April 26

Feeling stuck in a job

These are the days…

There are those days. You feel stuck in a job. You feel like every single day of work is sucking out your soul. You don’t know what you’re doing.

The job has become a meaningless trudge to work everyday. You dress for work. Take the subway. Reach the office. Do the things that’s required of you.

And somehow, there’s a sense of boredom. There’s little excitement. You’re not sure why you’re even at the job, beyond the fact that you need money to do the things you want to do. You don’t look forward to anything in the job.

feeling stuck at work
Do you feel like work is sucking out your soul?

You don’t feel like you’re growing

Daniel Pink wrote this remarkable book called ‘Drive’, where he explored the reasons why people were engaged by their work. He found that one of the reasons was because of mastery. People felt like they were growing in their jobs, slowly becoming better at their work.

Often, when you're stuck at the skills plateau, you can end up feeling that sense of being stuck.
Often, when you’re stuck at the skills plateau, you can end up feeling that sense of being stuck.

Being in the skills plateau can feel frustrating because you’re not too sure how to break out of it. Nor do you feel that you’re steadily getting better.

You are not flowing.

You may struggle with finding the magical flow that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about. This state of flow comes when you’re fully engaged in what you’re doing.

As you can see from the graph below, the flow zone rests between the state of boredom and anxiety. The task difficulty is just outside your comfort zone. But you get stuck because the task may be too difficult for you, or else too easy. You don’t feel like you’re engaged with it because it’s too cognitively challenging, or else it may be too mundane for you. Think back to the last time when time just flowed for you. What were you doing? What was engaging about the task? What skills did you employ there?

The flow state comes when you're doing things that are just outside your comfort zone
The flow state comes when you’re doing things that are just outside your comfort zone

When you’re in flow, you forget about time. You no longer feel like you’re stuck watching the clock. Instead, you feel that time flies by.

You’re not excited by the work you’re doing

I once spoke to a corporate highflier at Siemens, the German conglomerate. When I asked him for the reasons behind his corporate success, he shared,

But at the beginning, I would not try to go for a job or a position where I think my skill set fits.

I would rather go for something where I think I’m interested in and I’m excited about it.

The skill set is maybe secondary, because you can learn skills.

But if you are excited about a position or job or function or company, then that is something which grabs you and brings energy.

And I think it’s extremely important to do something you like, because if you don’t, then after a short time, you will quit, or it will not be successful.

Because you don’t put in all your efforts.

That would be my take on this. Go for what you’re interested in, than for your skill set. And the skills develop along the along the way.

Being excited about the work you’re going to do is a very important thing. I know. When you’re younger in your corporate career, some days may seem like stupid days. After all, how engaging and exciting could writing minutes, typing emails, or printing papers seem?

feeling stuck at work
Maybe you wish you could be retrenched from your job, just so that you become a bit more excited about work.

That’s why in any job you look for, you need to look at how excited you are by the scope of the work. Always ask,

What would a typical day look like?

If you don’t find yourself excited by that, then don’t take the job.

How do you get unstuck?

Not all of us can afford to quit our job. These are a series of ways that I’ve found helped me to get unstuck from my job.

Some history

When I first started my job, I didn’t like it. It was well, a job. It wasn’t something that made me jump awake, excited to get going.

I would spend the first month reading articles online, surfing the stock market, and generally not very interested in the main job I had to do.

I realised something had to change.

Start using the skills you have

There are certain skills you have that make you excited.

The sheer use of these skills make you beam from ear to ear, joyful at the impact you’re able to make with them. I still haven’t managed to figure out why this is so. But it’s probably because of what Mihaly studied in flow, or what Haidt proposed in his book, ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’. The fit between yourself and your work allows you to find a deep sense of fulfilment and movement within you, such that you no longer feel stuck.

But you may say,

John I’m not sure what skills I have or love.

Here’s my advice to you. Take assessment such as the Strengthsfinder to find out what you’re like.

Secondly, take the time to work through books such as ‘A Job to Love’ (by The School of Life) or ‘What Color is Your Parachute’ (Richard Bolles). When you work through those books, you may discover certain insights about yourself. Make sure you work through them from end to end. Too often, we do one or two exercises in the book, and profess that they don’t work.

Of course they don’t! You’ve only done two of the twenty in them! How would you expect them to work?

Make some outrageous goals

Craft goals that matter to you, not goals that start from what others are doing. When we live in a world that’s dominated by social media, we can tend to take reference from our peers as what’s important to us. We lose sight of who we are and what matters to us. That can be dangerous. It’s really important to take time to identify goals that matter to you in terms of the impact you can possibly make.

Identify the progress

Every step, however small, is a step. The problem is that we often don’t celebrate that. We would rather keep our eyes on the peak, and continue insisting that we are no closer to the peak.

Taking time to acknowledge the distance you’ve come, however little is vital to helping you to maintain the motivation to come unstuck from where you are. It is crucial for you to celebrate the small things, so you don’t give up on the big thing.

feeling stuck at work
Take time to celebrate the small things in life. Give yourself a trophy!

It’s a commitment

If you’re interested in making the most of life, don’t settle for anything less. Too many people settle for lives of mediocrity, doing things they don’t like, to pay for the things they love, and end up living lives of less. You see it in their eyes.

They aren’t really excited about what they talk about, nor are they truly invested in what they do. It just seems they are existing, rather than really living.

There’s more to life than being stuck.

The question is,

Will you commit to being unstuck?


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