April 26

What to do when your career is stuck


The day you realise you’re not growing at your job, may well be the worst day of your life.

I remember that day for me.

It was the day I was served with my Performance Improvement Plan.

For months, I had been trying to do more and more at my job. I started looking into how they could improve their marketing. I studied their Google Analytics. I even went into looking at their on-premise servers to figure out how to move their servers to the cloud.

Then one morning, I received a nasty email from a manager, copying everyone else about a form I had not submitted.

It got me seething, and seeing red.

I confronted the manager.

And this act of insubordination, ended up seeing me seated in a Zoom room, together with my managers, about how to improve my performance.

I admit. That act of insubordination was stupid.

You should never do what I did.

But the day my manager told me,

John, let’s face it.

You’re not very well liked in the team.


And he turned the knife in even further when he said,

John, maybe you should think about how to follow the job description rather than doing extra.

That was the day I realised I wasn’t going to grow in my job.

What is growth?

We talk about this huge word ‘growth’, when we speak about careers, but we don’t exactly identify what growth is.

Growth comprises of three parts.

  1. You’re growing in the responsibilities you have at work.
    1. It can mean having entire responsibilities over the Profit and Loss statement.
  2. You’re growing in your competencies.
  3. You’re growing in your managerial responsibilities.
    1. You may take charge of your first intern.

But how does that happen?

And more importantly, how do you angle for that?

Take responsibility, and stop complaining

Don’t complain about the situation you are in.

Do something about it.

I’ve seen countless people talk about how bad their jobs are. If you tell them to change, then they will give you another reason why it’s not the right time.

Spot yourself saying this?

Oh this is not the right time because I need to wait for my bonus.

Oh the market is bad, it’s not the right time.

Do something. Don’t just talk.

Find a challenging role

The Civil Service College did a study on 36 public service leaders.

Challenging assignments at work are the most significant stimuli for leadership development.

92% of interviewees cited challenging assignments as having a lasting impact on their development as leaders.

Only 11% of interviewees cite coursework and training as a source of leadership learning.

92% of interviewees found challenging assignments the most significant source of their growth.
92% of interviewees found challenging assignments the most significant source of their growth.

In August 2021, I passed my Performance Improvement Plan, but found noticeable improvement in my performance. I remember the day I passed.

We were all sat in a Zoom room, and the directors were telling me about how they were glad at the ‘improvement’ I had made. But I knew better.

I knew deep down that all I had done, was keep to the rules, and not do anything extra. Check in, check out, and go home.

Mentally, I had checked out from my job.

One director mentioned,

It seems like you’ve been quieter over the months.

I thought to myself,

Wasn’t this what you expected when you asked me to follow the rules?

A week later, they broached the subject of extending the contract.

Nah. I didn’t want to stay in a place where I didn’t find any more challenge.

Where I was just checking in and out for a paycheck.

But leaving without a job was much harder. For 6 months, I tried to get a job. 104 jobs, 31 interviews, and 0 offers.

I had to make something happen on my own.

Trying to earn money on my own accord, without any institutional backing, was the hardest challenge I ever had. But it also grew me beyond my wildest expectations.

As you find yourself disengaged from this current job, you may choose to find something else.

But find something bigger.

If you look at the type of experiences that grew the executives, these are the types you should look for.
If you look at the type of experiences that grew the executives, these are the types you should look for.

Challenge yourself.

Don’t listen to ‘career experts’ who try to tell you what to do

Here in Singapore, there is a new, more sinister breed of people appearing.

And these are people who feel the need to give you advice. They would volunteer for roles like being a mentor, or running ‘ground-up initiatives’, just so that they can be in a place where they can tell people what to do.

Listen to them, but recognise that they won’t be best-placed to tell you about growth.

They spew out all the fancy terms, but if you peer beneath, they are just empty vessels.

I remember someone I once came across who told me he was working at one of the Big Tech firms.

Sure, kudos to him for getting in. But when I asked him what exactly he did, he was evasive. But eventually I got it.

He was handling customer complaints.

Then he started telling me about his ground up initiatives.

Please don’t get me wrong.

I’m not saying that any of these were bad in and of themselves but I do think you should take advice from people who have experience and expertise coaching people.

These are often people who focus less on telling, but more on understanding you. They will ask more questions.

People you should listen to People you should keep away from
People who don’t talk much about themselves People who tell you about their projects and initiatives without asking you about your own
People who try to understand you by asking you questions about yourself People who just tell you what to do

Are you working for a super boss?

In Sydney Finkelstein’s book, ‘Superboss’, he tried to figure out why certain people became the motherlodes of talent in the industry.

If you looked at the top fifty people in these industries, you would find that perhaps fifteen or twenty had once worked for or had been mentored by one or a few talent spawners.

Finding these superbosses will help you grow.

Let’s close with this.

If you find yourself wanting more from your job, don’t accept anything less.

For the last 5 months of my job, I found myself hating every single moment of it. I was scared of making mistakes, knowing that I would end up being faulted, or potentially sacked.

And I knew that I was just doing a job, and then going home.

I didn’t want to do it anymore.

And quitting without a job, and not being able to get a job, became the best blessing in disguise.

This isn’t the advice you probably wanted.

But growing through challenging assignments continues to be the best way to grow.

You will grow through what you go through.



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