At a recent social gathering I got chatting to a lovely fellow who said he was feeling trapped in his career. For the last 20 years, Peter* had worked his way through, and up, a narrow, vertical silo. He's had good recognition and success and is financially solid. But Peter is restless and feels stuck. His career, he said, is a pond where he’s evolved from tadpole to whale. Now, he wants to swim in the ocean, but can't bear the thought of being a tadpole again.
This combination of being restless and stuck where you crave change but don’t know how to make it happen is incredibly frustrating, and common.
Also, did you notice his assumption? He said, to leave the pond he’d have to return to being a tadpole. With zero research, he’s decided that in order to change his career, he’ll need to take a step back. In spite of his evident success, he’s actually feeling powerless, the big ‘ouch’ that’s holding him back.
You’ve heard this story before, perhaps it’s your story.
Proactive professional development & nurturing your networks
keep your eyes & mind open to what's going on in the world,
& to help see the opportunities.
They are mitigations that help prevent you getting stuck.
Back to Peter, who is 40. After 20 years on the one career trajectory, he wants a change, but in the absence of not knowing what to do next, does nothing. I pointed out that as he's probably going to be working for another 25ish years, he hasn’t even reached the midpoint of his career! I asked him to think about where he was five, 10, 15 years ago – and reflect on where he's might be in the next five, 10, 15 years – the changes will be milestones.
I firmly believe our energy and awareness go to wherever we put our attention. Instead of talking about what we don't want, we need to focus on what we do want to see in our future career. Even if it's fuzzy, most of us aspire to a continuation or expansion of goals - that is, how we want to feel, what we want to achieve, where we want to live and work, the type of people that bring out the best in us, our work preferences and how much we want to earn.
To avoid being beholden to external forces (ie an employer, market, random distractions); career decision making needs to move on from naive and hopeful to thoughtful and professional.
My advice to anyone who feels they are stuck is not to not rely on chance but commit the time and effort to actively flesh out their future career. I recommended to Peter that he stay in his job, but draft a 12-month plan to develop and talk with his network, research industries, organisations and his profession, work on his professional development and he’ll find himself swimming towards his ocean (as a whale).
While these ideas are well within your capability, you feel more inspired if you work with company - that is, find a buddy or small tribe who you can work with on your journey. Or talk to someone like me who can professionally assist you to build structure into your research and activity.
Or, come along to one of my career workshops (next one is Saturday 16 February) when I’ll talk through phases of activity to steer your career and share toolkit/material to help structure your plans and activities
* No, his name isn’t ‘Peter’
Photo by Sho Hatakeyama on Unsplash
This is a revision of a post I initially published in early-2018
Also read Best Career Ever