Are you in a career rut? You’re not alone. The majority of people — 85% of people worldwide — feel emotionally disconnected and disengaged from their workplaces. That means most people dread going into work, feel detached from the work they’re doing and are carrying that stress home with them after work. Studies actually show that unhealthy work environments can lead to a shorter lifespan, weight gain and a myriad of mental health stressors. Long story short, being in a career rut can significantly change your life and even how you view yourself.
The good news is that you’re never stuck. In fact, thanks to the 13th Amendment, no one can make you stay in your job. You have complete control over your future. Here are 10 ways to know you’re in a career rut and how to get out of it.
1. Do some soul searching.
The first thing to do when you’re in a career rut is take a step back and do some soul searching. Sometimes it’s hard to see a path forward when you’re in the middle of a situation you strongly dislike. If you can, it can even help to take a "mental health day" to step away from the daily grind and reevaluate your life. Ask yourself why you’re in a rut. What is it about your career that you dislike? Your department? Your boss? Your workplace? Your industry? Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions. Sometimes the first step to leading a life you love is determining what you don’t want to be doing.
2. Make a plan.
Make a plan for your future and set goals for where you want to be. This doesn’t have to be as structured as a five-year plan, but it’s important to figure out what you want to do. Ask yourself what your dream job is and work backward from there. It can even be helpful to determine the job/role you want to be in, find people who are in those roles (regionally and nationwide) and look at the career path that got them there (LinkedIn is a great starting place for this). Make sure your next move is intentional and gets you closer to your dream career.
It’s also a good strategy to meet with people in the career you want. Ask them to grab coffee and talk to them about their job and how they got there. They might have some tips for you or even know of a job opening in that field. Also, ask them if they like their job. Make sure it’s a good industry to get into before making a major leap.
3. Be an intrapreneur.
Leaving your job is one way to get out of an unhealthy situation, but if you like your work and the mission of your company, ask yourself if there is something you can do to make the situation better. Consider being an intrapreneur, or acting like an entrepreneur within your company. Are there innovative practices you can implement in your company that would increase productivity? Can you see a way to fix the situation you’re in and make the entire company better in the process?
Change is hard — especially for large and antiquated companies — but it’s worth a shot if you think the situation is fixable. If it’s not, consider entrepreneurship!
4. Diversify your revenue streams.
One of the hardest parts of being in a rut is being dependent on your salary. After all, it is your livelihood, and your paycheck can dictate a lot of decisions if you let it. But we live in the gig economy, and there are thousands of opportunities out there you can do on the side or on nights and weekends. Don’t think of this as more work to pile on your plate; think of this as actually doing something you want to do.
Look into freelance work in different industries that can give you a varied portfolio. Diversifying your revenue streams gives you empowerment over your job and financial situation. All of a sudden, you’re not 100% beholden to the job you hate, and now you have options for the future.
Pro tip: Before you look for outside work, check your company’s policies. Sometimes outside work is frowned upon, so it may need to be something you line up for when you step away. The good news is that there are tons of outside opportunities waiting for motivated people to jump in.
5. Create a personal board of directors.
Think about a board of directors for a for-profit or nonprofit company. Boards are made up of people from various backgrounds and stages of life, and they guide the strategy and activities of an organization. Now think about creating a board for your own life — a group of people whose feedback and mentorship you seek and who you trust to advise your personal strategy and decision-making. This can be people you regularly seek for counsel, people you admire, people who are younger/older than you, etc.
Create a group of 5-10 people and think about them as your personal board. Before you make a decision, ask them what they would do. Get feedback and think critically about the decisions you’re making. Sometimes their insight will surprise you and will make you see your situation completely differently. An outside perspective can be crucial in determining how to transition out of your current situation.
6. Look for volunteer/outside opportunities.
One of the biggest reasons people don’t leave their jobs is because they don’t have another job to go to. This is especially problematic if you’ve been at a job for several years or your entire career. Broaden your network! Just like the outside gigs, there are tons of volunteer opportunities and boards waiting for you to give your insights. Getting yourself in the community can significantly expand your personal and professional network, which can lead to a widened perspective and potentially more opportunities.
Studies also show that volunteering makes you happier, so in addition to getting yourself out of your comfort zone, it can change your outlook on life, and you’ll be giving back in the process.
7. Stop being afraid.
Many people I talk with about their careers are so afraid of the unknown that they’d rather stay in an unhealthy situation than explore what’s next. If you know you strongly dislike where you are, the unknown can only be better than your current situation. Remind yourself that this is just a job, and you can’t let fear stop you from living your life.
8. Know your worth.
No matter where you are or what you’re doing, you need to be in a place where you are valued. Be careful not to let your job dictate the rest of your life. If you feel like your friendships or your view of yourself is contingent on your job title or place of work, it can cause you to superficially force yourself to stay in an unhealthy work environment. And if your personal relationships or status are completely based on your job, it may be time to think critically about those relationships and what they mean to you.
Find people who care about you because of who you are, not what you do, and don’t let other people’s perceptions dictate your own future. There will always be more opportunities for you.
9. Don’t give up.
Remind yourself that most people are in jobs they dislike, and the ones who aren’t probably have been before. Don’t feel disheartened about your situation. The world is changing and the face of our economy is changing. In fact, the majority of the jobs today’s students will do in 2030 don’t exist yet. Your situation is only temporary, and you can get out of it any time. Don’t give up on yourself or your future.
10. Create a life you don’t need a vacation from.
Or as Seth Godin says, "Instead of wondering where your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape." Figure out what you want to change in your life. Think back to your plan, talk to your personal board and create a life you’ll love every day. My dad used to always tell me that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. He’s owned his business for more than 40 years and never wants to retire. Find a job that adds value to your life, not one that diminishes it.
You may feel like you’re in a rut, but don’t forget that the rut is only in your mind. You can forge your own trail at any moment, and no one is making you stay where you are. Take a risk and be an intrapreneur, entrepreneur, join the gig economy or take a leap into the unknown. The only way to go from here is up.
Kim Lane has experience building entrepreneurial ecosystems at the global, national, regional and hyper-local levels. She is the Career Connections Consultant for Facebook, serves as a senior advisor for the Global Entrepreneurship Network and is a regional representative for the Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups program.