward by his peers in a group driving change.
Are you in the right house?
The house is your company. Are you still energized by the vision and strategy espoused by senior leadership? Does the company’s “why” still align with your own, or have you drifted apart over the years? Take a critical look around. Is the owner making the right investments to update and modernize the house, i.e., what are the growth prospects for your company? Are you and your colleagues given the resources you need to meet new challenges? From the inside, it’s easier to see whether those investments simply enhance “curb appeal” or drive essential functionality and competitiveness. Take a look around your neighborhood. If you like your chair and room (role and function), but you see another house making better investments, having a better location for the future, it may be time to bring your expertise to a competitor’s company.
Example: A senior woman engineer who felt undervalued and overlooked in a company with old-school hierarchical management style, moved to a fast-growing, entrepreneurial company in the same industry. Her new position offers greater scope and higher compensation. In this new, inclusive culture, she’s been recognized for sharing her experience and bringing in new ideas. She feels she belongs.
Are you in the right city?
The city is your industry. Take a step back and evaluate the macro trends. Is the industry expanding or contracting? What disruptors are on the horizon? Is there an adjacent city that’s poised for growth? You don’t have to leave a declining industry. It can be a learning lab for identifying efficiencies that will benefit you in future economic slowdowns. Fast-growing companies and industries provide more opportunities to learn and advance your career quickly (you’ve heard the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats”). Changing cities (industries) requires a bit more preparation than switching chairs or moving to a room down the hall. Who do you know in that other industry? Can they tell you the skills or certifications necessary for success? How will you build those skills? On-line courses, volunteer activities, a special project in your current role?
Example: A corporate IT help desk agent found her role becoming routine and thought it was at risk for automation or outsourcing. She didn’t see a way to have more impact or find an attractive career path. To explore growth industries where she could leverage her experience, she took courses in AI and cybersecurity from the local community college. The cyber work seemed really interesting, so she completed a certificate in cybersecurity and participated in cybersecurity competitions (and won some!). She joined the Women in Cyber Security professional organization to expand her network. She was hired into a cyber start up and is proud to be contributing to enabling a safer, more robust, digital economy.
To move yourself from a feeling of malaise at work, ask yourself these four questions:
- Am I in the right chair (role)?
- Am I in the right room (department)?
- Am I in the right house (company)?
- Am I in the right city (industry)?
Your answers to these questions will help you focus on the change you need to make – a small adjustment or a cross-country move!