What happens when you get stuck in a career rut? Motivation dips and frustration and exhaustion rises. We’ve all been there at one point or another. The key is knowing how to get yourself out of a rut, without waiting for someone else to do it for you. The following post was written by Lauren Beam, M.S., N.C.C., Associate Director of Mentoring and Alumni Personal & Career Development at Wake Forest University.
Most of us know what it feels like to be stuck in a career or job rut. The 8 to 5 grind feels exhausting and mundane, you have zero motivation to start working on your latest to-do list, and you find yourself operating on autopilot without any challenging or exciting projects on the horizon. Especially for young professionals, work can seem less like “passion-work” and more like “busy-work” over which you have no control. This is a frustrating situation to be in, particularly if making a job or career change is not something you are ready or able to do immediately.
So how do you find meaning in the day-to-day aspects of your job? Here are a few tips to re-focus your perspective and make some changes to your current situation.
Focus on the “why” and not the “what.”
Perhaps your daily work tasks include making copies, filing reports, writing draft press releases, or inputting data into a spreadsheet. It’s easy to see how what you’re actually spending your day doing can feel monotonous, routine, and less than fulfilling. However, stepping back from focusing on the “what” and instead looking at the “why” can reframe your attitude towards the work itself. Is there a purpose or mission for your company or organization? Does it provide a useful service or product that customers need and/or value?
For example, if managing data for a governmental agency department is your primary responsibility, then think about how that data impacts and directs decisions made by the agency and thus makes a difference in the lives of thousands of people. Focus on why and how your role and tasks within the organization ultimately contribute to the greater good. That simple shift in perspective can make a difference in how you approach your job role. Can’t find your “why” within the company’s broader mission or purpose? Identify your personal motivation(s) for getting up each day: saving money for graduate school, providing for your family, gaining entry-level experience to get to the position you really want, etc.
Build and invest in relationships.
Relationships are key to creating meaning in our lives, both personally and professionally. If you find that your work is not challenging and lacking in value, find opportunities to build and invest in relationships with people around you. This can be as simple as having lunch, taking a walk, or catching up around the coffee maker with a co-worker. Whether it’s getting to know your colleagues or engaging with a mentor, having someone in your organization in whom you can confide and trust has been shown to have a huge impact on employee engagement.
Create or find a side project to develop new skills.
Create opportunities for yourself, either at work or in your personal time, to engage in meaningful projects or new ventures. If there’s a problem that you see needs to be solved (while still being able to complete the necessary tasks that go along with your primary job role), take the initiative to research, learn, and come up with a solution. Or, let’s say you see a colleague or higher-up employee working on a cool project. If appropriate, ask if you can be involved in some way to gain experience and learn new skills. No one knows you’re interested or want to be involved if you don’t ask, particularly if you don’t have a supervisor looking to intentionally involve you in new projects or expose you to other areas within the organization. Be your own advocate!
Additionally, you might choose to use your free time outside of work to start your own business or take on a side job just for fun, or join a volunteer organization where you can build your skills and your network. Seek out those new opportunities for learning and growth – don’t expect them to be given to you!
Be reflective and plan for the future.
Finally, if you are finding that your work is lacking in meaning and challenge, then you have to ask yourself why. Why are you bored/unfulfilled/unhappy? Take time to examine which aspects you enjoy about your current role, which you do not enjoy, what strengths/qualities you bring to an organization, and what are your opportunities for growth at this point in your career. Talk to people who know you well (see above: trusted colleagues and mentors) to get their feedback on these things. Reflect on how all of this aligns with where you are currently and where you want to be in the future. From there, make some plans! Having something to look forward to and having specific goals and action steps to work towards can be re-energizing and invigorating, particularly when you’re stuck in a rut.