Last week, I had the great pleasure of speaking with Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke of "I Just Work Here," a workplace column that focuses on leading career issues and trends. We talked about numerous questions he's received recently around "How do I know if my career is stalled?" and "What do I do if I know I need a change but am not sure what that is." Great questions. (Check out Rex's helpful post "The Corporate Ladder: It's Not an Escalator" for more).
In addressing Rex's questions, I explained that there are three key steps to take if you believe you're stalled in your career and need to determine exactly what steps to take next.
These three core steps are:
1) Get clarity about who you really are and what you want in the next chapter.
2) Get feedback from your co-workers and colleagues about your performance, style, approach, unique contributions and your "personal brand."
3) Get help from your support community to get moving again.
Step 1: Gain an intimate understanding of who and where you are:
As Rex's article explains, most people are in the dark about who they really are -- deep down -- what they want and how their career is going. Rex's article is right on: Your career path is not an escalator that will simply rise up effortlessly with no direction, effort or support from you. You have to take control.
The best way I know to take control is to begin to know yourself more deeply and intimately, including your values, needs, talents, skills, standards of integrity, life intentions and the legacy you want to leave behind. Assess your situation from your own personal, authentic perspective. You have to be an active participant in your own career management -- don't let your career just happen to you. (To gain clarity on what you want, where you've been and where you want to go, take my free Career Path Self-Assessment.)
Step 2: Get feedback about where you stand
The second essential component to effective career management is understanding how are you viewed and perceived by others in terms of your performance, behavior, contribution and standings in the workforce and at your organization. Are you well-liked and valued? Are you considered to be a leader and effective manager? Are you achieving and surpassing the professional and workplace goals and expectations that your colleagues, managers and supervisors have for/of you? Don't let all of this critical feedback and information blindside you at review time. Know how you're faring, all along the way.
In addition, no matter how happy or unhappy you are in your work, you should be getting out there in the world and in your field, learning and participating more actively and fully. Have a "student" mindset and do continual research about your job function, field, industry, marketplace and your competitive value and worth. Bring yourself to market, interview for jobs that excite you, participate in networking meetings and at your industry's associations and conferences. Get out there and get connected so that when you want to make change, you've set the stage.
Step 3: Get help from your support community
As Einstein said, "You can't solve a problem on the level it was created." If you're truly stalled, you'll most likely first try to make change by taking simple, easy steps (such as reading a book, taking a break or joining a new project). But those steps won't bring you the changes you need and want. For that to happen, you need to gain an outside perspective and empowered support -- in the form of a trusted mentor, sponsor or coach -- to help you see your potential, clarify appropriate options and develop an action plan that will take you where you want to go.
Why do we need outside help? Because we simply can't recognize our unique and amazing value and capabilities, the blocks that hold us back and the many options available to us on our own. You can't create major change by just wishing it to be. You've got to take the right kind of action that will help you know your worth, overcome the obstacles in the way of your success (and, trust me, there are some) and create a vision for your next chapter that motivates and inspires you. (For a great first step in this process, check out my Amazing Career Project).
How do you know your career is really stalled, and it's time for change?:
1) You feel each day that you're meant for something else
2) You're not supported, respected or valued by those around you
3) You're not aligned with what you do, and don't feel good about your talents and your ability to succeed
4) You consistently dream about being somewhere (or someone) else
5) You're having repeated challenges or problems at work that aren't getting better
As Rex recommends in his article, grab the "remote" and take control of your career. It's up to you -- no one else will do this for you. If you don't, you'll find that you'll simply begin to experience more and more of what you don't want, and less of what you do.
The time to take control is now.