Navigating a Career Slump – All You Need To Know To Move Ahead
You’ve been staring at your computer screen for hours, unable to do anything. You continuously find yourself wasting away the hours at work, procrastinating and avoiding the one thing you should be doing. No matter what you try — zen music, more caffeine, meditating, eating “brain food” — nothing seems to work. You’ve lost all motivation for your job, and that spreadsheet simply sits there: incomplete and taunting you.
Productivity is the name of the game in the modern-day office, and it seems like if you’re not constantly working and slogging away, then you’re wasting your company’s time and money. Yet no matter what you do in your current position, you feel stuck and your motivation seems lost forever. When you’ve reached this point, it’s very likely you’ve fallen into a career slump.
Many people may find themselves in this situation some day, and there are many paths that may lead you to this conclusion. It’s possible you found this job by happenstance and thought it would be worthwhile to try out — “As long as it pays the bills, I’ll be able to do it!” you may have thought. Or it’s possible you got a degree in this field and you always thought you would want to be doing what you’re doing, but you’ve come to find it’s not nearly as glamorous as you pictured.
Whatever the path you’ve taken may be, getting out of a career slump can be tricky — but it’s certainly not impossible. Try these steps for digging down to the root of the problem, finding a solution, and getting yourself out of the career slump you’re in.
Making the Right Call
Career slumps can happen at any time — you could be anywhere from six months to 20 years into a career and suddenly feel as if your career journey has plateaued. Whatever the case may be, there are some universal, concrete steps you can take to ensure your career gets back on the right path.
For starters, consider what is preventing you from feeling fulfilled at your job right now. Write down what your current obstacles are and see if they are relevant to the signs that you’ve outstayed your job:
- No Respect: Do you feel as if people are constantly talking over you in meetings or throwing your ideas aside without a second thought? Respect for your work is vital for your sense of fulfillment and your motivation. Without it, you’re unlikely to grow with the company and will feel as if much of your work goes unrecognized or isn’t of value. If your co-workers and boss don’t respect you, then it’s high time for you to get out of there. No one’s got time for that!
- No Forward Momentum: Are you not paid enough to feel motivated to work? Or perhaps there’s no way for you to move up in the company? If you’re working for a small business, vertical growth in the company is uncommon, and, consequently, there may not be much money for you to make. If that’s the case then it could be you need a change of scenery or to find someone more willing to pay what you’re worth. Additionally, the gender pay gap is still a common issue, and if you find you’re being underpaid compared to your (equally qualified) male coworkers, then you need to find something to better support you.
- No Stimulation: Being bored at your job is going to happen from time to time, but when you’re bored every single day, then that is a surefire sign you need to leave. Jobs should motivate and drive you, and the work you do should flow naturally from thought to paper. You also want to feel challenged — to be excited to come in and try something new — but if that’s not happening, then sticking around isn’t going to make it any better. Get out while you can!
- No Support: Is the workload stressing you out to the point of breaking, and you cringe just thinking about what work you need to do? If your body is having a physical reaction to your job — tense shoulders, lack of sleep, and gut issues due to stress — then you should listen to your body and find something less tense than your current job. Mental and physical health should be your number one priority — without your body, you’re useless! If your job is compromising either one or both, then your job is what needs to go. Don’t try to power through it, as that’ll only make it worse.
Looking at the list of all the reasons to quit your job, which ones seem to align most with your circumstances? Write down whatever your concerns are. Alongside this list, write down the pros and cons of leaving: Are you worried about money, interviewing, or having to move towns for a new job? Together, these two lists will help you solidify if you’re ready to leave your current job.
But wait! Before you go quitting your current job on the spot, it’s important you make sure you have a contingency plan: do you have a new job lined up yet, or are you going to try your hand at entrepreneurship? Remaining financially stable through a job transition is extremely important, and leaving a job before you have a new one lined up will only make you more stressed for money, and potentially more desperate for a new job. Instead of risking it, make sure you take concrete steps to ensure you won’t be in financial trouble if you leave.
All the Wrong Reasons
Now, take a step back and consider your circumstances. Look hard at the root of the problem: is your current feeling temporary, or have you been feeling this way for a while? It’s important to make sure you’re not quitting your job for the wrong reasons:
- Bad Day/Week/Month: It could be your job is going through a transition, or maybe the whole company is currently in a slump. However, if it’s a temporary change, then it will be more worth your time to stick it out until things get better than it will be to abandon ship completely. Plus, sticking around shows your loyalty to the business, which can be rewarding in the long run. Bad days, weeks, or months happen, but that doesn’t mean your job has plateaued.
- Bad Position, But Not a Bad Company: If the company treats you well, values your work, and provides you with all the essential benefits you need to survive and enjoy yourself, then you shouldn’t leave. However, if the work you’re doing right now in your current position with the company is causing you undue stress or worry, then it could be worth your interest to ask for a promotion, ask for a raise, or switch departments. That would be much easier than having to find a new job, and your company can benefit from your renewed vigor to try something new and exciting.
- You Need a Break: Look, everyone gets burnout from their job — our minds can only concentrate for so long! Productivity might be essential in the modern workforce, but it does require an almost unnatural amount of energy. If you’re feeling especially worn out from your job (but you still love working there), then do yourself a favor and take a nice, long vacation. You deserve it, and the company will be happy to have you back — well rested and with a fresh new perspective on the business!
- You’re Not Prepared: It could be you need to leave the job you’re at for a better one, but there are some factors holding you back: the money, your benefits, and your time with the company. Money is an obvious one — you want to be financially prepared for a career change. Budget your money and make sure you can do it, and make sure if you’re taking a paycut, it won’t end up hurting you in the long run. Benefits are also important, as health insurance and retirement savings are often directly tied to your employer. Ditching good benefits could be almost as damaging as taking a major pay cut. Make sure if you’re moving to a new company they can offer a similar level of support to their employees.
- You’re Job Hopping: Lastly, if you’ve only been with the company for a few months and you decide to leave, you may appear as if you’re “job hopping,” which can look especially bad on your resume when you’re applying to new jobs. Try to avoid job hopping unless your health (mental or physical) is really on the line with your current job.
It’s extremely important to make sure you’re not just ditching your work because you’ve had a bad few weeks, but that you’re doing it because you genuinely feel unfulfilled, overwhelmed, stressed, or all of the above.
Otherwise, you could potentially be leaving a very lucrative job — of which you’ve gained years of valuable experience — just because you’re having a bad month. If you prematurely leave a job, you could actually miss out on career advancement opportunities, raises, or networking opportunities. On the other hand, if you can easily identify this job as a career slump, then it’s certainly time to move on to something bigger and better before you waste more years in a job that doesn’t value your input.
Fixing Your Career Slump
Now that you’ve weighed the good and bad reasons to find a new job, it’s time for you to decide if you’re ready to change things up. Assess the scale of your slump: do you need a new job, a new position, a new purpose, a new location, or a new start altogether?
Career slumps can feel like midlife crisis — what have you been doing wasting all your years at this job? Yet, slumps are also common and normal, and instead of viewing this slump as a setback, view it as a way to reevaluate what you want out of your career. Before you fall into a pit of despair, try these steps to turning your career slump into a career jump.
Finding Purpose or Fulfillment in Your Career
The scale of your slump could also be dependent on if you’re able to meet your intentions: are you doing what you’ve always wanted to do, or do you feel like you’ve lost track of your original vision for your future? What would it take to get back to that path, and what obstacles may be in your way? Once you can identify your original intention, you may be able to feel a renewed vigor to pursue your dream, and that could be all you need to go out and achieve it.
Of course, sometimes your vision may be difficult to see, or you may feel as if you’ve never really had a future plan at all. In that case, you can actively change up your routine to try to calm your mind and find what centers you. Here are some examples:
- Instead of entertaining all your friends, spend time being entertained: go to lectures, read a book, watch a movie, and spend more time listening than talking.
- Take a different route to work, instead of falling into your normal commuter routine — sometimes a change of scenery is all you need to ignite a new perspective in your mind.
- You could also go to meetups — whether social or for work purposes — and try to network with other people in your area. Maybe they can help you get a better idea of what other jobs or industries are like and if you would enjoy them as well.
As you start to investigate other possible careers or industries, you may find your purpose has changed or your purpose was never really met at your current job. Some people even argue that your journey for a purpose never truly ends at all.
Perhaps you find yourself needing more one-on-one time with people. Working in counseling, therapy, or social work could be the change of pace you need. In social work, specifically, not only will you have the opportunity to help others, but you can also work with organizations to provide services for patients, and work alongside government policy makers to advocate for the communities and people that you help. Plus, many therapists, social workers, and counselors can work independently (whether in partnership with a clinic or simply out of their own office). This also means you can control your own schedule, choose your own hours, and become self-employed.
In general, you may find that your future doesn’t belong with any one company or industry, but through working for yourself and doing what it is you truly love. Entrepreneurship is definitely a buzzword in the modern working world, but for good reason: it can be both profitable and fulfilling to work for yourself, without the burden of a boss, bureaucracy, company hierarchy, or a set schedule.
Taking a Sharp Right Turn
If you still feel your true purpose is out of reach — and you’re feeling extra brave — you could always take the option of dramatically changing your career path for the better. Maybe you went to school and got a degree in an uninteresting subject, or one that doesn’t have a very big job pool — like Anthropology or Linguistics. As fun as it may have been to take those classes and learn all about the field, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able apply your knowledge to a similar job or that the industry is going to captivate you for very long. So, why not go back to school and try to learn something new or start a brand new career journey from scratch?
Think about it: when you were 18 and choosing your classes for your freshman year in college, did you have any idea what life after college would be like or what you were going to pursue? Now that you’re older — having more job and real-life experience — you can make a more educated guess on what career would really interest and sustain you for the coming years. You could also go back to school to try to get a master’s or similar advanced degree.
Of course, you could also do what you’ve always wanted, and take a gap year before you dive back into your education. Similar to the above examples about changing your perspective to find your purpose, there’s nothing like traveling the world to really find yourself and find what motivates and inspires you. Becoming a world traveler could be the inspiration you’ve been craving to really start a new career journey. Just make sure that, if you do decide to travel the world, you do it in the most financially responsible way possible: look for work (possibly even working remotely for the job you’re at now), look for financial aid or government grants, budget your money, and save as much as possible.
Sometimes all your life needs is a sharp right turn into something new and exciting. That dramatic change — although scary and intimidating — can jumpstart your life onto a path of endless possabilities and excitement.
If you think you’re ready to start down this new path — whether through new educational opportunities or recentering on your purpose — begin your job or college search, update your resume, and start considering your options. You may never know what the future holds, but you won’t find out until you take that initial leap of faith.
This guest post was authored by Brooke Faulkner
Brooke Faulkner is a writer, mom and adventurer in the Pacific Northwest. She spends her days pondering what makes a good leader. And then dreaming up ways to teach these virtues to her sons, without getting groans and eye rolls in response.