Career Advice: Getting Unstuck

Choice on the Road

I’m a big believer in goals and plans. If you want to succeed, you need to identify where you want to be and then come up with a way to get there. But sometimes while you’re following that plan, things change and you must decide whether you’re going to stay the course or chart a new direction.

Often plans change because of external events that are beyond your control. As my business partner would say, life sometimes throws you a curveball. You lose your job. A family member passes away. Your closest friend moves to a new city. When things like this happen, how you react to the situation informs your next leg of the journey. You can let external forces defeat you, or after taking the time you need to emotionally deal with the situation, you can take a deep breath, tap into that deep well of inner strength, and figure out what’s next.

Sometimes the need for change is internally generated, when either you realize that you’ve strayed from the course you initially set for yourself or determine that you’re ready for something new.  I think this type of change is often more difficult to deal with. It’s not forced upon you, so you can just ignore it. The only problem is that shutting your eyes to your own unhappiness doesn’t make you happier.

Getting unstuck requires courage, tenacity and the willingness to be honest with yourself about what’s really causing your current dissatisfaction. It’s not easy, but trust me, you’ll be happy that you took the time to dig a little deeper. It’s a key element in figuring out what will truly make you the best version of yourself that you can be.

Here are a few things to think about when going through the process of getting unstuck.

Plans are blueprints

Plans and goals are useful when they service us. They can provide motivation and structure to help move our lives in a direction that we’ve decided is important. But if our priorities shift, that blueprint can begin to feel like a shackle instead of a support. This is when it’s acceptable to change things up. You are not failing or falling short – you are reimagining.  Take the time to get in touch with what truly matters to you, and then adjust your goals accordingly.

Symptoms vs. the deeper problem

One of the biggest challenges in getting unstuck is actually figuring out what the real problem is. For example, your craving for change may manifest itself in superficial ways such as a desire to redecorate or upend long-standing family traditions. But these can be symptoms of a deeper need to be doing something different with your life.

While there’s no simple test to take to figure out if this is the case, begin to notice your own patterns. If you find yourself constantly making peripheral changes that don’t result in deeper levels of satisfaction, then perhaps it’s time to turn your attentions from new home improvement projects to internal improvement.

(Of course, sometimes decorating can be a legitimate form of therapy. The right shade of paint can go a long way! But we’ll talk about that in another post).

Know when (and how) to invest in yourself

Change is tough enough, but when it also involves money, things can get very complicated very quickly. Once you’ve done the difficult work of figuring out what you really want, you may find that additional funds are needed or that you must take on a degree of financial risk. You may want to go back to school to pursue a long-buried passion. Perhaps you want to quit your corporate job to go work for a non-profit organization, something that usually involves a pay cut. Maybe you’ve realized you’d rather be at home with your kids than in the office. Or perhaps you are finally ready to take the plunge and invest in creating a startup.

Communication and knowledge are two of the keys to navigating this transition. Whether you are on your own or your finances are mingled with someone else’s, thoroughly research what this change will mean to your current situation, as well as the long term implications. If you’ve never done a budget, now is an excellent time to start. If you want to go back to school, find out if there are any assistance programs available to you. Make a list of the lifestyle changes you are willing to make, which could include anything from cutting your cable subscription to moving to a smaller house or apartment.

Armed with this information, talk to your spouse or your parents about why this is so important to you. Those who really care about you will get on board because they want you to be happy, and the work you have done to figure out how to actually manage the change will show them just how serious you are about it. Then you can work together to make the change a reality!