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  • Writer's pictureChristine King

3 Steps You Can Take When Feeling Stuck in Your Career

We probably all know that feeling of working incredibly hard for something - giving it our absolute all - just to fall short in the end due to circumstances outside your control. I had worked tirelessly to build a business within IBM from nothing to more than a billion dollars (in just a few years!) and when the business’ function was formalized as a product line within the company, I was hoping I would be tapped to continue leading it with a promotion to the general manager role. Long story short, I ran up against the “good ol’ boy” network and someone in that circle, who had almost no knowledge of or investment in what I had created, got the job instead of me. It stung. I was angry. Crushed, actually.


Suddenly, I realized my career was stuck. I knew I needed to do something to get unstuck if I was ever to continue moving forward. Fortunately, I figured it out, and if you’re feeling stuck in your career, you can, too. I’m here to share three steps you can take when feeling stuck in your career to continue working toward your goals and reach your full potential.


3 Steps You Can Take When Feeling Stuck in Your Career

3 steps you can take when feeling stuck in your career

If you’re feeling stuck in your career, try the following steps:


1. Give yourself time to feel bad

Going through a dramatic change of fortune or becoming aware of a big obstacle in your career path can be tough. It's okay to give yourself some time to experience those emotions because you're only human. I can certainly relate. When I learned I didn't get that promotion to general manager, it was hard to not fall into just going through the motions at work (punctuated by crying jags at home). I gave myself the grace to live with this sadness and frustration for a couple of days. But then, I picked myself up and began to consider my next steps. The same should go for you, too. Give yourself the grace to experience the natural emotions, but know when it’s time to adapt to the new reality and find the right path forward for you.


2. Assess your current situation

Once you've processed your emotions, assess your situation to plan your next steps. In this phase, the goal is clarity - determining whether the path to your goals is blocked or merely difficult. Ask yourself these three questions:


1. Is there enough runway to achieve success?

Imagine your career as a plane taking off. You need enough runway space and time to lift off the ground and soar towards your destination. Think of your current role and consider whether there's room and time for growth and advancement:


  • Do you have the opportunity to shoulder more responsibility and earn promotions despite initial challenges? If so, it may be worth staying the course.


  • Do you need more time to achieve your goals than you are willing to commit? That is, if your current situation will require 10 years for you to achieve what you think should only take five, you might want to consider a change.


  • Ask yourself, “are there other ‘white spaces’ either within or outside your current company that you could pursue to accelerate your progress toward achieving your goals.”



2. Is your path destined for failure?

Take a step back and honestly assess your situation. Think about your environment, the assets and resources available to you, and the mandates you've been assigned, and consider:


  • Is it possible that, no matter how hard you try, you're on a path destined for failure?


This can be a tricky question to answer on your own. It's often helpful to seek guidance from a mentor or a trusted friend. As I neared the end of my career at IBM, I realized that despite my position, authority, and resources, I didn’t have control of a necessary component of the business for my success, and that there was no clear path to achieving it. At that point, I knew it was time to reroute.



3. Are you still learning new and valuable things?

Even if your career has yet to reach your desired destination, consider whether you’re still gaining valuable skills and knowledge. There might be a good reason to stay the course if you are. If you feel you've absorbed all there is to learn, it's probably time to move on.


3. Find a detour and keep moving

I determined that staying in my current role was bound to disappoint me. My effort to build a billion-dollar business had yet to earn me the leadership role I deserved. So, I took a detour by pursuing a new discipline, moving from engineering to the sales organization. If you've hit a wall, here's how to reroute and keep moving:


Explore new paths

When you can't go through, you must go around. Repeating the same actions and hoping for different results isn't the way to success. It's essential to recognize when a new path is needed. Identify those “white spaces” and different routes available to you, such as:


  • Finding a different role within your organization: I pivoted from development and managing the ASICs business to sales and managing ASICs field engineering. Look for different paths to success.


  • Moving to a New Company: If your current company can't offer the path you seek, it might be time to explore opportunities elsewhere. Sometimes, a fresh start at a new organization is the best way to get unstuck.



Learn new skills

Feeling stuck often means it's time to learn something new. Identify areas for improvement and look for opportunities to grow professionally. This might mean taking online courses, attending workshops or seminars, or seeking on-the-job training opportunities in a different role.


Embrace courage and perseverance

Regardless of the direction you choose, it takes courage to step off your current path. Remind yourself that it's your goals that are on the line. Don't let fear hold you back from pursuing your vision. You rarely regret the shots you take. It's the shots you don't take that just might haunt you. When you face career roadblocks, it’s easy to become disheartened and give up. But it’s crucial to keep moving forward towards your goals.



Conclusion

No one likes to encounter adversity in their lives, but I have found that adversity is the precursor to the biggest opportunities. In hindsight, missing out on that promotion was a blessing, providing the impetus to pursue new paths. Hitting a career roadblock allowed me to grow in unexpected ways and seek out opportunities I might have overlooked. If you ever find yourself feeling stuck, remember to:


  1. Feel your emotions: It's good to take a moment to process your feelings.

  2. Assess your situation: Once you've allowed yourself to feel, assess where you stand.

  3. Chart a new course: Determine a new path forward.


Good luck getting unstuck!

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