Feb 26, 2023

Career Setbacks: What To Do When You Feel Stuck

Written by Mariateresa Romeo

There comes a moment in our professional lives when we feel stuck. We lose the initial motivation that made us undertake our path, or events in our personal life force us to downsize our professional aspirations.
Sometimes it is the organization we have devoted our efforts to for years that lets us down by not keeping the career growth promises or changing the game rules to the point that we feel we don’t belong there anymore and are no longer considered a valuable asset.
We don’t thrive but survive, gripped by concerns about the future, resentment, anger towards ourselves or our employers, fear of questioning our past choices and blowing up our lives, boredom, and frustration with our routine, lack of inspiration, and so on: an explosive mix of feelings that push us in every direction to find a way out.

Sadly, we are no longer sure of what we want and which is the best way forward. We live in a dead calm, unsatisfied with our work and without goals or ambitions. Deep inside, we hope a door will open for us unexpectedly, or someone will give us the key. But it doesn’t happen, or at least not soon as we expect.
Old sailors had to learn how to face the storms as well as the lack of wind: the dead calm could be fatal, as it forced them to remain stuck in the sea at the risk of exhausting the ship’s supplies.
Similarly, we must learn to manage the periods of stalemate and dead-ends in our careers to prepare the ground and create the conditions for a breakthrough.
Being aware that this is just another stage of our professional life, we must go through it without intending to avoid or flee. Following are a few suggestions to help you in this process.

Don’t fall into the victim trap

A successful career path doesn’t have to be linear. Roadblocks and setbacks are part of the route; even the most successful leaders and entrepreneurs had dark moments, suffered losses, or had their projects rejected. Blaming others because you didn’t have that promotion or lost your job, for example, will not give you back what you want. Pay attention to the words you use when you tell your story. Are they soaked with self-pity or complaint? Playing the victim gives us intrinsic pleasure as we feel worthy of compassion and call others’ attention to us. But at the same time, wallowing in victimhood makes us feel not responsible for the situation we are in now and reduce our ability to learn from past experiences and see new paths to follow.

If you don’t know where to start, start with yourself

The sense of helplessness is pervasive when the situation is so challenging that there is nowhere to turn. Many fear these feelings and try to avoid them by keeping busy and engaging in several activities, such as erratic research for another job, without a clear scope. Consequently, they enter into a spiral of stress and frustration, from which it isn’t easy to get out.
A good strategy is shifting focus from the challenging situation to yourself. Reconnect with your values and purpose, slow down, and take back the enjoyment to taste life. Rediscover your hobbies and passions that characterize you as an individual before as a professional.
You might feel guilty as you are not taking the situation too seriously or trying to avoid the problem. There is a strategy behind it. Reconnecting with yourself will allow you to reduce stress, clear your mind, and regain the emotional balance you need to re-read your professional story from a different perspective, rediscover talents and create a new path.

Suspend any judgemental behavior

Don’t discard an idea or a project on the assumption that it is too late, you are too old, and you need the right skills or enough resources, etc. It is always possible to reinvent yourself. Explore new paths. Don’t be afraid of the time and effort that it will take. Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them. Ask for qualified help, like coaching or therapy, and any other support you might need. Live it as a possibility to fulfill your aspirations and have a more meaningful professional life, combining passion and profession.
You can turn a crisis into an opportunity to create something new or get stuck in it, convinced that your career was only a colossal failure. It depends on how you look at it and the story you want to tell yourself and others.

Let’s not pretend things will change if we keep doing the same things. A crisis can be a real blessing to any person, to any nation. For all crises bring progress. Creativity is born from anguish, just like the day is born from the dark night. It’s in crisis that inventiveness is born, as well as discoveries made and big strategies. He who overcomes crisis, overcomes himself, without getting overcome. (Albert Einstein)

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