Escaping a Job Rut
Stuck in a job going nowhere? Underappreciated, underpaid and overworked? The next rung on the corporate ladder out of your reach? Wondering whether that corporate ladder is even leaning against the right wall?
Face it; you're in a job rut. Before the rut becomes a trench or, even worse, a grave, stop spinning your wheels. Here are 10 sure-fire ways to create some traction and get yourself back on solid ground.
- Take a personal inventory. A problem well defined is one that is already half solved. Oftentimes we blame the job for problems we are dealing with in our personal lives. You can't find happiness and fulfillment from 9 to 5 when the other 16 hours of the day are dragging you down. A job will not establish meaning or provide a retreat from personal problems. Your life is like a table supported by a number of different legs: health, spiritual, family, romantic, social, career and personal development. If just one of those legs is shorter than the others, the table will be uneven. Carefully, evaluate all areas of your life to identify the cause of your consternation.
- Understand the symptoms.
If you have narrowed your source of dissatisfaction to your job, look for the telltale warning signs of career fatigue: Do you drag yourself out of bed in the morning, dreading another day of work? Do you count the days until the weekend? Are you taking longer lunches? Do you look at your watch every 10 minutes awaiting the 5 o'clock whistle? Are you spending more time on non-business-related conversations? Are you using your time at the office to plan and schedule personal business? Have you stopped doing reading related to the job? Has your outlook become more negative or cynical? Are you bored most of the time (not just a day here or there) and running low on enthusiasm? Are you stressed out about time and deadlines? Do you feel like your talents are not being put to their best use? Are you having problems concentrating? Individually, these behaviors do not evidence job burnout. But if you answered "yes" to three or more, you may be in danger of slipping into a job rut.
Make a list of all the things that are bothering you about your job. Has your job changed in ways that you don't like (or maybe has it not changed at all)? Do you have new reporting responsibilities up or down the chain of command? Have you just finished a big project? Just started one? Have budgets constrained your ability to do your job? Does the corporate hierarchy impede progress? How many of those items on your list can you do something about?
Keep in mind that a job is more than just money. If you think you're not being paid enough (who doesn't), you likely are going to run into frustrations in any job. That's because whatever you are being paid, you'll always think you deserve more. All you'll end up being is a highly paid, unhappy worker.
- Live for today. You are given three days: yesterday, today and tomorrow. The only thing you can do about yesterday is to learn from it; you can't change it. The only thing you can do about tomorrow is to prepare for it. But that planning should not come at the expense of living fully, completely in the present.
- Look sideways. Today's companies are leaner (and meaner). Gone are the layers and layers of middle management. With them went the automatic promotions based more on tenure than on performance. Job advancement is no longer based on moving up the ranks. Sometimes, it is moving across the ranks. These lateral moves provide a richer understanding of the challenges in other departments and equip you with a broader set of job skills. What's more, reaching the next rung on the career ladder is not necessarily all that it is cracked up to be. It may take you farther away from what it is that you like doing.
- Make sure the grass is greener. If you're down about your prospects, it's always easy to look across the fence and see greener pastures. Other jobs look more interesting, have more challenge, and pay more. But appearances can be deceiving. The warts and blemishes are rarely visible from a distance. Talk to friends, colleagues, and family and you may indeed find that the same frustrations you are experiencing in your current job are present elsewhere. Or worse. What you're looking for may be closer to home than you think.
- Fire yourself. If things are really that bad at work, as you walk out of your office this Friday, fire yourself. That's right; give yourself the old pink slip. Go home and complain that you lost your job. How are you going to make ends meet? Why did this have to happen to you? Bemoan your fate all day on Saturday, but then on Sunday, resolve to do something about it. Get up and comb through the want ads. Eventually, you'll come across a listing for your old job. It requires the skill and experience you have. The job description sounds like something you can handle and the pay is pretty much what you would have expected. Bingo! You hire yourself back. The moral: sometimes things are not as bad as we make them out to be.
- Fire yourself up. In today's fast-paced business world, companies must always look for new products, new markets, and new services. The traditional business model is losing its relevance. As companies seek to establish their footing, be alert for new opportunities. Jump on new and expanded assignments. Be alert for new opportunities. Ask for more work. Better yet, press your comfort zone and drive some of the change internally. Think outside the corporate box. Get involved in industry committees and organizations where you gain exposure to the latest trends and developments and increase your exposure. Backed with credibility and hard work, this enhanced visibility and involvement will attract attention and start priming the networking pump.
- Add richness to your life. After all, for you a job may be just a job. If you're looking for meaning, you may have to make your mark beyond the cubicle world. Get involved in local service work. Most companies have community service projects such as Habitat for Humanity and blood drives that are crying for champions. Beyond the corporate confines there are ways to plug in and make an impact. Coach your kids. Take a course; or better yet, teach one. Get involved and make a difference. It will create topspin in other areas of your life.
- Test the waters. If you've got leaving on your mind, then schedule a guerilla job search campaign. Properly used, these small tactical initiatives will accomplish three valuable objectives: sharpen your interviewing skills, establish what you're worth on the corporate market, and provide a baseline by which you can judge future job opportunities—all while staying off the radar screen of your current employer. You want to control your job search. If your boss finds out you're looking, your job search may take on greater urgency.
- Set goals. If you decide you have to go, develop a plan along with a timetable. What job do you want and what is the path to achieve it? How are you going to get your name out there? Are you going to wage a full-scale frontal assault or stick with more surgical tactical strikes? You have numerous tools at your disposal—networking, headhunters, staffing agencies, on-line resources, classified advertising. How are you going to weave these resources into your campaign? How many resumes are you going to send out every day or every week? How many personal contacts are you going to make? What kind of research do you need to start? How long are you willing to wait for that perfect job? And be prepared should your current company become aware of your activities. What will you do if you are fired? What will you do if they make you a counter offer?
All of these traction devices have one thing in common: they force you to take ownership of the situation and to take action. Motion creates motion. Now quit complaining and do something.