Sure signs that you’ve reached a dead end in your career are when you start the year with low energy levels, a high level of disengagement and little enthusiasm for the effort your work might require.
Jopie de Beer, CEO of JvR Consulting Psychologists, says once people do make the time for honest self-reflection, they may be disillusioned with the career path they have embarked upon or have been on for a decade or two.
People often find themselves caught in a cycle where they work hard, get disheartened and then work even harder, says De Beer.
In the process they lose their self-knowledge.
“You can only find self-knowledge if you are a bit selectively selfish. You have to find time in your day to reflect on the day.
In that reflection you have to consider what people told you, what you experienced, which mistakes you made and what you could have done differently.”
People might have the best intentions of working harder to get different results, but they end up living an almost robotic existence.
Klasie Wessels, leadership coach at Streetschool, says our drive in life is to find meaning.
“We all have the drive for power and pleasure, but ultimately these things run out of rubber when you chase power and pleasure for its own sake.”
He refers to logotherapy, developed by Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl.
According to this principle, unless we do what we intuitively know we should be doing, we will eventually find ourselves in an existential vacuum.
“The signs that someone is in that space is displayed through behaviour such as aggression, impatience, addiction and depression.
That kind of behaviour is symptomatic of someone who has lost the connection with where their lives should be going.”
Wessels says that once you feel that your job has no meaning and that it has passed its sell-by date, the time has come for “job crafting”.
There are three broad themes to consider when you start job crafting, says Wessels.
- Relook the job you are in and the way you are doing it. Take note of the number of meetings you are attending and consider whether you need to attend all of them.
Ask yourself whether you can delegate more, and whether you have responsibilities that should not be yours to handle. It is important to relook the entire task list of the job.
- Consider your relationships at work. A very powerful way of renewing yourself at work is not just to dust off your old relationships, but also to form new ones.
The organigram is not a true reflection of where the power lies in an organisation.
Take a new look at the people in your inner circle and how they empower you.
- Make an attitudinal shift. This is probably the most important theme in the process of job crafting.
You have to reconnect with the reasons why you are in your current position, and consider the difference you are making.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said that if you have a strong enough “why” to live for, you can bear almost any “how”.
Wessels says it is important to recognise the things that feed your energy in the workplace and the things that suck out energy.
“It may be activities or it may be people. Once you know what it is, you will be able to deal with it more cautiously.”
De Beer notes that there may be several reasons why you are feeling stuck in your career, or for doubting whether you have taken the right career path.
“It could be that you feel you do not fit into the company anymore, that you cannot align yourself with the values of the organisation anymore, that nobody is listening to your opinion any longer, or that the team leader is insufferable.”
But, she adds, you also have to consider whether it isn’t a matter of being utterly exhausted or emotionally drained.
It could also be that you are not following a proper diet or not getting enough exercise. This can lead to doubt and feelings of being stuck.
“What you know, you can manage. It doesn’t mean that you have to change jobs if you cannot see eye-to-eye with the team leader. Try to find a different team or a different part of the organisation where you feel more valuable.”
Difficult, but valuable lessons
De Beer says when something “goes wrong” in your career it is an opportune time to experience it as a difficult, but valuable lesson about yourself, your abilities and possible areas where you need development.
“In order to learn from this negative experience you have to be brutally honest with yourself, and not blame others or the circumstances,” she says.
Wessels explains that people quite often start to become numb when they have been in the same corporate environment for an extended period of time.
“We start compromising too much, we only follow the rules, we do the same as others do and we do what others tell us to do. In that environment we lose our sense of creativity and our sense of personal authenticity. We stop behaving like we know we should.”
He says you need to see habits for what they really are. Once you have this perspective, it enables you to connect to the wisdom of the heart, which might tell you that you are not where you should be.
“We are never free from obligations and responsibilities, but we are free to choose how we are going to react.
If we know we have choices, we may consider choices we would never have before,” says Wessels.
De Beer warns: Never get comfortable in your career because if you do, there is a risk that you stop learning.
This cannot and must not happen, she says.
Be more interesting
De Beer stresses the importance of bringing some diversity to the workplace.
This is only possible if you are doing things outside the workplace that makes you a more complete person, and more interesting.
“Practise a sport, attend cultural activities such as music performances, poetry readings, art exhibitions.
Create something with your hands and find a spiritual connection,” says De Beer.
Wessels explains that humans are body, mind and spirit, or consciousness. The trick, he says, is to bypass the voices of the mind.
“We are very good at coping, and can continue coping for a lifetime. But it is possible to reconnect with a conscious awareness of why we are doing what we are doing.”
He suggests that you should distance yourself in order to observe what you are doing and who you are doing it for. With that analysis you will be able to realise what you should be doing, he says.
HOW TO FIND THE JOB YOU NEED
Once you have realised that you are on the wrong career path, it is time to become analytical and strategic instead of becoming despondent or frustrated, says Lisa Quast, career coach and talent developer, in a Forbes article.
According to Quast, it is important to research the job you want, whether it is at the company you are currently working or outside.
This includes finding out which requirements are needed to get the job and comparing them to your current skills.
Overcome skills gaps:
Analyse the gaps and list them. Brainstorm all the possibilities of how you can overcome the skills gaps.
Then it is time for an action plan.
UK career development expert Helen Roberts writes in an article that most people know what they do not want. However, they lack a clear understanding of what would appeal to them.
“If you are not clear on what you want, how can you ever expect to achieve it? Take some time out and work out what it is you want and how you can create it for yourself in the next chapter of your life,” she advises.
Quast writes that people should be spending enough time working face-to-face with their manager and co-workers.
Do not forget to network informally through coffee chats and lunch discussions.
You should have at least three plans of where you are heading, says Roberts. The first one should be the absolutely ideal scenario for you.
The second could be the stepping stone to get you closer to your ideal. The third could be another stepping stone.
The more options you have in the current market, the more successful you will be.
Quast says people should be more than just an employee, and could even try to be more like a consultant.
They are hired to assess a current situation and then create action plans for improvement.
“Act like a consultant and figure out ways you can add even more value to the company – because this will also help you get noticed by management.”
Roberts remarks that many people never set any goals. “Get into the habit of setting goals on a daily basis. Set short-, medium-, and long-term goals.”
Write your goals down and look at them often, be clear on what it is you are setting out to achieve and why.
She says it is also important to find happiness outside the workplace by, for example, playing golf, going to a cooking class or the theatre.
This article originally appeared in the 18 December edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.