We may not talk about it, but many of us experience slumps in our career. Maybe you’re feeling demotivated, lost, or like your creativity is being stifled. Perhaps it feels like you’ve not got a clear direction, or aren’t sure what’s ‘next’.
What causes these feelings can really vary from person to person. If you’ve been pushing yourself too hard or taking on more than you can handle, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Maybe there’s been too much change at work recently and it’s left you feeling as though you are floundering. Or perhaps it’s the opposite – things feel stagnant; you’re worried you’ve become complacent, and the wider world of career opportunities are passing you by.
On average, we change our jobs every four to five years, despite 79% of us feeling unappreciated at work, 53% of us admitting to being unhappy at work, and a surprising 58% of us saying we trust strangers more than our own bosses. Recognising when we are experiencing a career slump is an important step in figuring out what is best for us: working through it and finding new ways to fall back in love with what we do, or taking the next step in our overall career journey.
How to get over a career slump
1. Take a step back
It’s OK to take a breather and give yourself permission to pause. Having a hectic work and social life can become overwhelming and leave us with little time to actually stop and think about what is happening in our lives. Take some me-time. Cancel your weekend plans, sleep in, and ditch the ‘just one more’ email checking after hours.
Give yourself the time and space to breathe outside of work. With a weekend or two free of distractions, you can not only relax and unwind, but also embrace the beauty of boredom. With our constant attachment to social media, TV, and emails, we don’t often allow our minds to have the space to get bored and just wander. Letting yourself have this space can be a big step towards figuring out what has really been bothering you (big or small), and can be a healthy addition to your regular self-care routine.
2. Identify the cause
Figure out what’s really making you feel unhappy or unmotivated. Is it something temporary, like a change in workload? Or something bigger, like finding your role dull, meaningless, or unsatisfying as a whole?
Temporary challenges aren’t fun, but are easy to forget once you have pushed past the short-term boredom or discomfort. Bigger underlying problems can be a sign that your slump is actually something much more. If that’s the case, it could be worth asking yourself: am I really happy with what I”m doing, and where I’m doing it?
Maybe you’re in the right place, but the wrong job – or the right job, just with the wrong employer. It’s when you feel like it’s both the wrong job and the wrong place that it could be time to start asking yourself some more tough questions: Is this really what I want to do? Is this really the direction I want to go in with my career?
Whatever your answers are, give yourself time to sit with them and really think them over. Having a bad week at work or a trying quarter isn’t great, but if you’ve felt this way for a prolonged period of time or the bad days are starting to outnumber the good, it can be a sign that something big needs to change.
3. Check your satisfaction balance
No-one would be surprised to hear that their dissatisfaction at work can affect how they feel at home. It’s easy to forget the same can be said in reverse. Could your lack of satisfaction outside of work be impacting your career?
Some people are lucky enough to combine their passion with their career, whilst others are happy to put in the hours at a job that allows them to fund what they really love outside of work. Take stock of your well-being and satisfaction as a whole right now: are there any big changes that have happened outside of work that could be affecting your performance? Do you have a range of hobbies, activities, friends, and events outside of work that are keeping you feeling happy, engaged, active and connected? Or is something missing?
Making sure you have a healthy work/life balance can make a big difference to your overall sense of well-being, achievement, and accomplishment. Instead of jumping head-first into looking for a new career or making a big life change, try looking at the small (but impactful) ways you can improve your sense of satisfaction.
4. Reassess the bigger picture
Whether you’ve got a five-year plan or you’re more of a wing-it-and-see-what-happens kind of person, taking a step back and refocusing on your bigger goal can be beneficial.
When you started your career, what was your big motivator? Did you have an end goal or position in mind, a single big achievement, or was your current path supposed to be a stepping stone towards your real dream? Have your overall goals changed, or is this the path you still want to head down?
Taking time to reassess where you want to be, why you want to be there, and how you plan to get there, can all be solid stepping stones towards increasing your motivation and sense of purpose.
5. Be kind. Be compassionate
Avoid getting upset or angry with yourself. Sure, it can be frustrating when you feel demotivated, unfocused, or as though you’re being lazy, but would you be angry at a friend or a colleague for feeling the same way? Try to reframe this as the opportunity it is to reaffirm what you want overall in your working and home lives, or consider ways you can combine the two for maximum satisfaction.
6. Look ahead
OK. You feel like you’re in the midst of a career slump right now. What’s your next step moving forward? And the next – and the next? Feeling like you’re stuck in a rut can indicate that you aren’t feeling as challenged or happy in your role as you were six months or even a year ago. If you have a big picture in mind, but you aren’t sure what the steps are to get there, it could be time to refocus on your end goal(s) and how you’re going to get there.
Leaving your career to chance, or having big ambitions and no clue how to get there can be demotivating in itself. Take the time to establish new career goals and milestones, identify development opportunities, and map out the direction in which you hope to advance.
Re-assessing this at regular intervals every six months, yearly, or bi-yearly can give you the chance to think through if what you thought you want and what you actually want are aligned. Never feel locked into a plan (or a career) just because you’ve already started down that path. There is always time to change. Few (if any) of us would say we are the same person we are now that we were 10 years ago. Why should our career goals be any different 10, five, even three years down the line?
7. Get out there and be your own biggest fan
Making the decision to take charge and manage your own career alongside your regular daily tasks and responsibilities can have a huge impact. Take note of what you’re good at, what is important to you, and what you enjoy. Try to shape your workload around these key areas.
Advocating for yourself is key. Speak up, share your accomplishments, and don’t forget to communicate what you want. If you’re not putting yourself (and your career) first, who will?
Identify people who can support and help you grow towards your goals, within and outside of your company. Networking shouldn’t just be connecting with your immediate and wider team – or going on LinkedIn. Try networking events, find training courses, or attend conferences. It’s time to get yourself out there, start building a reputation in the wider community.
Connecting with other professionals in your field can not only inspire and motivate you but could provide the boost you’ve been looking for. It can also help uncover other opportunities you may not otherwise encounter. It’s a cliche, but it couldn’t be truer: it’s not (just) about what you know – it’s who you know that counts.
8. Make yourself available
Put yourself out there. Start volunteering for new projects, more responsibilities, and offer your support (where appropriate) outside of your team. Feeling as though you are in a career slump can be the result of doing the same things, over and over again. Try seeking out new opportunities that could challenge and inspire you.
If you are particularly good at something or have a full workload, your manager or team may not think to ask you to take part or lead new initiatives. Putting yourself out there, approaching them and letting them know you’re interested or want to help can be a good way to not only help get out of a rut but to put you on the radar for promotions down the line. Who knows? You may discover a new area you’ve not tried before that you love.
9. Chat with a career coach
If you still find yourself dreading Monday mornings, feel bored and unfulfilled, or you’re constantly busy but unhappy and disengaged, working with a career coach can be a positive step towards figuring out how you can change things for the better, or if a career change is right for you.
When you are unhappy at work, it can spread to other areas of your life, affecting your relationships, social life, mental and physical health. Talking to friends and family is great, but sometimes it can be beneficial to speak with someone from an objective standpoint. Having an outside perspective may help you to figure out what’s missing, what is causing your dissatisfaction, and help guide you towards what’s next.
Career coaches can help with your current role, support you in establishing your professional goals or making career changes. While a coach will never tell you what to do, they can support you through your decision-making process, giving you time and space to talk about how you are feeling and challenging you to fully consider your goals and ambitions. With the help of a coach, you can begin to understand what you really want, the skills you will need to get there, and how you can develop them.
If it’s confidence that is holding you back, working with a confidence coach could be the path for you. Being confident at work can be crucial for your success. Having a strong sense of self-belief can affect how you communicate with colleagues, how efficiently you work, even your enjoyment of your job. Being sure of yourself can enable you to be more proactive, assertive, and focused.