If you’ve experienced a career rut, you’re likely aware of the feelings that go with it, like discouragement, dissatisfaction, anger, boredom, self-doubt, and frustration. But one feeling that isn’t commonly associated with a career rut is inspired. If you change your perspective, you may find that feeling completely uninspired can come from feeling inspired. In fact, feeling stuck professionally usually feels the opposite.
Career ruts can happen at any point in your professional journey. You can be six months out of college and working full-time only to discover you don’t enjoy what you spent all of these years studying/pursuing, or you could be decades into your career and find that you’ve hit the ceiling and have nowhere left to go. Regardless of why you’re in a career rut, they usually leave you feeling pretty deflated at the moment. But they’re also an opportunity for you to take a step back and look at your profession from a different perspective–and possibly lead you to make a significant life change.
What is a Career Rut?
Defining a career rut is tricky because it’s not something you can necessarily see as an outsider, but rather something you feel when you’re experiencing one. Generally speaking, though, a career rut is when you reach a point professionally where you’re no longer excited.
Of course, we all have days and even months where we feel like we have to drag ourselves out of bed to show up at work, but that’s not necessarily a career rut. Often, external factors can affect how we feel about work and even how we perform. For instance, if your child is struggling at school or your parent’s health is declining, you may be feeling unhappy at work—but the chances are high that it’s not your career that’s causing this problem.
On the other hand, an actual career rut isn’t due to anything other than your current job. That said, it can come in many forms:
- Feeling uninspired or bored with your work, your company or industry’s mission, or some other factor that directly relates to your job
- Feeling stuck in your position with no growth options; this could look like reaching the highest level you can within your field, reaching the highest point you’re interested in going (i.e., you don’t want to manage direct reports, so there’s only so high you can climb), or there is no opportunity for growth within the organization you’re at
- Lacking confidence in yourself, either because your boss/company is undervaluing you or because you genuinely don’t think this is a job you’re capable of doing well 40 hours a week for the foreseeable future
- Considering a career pivot; while wanting to make a pivot can be a wonderful thing for a career, the lead up can also cause you to feel resentful and uninspired until you’re able to make a move
- Experiencing feelings of general unhappiness or regular burnout; this can look like struggling to get out of bed and get to work more often than not, feeling completely fried from all of the stress your job is bringing you, and or like you’re veering on the edge of depression
- Feeling stuck out of fear of salary matching; if you’re in an industry or job that is famous for high salaries (and possibly even overcompensation), you may feel stuck in your career because a transition would likely result in a pay decrease
Experiencing a career rut is, to put it bluntly, a real downer. Even though your worth is not in your job, you have to spend a good chunk of your life at work, and it can be exhausting to spend day after day somewhere that leaves you feeling so low.
Taking a Closer Look
As with most challenging situations, you have the choice to just continue feeling down and out about your career rut, or you can do something about it. Often, you can learn a lot about what you want and need professionally from a career rut. So if you’re in the middle of one right now, ask yourself:
- What is this situation telling you about the type of work you do or don’t enjoy?
- Are you getting a clearer picture of your strengths and weaknesses?
- Is this career rut the result of being over or underqualified for your position? Do you lack the specific skills necessary to do your job?
- If your job isn’t the problem, then is it the company? If so, what is the problem: the culture, the mission, leadership, ethics?
- Is the reason you lack confidence because you’re not getting the support you need, or because this just isn’t a job you’re capable of doing?
- If there is no more room for growth, then what? Is it just the idea of no more upward mobility unsettling, or are you indeed in a job where you won’t be content to stay for the foreseeable future?
- What is more important: a high salary or job satisfaction? (Note: this isn’t usually isn’t black and white and depends a lot on how much your family relies on your income and how much of a salary cut you’d have to take to transition to a new job.)
Getting Back on Track
After assessing your situation, asking tough questions, and coming up with a few answers, you may rediscover what you want in a career. Did this assessment make you realize you are not so bad? Or did it inspire you to make some changes? At that point, you’ll want to decide your next steps.
If it’s the latter, consider what your new career goal will be and create a map to help guide you in the steps you’ll need to take to achieve it. Depending on your plan, it could take a while to reach, so it might be helpful to create some mini-goals along the way to help you stay inspired (and avoid feeling like you’re in a career rut again).
Read more: Discover how to create a career you’re passionate about pursuing. Use our practical tips and insights to help you get started.
Finding inspiration isn’t always easy, especially when you’re stuck in a less-than-ideal situation. Changing your perspective can do wonders, though. By asking yourself the right questions, you can use your career rut as an opportunity to refresh your professional journey and rediscover what it is you’re after–and what’s more inspirational than that?
Find your fit with The Mom Project
Join The Mom Project to create your talent profile and browse career opportunities from vetted companies that support work and life integration.