5 Steps to Help You Get Unstuck and Start Moving Again
Do you feel stuck in a rut because you are out of choices, or perhaps you have too many choices? If so, the first thing to remember is that these feelings are real, and that they are responses to external factors. While you cannot control these outside influences, you can manage the way you react to them, which means you can also control your feelings. By being aware of the choices you make, you can shift your context to counterbalance the circumstances that are making you feel stuck.
There are three basic responses to feeling stuck:
- Action for the sake of action to get rid of the stuck feeling.
- Doing nothing because you are overwhelmed by too many options or feel there’s a lack of good choices.
- Shifting your context by identifying the external factors that make you feel stuck and creating new pathways.
Susan, for example, took action when she felt stuck at her job, and began pursuing opportunities outside her company. However, it soon became apparent that she didn’t really want to leave her company–she loved her job and felt valued by her team and manager. The problem was that, although her responsibilities had been increased several times, she still lacked a clear path for promotion and career progression. Her company had a flat organizational structure, and she was told that leadership was unwilling to create a new level to promote her. Susan was conflicted. Should she stay with her company, and if so, what could she do about her feelings of being stuck? Or did she have to leave to continue growing in her career?
A few years ago, I, too, felt stuck. My initial response was inertia, but once I reached a tipping point and the fulfilling elements of my job were outweighed, I created the following five-step process to become unstuck.
Understand and accept your feelings.
Think about the reasons you feel stuck. Are you reacting to hearing some news, such as feedback you do not agree with, a poor performance review, or a peer getting promoted? Have your feelings of being stuck developed over time? Understanding the depth and duration of your feelings will help you determine what external factors are causing them.
Prioritize the external factors you are responding to.
List the outside forces in order of importance to help you break down your situation and focus on what needs to change to get you unstuck. For Susan, factors included: her team; her manager; her day-to-day activities; the opportunities for continued learning; compensation and feeling valued; her title; having a clear career path; the company’s organizational structure; and external benchmarks.
Create choices for the top three external factors.
Brainstorm options you might have to respond to the circumstances you are facing. These might include:
- Taking on stretch assignments of broader scope and more significant impact to become more visible to leadership.
- Increasing your functional knowledge by taking advantage of opportunities to learn and expand your skill set. For example, shadowing someone at your level or one step above, cross-training in a new department or function, or swapping roles within your function or department to learn other aspects of the business.
- Launching a program to demonstrate your ability to take an idea from concept to execution.
Narrow your choices.
Identify the real-world constraints that may affect your ability to follow through with your options, such as geography; finances; time; company resources; organizational systems, processes, and culture; or your leadership, managerial, or functional skill level. Then select the choice(s) that will work best for you.
Shift your context.
Make the necessary changes to adjust the external factors and get on your desired path. Focus on the change(s) that will have the biggest impact on your feelings of being stuck.
Following these five steps helped Susan develop a plan that she presented to her manager. She proposed the following:
- Cross-functional training. Susan was interested in expanding her knowledge of digital marketing, and her manager was willing to include her in strategic planning and execution meetings with the commitment to shift senior-level decision-making approvals to Susan over time.
- Awarding of semi-annual bonuses above current compensation based on achieving stretch sales and margin targets.
- Rigorous quarterly developmental goal-setting and feedback sessions to ensure Susan was viewed as backfill for her manager within the next 12 months.
Susan was able to get unstuck by asking for help, slowing down, and learning that she controlled the strategic decisions about her career. She knew she wanted change, but did not know how to make the right change. By first focusing on her feelings, which she could control, and then analyzing her situation, she made the right context shift and got unstuck.7