How do you manage a plateau in your career trajectory? Several have reached out to ask about how to respond to that feeling of being “in the doldrums” on their career/life path. Some have described feeling disengagement, boredom, or a sense of apathy about work which used to excite them.

“Career plateaus are not always bad things – often they are positive developments for very career-minded individuals who take time out from climbing the career ladder to enjoy a stable level of income, stress and responsibility, perhaps so they can focus on other areas of their life.” – HR Zone

Sometimes, the factors are external: a person reaches the highest level their organization allows for unless a senior staff member leaves or dies, or a person has mastered the skills required for their role, but there are no other places to move to within the company. Other times, something has shifted where the status quo is no longer an option.

There are also internal influences which compel us to make a change: we aren’t happy, we find ourselves repulsed by the work or the environment and feel we have to make a change.

Here are a few ideas for when and how to challenge the status quo:

  • When you aren’t excited about what’s coming. If you find yourself daydreaming about other kinds of projects, and everything on your own plate begins to look like day-old bologna sandwiches, it may be time to create a shift, volunteer for a new project or learn a new skill that will take you to another position.
  • When the current situation isn’t working. Maybe you left a corporate job to start your own business, but you’ve been struggling for two years and have reached the end of your savings and maxed out your credit cards. There is no shame in trying something different or taking on part-time work until cash is flowing smoothly again. Steve Jobs is an example that comes to mind. He took time after being ousted from Apple to learn meditation and do some deep soul searching. Who is to say whether he would have been as successful without this time of reflection.
  • When you are itching to learn something new. If you are drawn to a new area and find yourself really wanting to learn more about it and spend time there, give yourself the gift of exploring in the form of a class or attending a conference. This could be the beginning of your next career adventure. I know of a woman in Atlanta who attended a conference in San Francisco, and it changed her life. She sold her home in Atlanta, moved to San Francisco and created a life where she could walk to work and have a completely different lifestyle.
  • When you are feeling low energy or engagement more than you used to. When we are using our natural talents and strengths in a way that engages us, life is sweet and time flies. But here is the catch: we are constantly growing and evolving and that is normal for our species. If engagement has fallen, and you are in a role that allows you to use your top strengths, it may just be time for a bigger challenge or expanded role. This can be a little scary, to step out of your comfort zone in this way, and a little scary is way better for your wellbeing than “bored outta my mind.”

Some of the ways clients and colleagues have resolved this discontent are that they:

  • Took a new class or certification
  • Took a sabbatical
  • Changed companies
  • Changed focus, i.e. from still photography to video
  • Shift from self-employed to corporate or vice versa
  • Spent more time on a hobby or personal interest
  • Mentored a young person
  • Volunteered to be on a non-profit board that matters to them

There is always more than one right way to navigate the ups and downs and plateaus in our lives and careers. Tune in to your own wisdom and make the choice that is best for you now. Whatever you decide, know this: we each deserve to be engaged and excited about what we are contributing and any exploration we do to find that is a worthy investment of our time.

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