How to Get Unstuck in Your Career

A lot of people ask about the journey from feeling stuck, frustrated and unfulfilled in a corporate career to running their own business. Here are the 10 steps that you can take to get unstuck and move forward on the next phase.

A lot of people have asked me about my journey from feeling stuck, frustrated and unfulfilled in my corporate career to running my own business that allows me to bring the best version of myself to the world, and help others do the same. So I decided to share the 10 steps that I took to get unstuck, in the hope that they can help others navigate their own journey!

Step 1. Recognized I was unhappy

This can be challenging when you’re caught up in the daily grind, and often we don’t realize until we’re really, really unhappy. Some of the signals you might get that something’s not right include:

  • Unpleasant physical sensations (knots in your stomach, tense shoulders, cold shivers etc.)
  • You start dreading or avoiding certain situations
  • Gaining or losing weight – chronic exposure to the stress hormone cortisol can increase your appetite and contribute to weight gain.
  • Having trouble sleeping? Stress can cause problems falling or staying asleep.
  • You leave the office each day with your energy more depleted than it logically should be, considering how much rest you have had.

Step 2. Started spending more time doing things that made me happy until I found one that I could do all the time (even if I wasn’t getting paid for it)

Trying things on for size is an important aspect of getting unstuckI have always had a lot of interests – playing the trombone, photography, travel, scuba diving, skiing… and the list goes on. I thought a lot about how I could make a living out of these hobbies, and no matter how I viewed them, nothing really made me think, “I could do this for the rest of my life!”. It wasn’t until I was working on re-imagining my own future through a coaching process I have used many times over the years (Tomorrow by Design) that it occurred to me that I could help other people on their own journey of self-improvement. It really was like the cliche of a lightbulb switching on inside my head. I started researching what I needed to do to get into the field, signed up for a coaching course with the Life Coaching Academy in Australia, and never looked back.

Step 3. Worked with a coach to figure out if this was something I really wanted or not

This was an especially tough part of my journey. I spent a lot of time questioning whether I was just running away from a bad situation, or moving towards something I really wanted. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t reason my way to an answer I felt confident in. This was a point where I really found myself stuck, so I enlisted the help of a coach. She helped me listen to the cues my body was giving me – not just about the need to get away from the situation I was in, but also what it was telling me about the direction I was considering taking. Through this process, I got to a point where I felt completely confident that I was moving in the right direction.

I can’t overstate how important this part of the process was. Our brains are wired to avoid change (Stephen Pressfield’s manifesto Do the Work describes this eloquently). What that means is that as we move through our journey, there will be times when our brain tries to talk us out of making a change by throwing in doubt, uncertainty and straight up lack of belief in our ability to achieve our goals. I was all in, then it was off, then I’d apply for a job (that I didn’t really want) – my brain tried so many different tricks to protect the status quo. The work I had done with my coach on recognizing and interpreting my physical cues proved invaluable as I navigated through the transition, as there was only one course of action that really felt right.

Step 4. Created a vague goal

Once I was comfortable that I was headed in the right direction, I started to create a vision of what my future would look like. I did some very basic calculations and looked at how much money I would need to get started and how long I could give myself to make it work. Then I created a vague and non-intimidating goal – to start my own business in 2016. Some other people might choose to set a much more specific and aggressive goal at this point, but I personally was not ready for that. In retrospect, I still wasn’t ready to commit to going all-in on this new adventure. Even so, having something to work towards got me focused and marching in the right direction.

Step 5. Started taking daily action towards that goal and writing it down

I made a promise to myself that I would do something every day to advance toward my goal, and record it so that I could look back in times of uncertainty to see how far I had come. I did this in Evernote, and while it only took a couple of minutes each day and I never actually referred back to my notes, I found that the practice reinforced the positive progress I was making towards my goal.

I consider learning and self-care to be important parts of goal achievement, and there were several days where my action towards my goal was listening to podcasts, and a handful where it was either taking a vacation day or having a long nap, because that was what I needed most at that time to move me towards my goal. You need to be brutally honest and call yourself out if you are using these as an ‘excuse’ to not take more meaningful action, but they are both important aspects of the transition process.

Step 6. Immersed myself in relevant media to normalize the new lifestyle I was considering

As much as I love reading, my schedule didn’t allow much time for it. I started out with audiobooks (Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek was my first!) but soon got hooked on podcasts. I loved the way I could get through 1-2 episodes on my 45 minute commute each way to the office. Some that I found most helpful were:

One book I did read towards the end of my transition was Mastering the Art of Quitting. I would classify this as required reading for anyone who is considering a major life change of any kind. It explores the different types of and motivations for quitting, as well as the psychology behind the whole process. It really helped me understand a lot of what was going on in my head.

Step 7. Created a business plan and risk assessed it

There came a point when I was ready to go all-in, and this is where I started on my business plan in earnest. There are schools of thought supporting and opposing business plans for entrepreneurs, but for me it was something that I could use as the basis to consider what the worst possible outcome was given different scenarios around the amount of time and money invested. This exercise was extremely helpful in satisfying my rational brain (and my husband!) that this was something that was smart to be doing from a practical perspective.

Step 8. Started telling a few, select people about my plan to get unstuck

It was very late in the game that I spoke to anyone other than my husband and my Mum about my plan. There were a few reasons for this:

  1. I wasn’t sure if I was going to go through with it (still not quite all-in!)
  2. My work and social circles had a lot of overlap and I didn’t want people to think I was getting ready to leave
  3. Research has shown that the mere act of telling people about your goals can trigger the reward systems in your brain and trick it into thinking you have already achieved the goal, which lowers your motivation (Derek Sivers explains how in this bite-sized TED talk).

I selected a handful of people from outside my work circle who I trusted and who I knew would support my dream. This last piece is important – your brain will be creating enough resistance on its own without needing any other naysayers!

9. Wrote my narrative in the positive

This was a last minute piece of housekeeping for me. I still had

 some attachment to the idea of the “sunk costs” that I had invested in my career so far, and some associated feelings that I was “giving up” on all the time and effort I had spent in getting to where I was. I did a couple of really helpful journaling exercises – the first was to write about why I was proud of the change I was embarking on, and the second was a description of what I will offer in my business. These exercises were pivotal for me, as they shifted my internal story and allowed me to bring my new venture to the world in a completely positive and authentic way.

10. Got unstuck!

Once I had made my decision, I had to wait for the end of year holidays to be over – I wanted to deliver the news in person. In that time, I was calm but would get these periodic shots of adrenaline in my stomach to remind me it wasn’t a done deal just yet.

I don’t remember ever being as nervous as I was on the morning I handed in my resignation. When I got to the office I was shaking violently and had to do some mindfulness exercises to calm myself down enough to go talk to my boss. My brain was throwing everything it had into resisting the change, all the old thoughts of self-doubt coming back. This was the time when the work I had done with my coach on recognizing my physical cues and understanding what they meant was most useful. It allowed me to reconnect with the feelings of warmth, fullness and satisfaction I had felt when contemplating my new adventure. This provided the evidence that my rational brain needed to go and get the conversation over with. I was lucky to have a boss who, while disappointed to see me go, was fully supportive of my new endeavor.

One parting thought…

One thing that is important to note if you are contemplating a similar journey (or any major change!) is that if you have a significant other, you need to be open and honest with them about all the gory details of your journey. Make sure you have a constant open line of communication that goes in both directions. They need to know what you are going through to be able to support you – and you will need their support! Make sure you listen to their thoughts and take their questions and concerns very seriously. They need to know that you’re doing this to get to a better place together, so that they can see the benefits of helping you achieve your goals.

Kirsten Molloy
Founder & Mentor
Verity Program
Verity Leadership is focused on improving diversity within leadership teams in the Hunter and beyond. We connect rising talent with established leaders, to build capabilities and confidence.

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