How to Break Out of your Career Rut

Written by Professional Academy Management and Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights

Work is a busy place for most people with little time to really spend thinking about they need to be and how to go about getting there. However, getting out of a career rut doesn’t necessarily mean changing career direction altogether. It’s the small and sustainable changes that can have the biggest positive impact.

How to identify when it’s time to make a change

There are two triggers that will help you to identify when it’s time to start thinking your career and whether you need to make a change.

1. When you can’t see a path to success


2. When you look at the path other people have taken and you don’t feel comfortable with it

Both scenarios point to there being a lack of personal growth available to you.

Jim Rohn, motivational speaker, once said you need to ‘Work harder on yourself than you do on your job’. Rohn was trying to emphasise the importance of personal improvement. Unfortunately, there isn’t a blueprint for it. It will look different for each person. So you need to define your own version of success and then invest in yourself to help realise that success.

Focus on crafting your skills first

People often assume that passion will be enough to take them forward. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, believes that ‘following your passion’ can be dangerous advice. Instead of focusing on finding your passion and then searching for a job to fit the passion, he advises focusing on building the skills that interest you first. As I mentioned in the introduction – getting out of a rut doesn’t mean changing your career, it’s more about re-shaping it and sharpening the tools (skills).

Like a craftsman, you should find satisfaction in the development of your skill and then leveraging that skill. Craftsmen don’t check their social media feeds every five minutes. They’re not looking for the easy win. They’re the people dedicating time to and pushing their skill every day. They know what they’re doing is difficult. They accept the constraints, conditions and compromises and ask themselves: how good can I become despite these obstacles? That’s the mind set of the craftsman.

So how do you know what skills you have and which ones you want to develop? This is where Cal Newport’s concept of ‘career capital’ comes into effect. Ask yourself: what skills do I have that are both rare and valuable to the market? Another way of thinking about this is to reflect on the subjects, themes and tasks that people come to you for advice or help with.

Plot your thoughts on a mind map to help visualise your ‘career capital’. Use this to identify where you are now and where you need to be in terms of skills development.

Create and maintain great relationships

Whilst skills are important and they’ll get you so far, to harness your true potential you also need to form good relationships with people. By doing so you’ll complement your hard (technical) skills with the soft (people) skills.

So seek out opportunities to be with people who will inspire you and take you to where you want to be. They might be people who are doing the thing you want to do or people who can challenge you and push you harder. Whoever they are, make sure you keep them close by and invest time and energy into those relationships.

Keep it going

Keeping up the momentum with any project, plan or goal is difficult.

Here are three great ways to keep pushing forward:

1. Know your ‘why’ - have a strong reason behind what you’re doing. This is crucial to keeping you going during the tough times and it will help you to consistently move purposefully in a specific direction.

2. Work smart - remember that it isn’t just about putting in the hours it’s about working smart too. Remove distractions in the places where you work e.g. close down distracting apps, shut the office door and don’t look at emails. Create habits that will help you to achieve your goals e.g. get up one hour earlier and spend that hour developing the skills you have identified that you want to invest in.

3. Say ‘no’ - say, ‘no’ to the things that don’t align with your values and that won’t help you to get where you want to be.

This approach will help you to not only get you out of your career rut but it will help you to stay on your path to success.

If you need further advice, get in touch via LinkedIn.

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