3 Surefire Ways for Digging Yourself Out of a Career Rut

Your career is one of the most important parts of your life. It’s where you dedicate 60% of your waking hours and where you develop much of your identity as a person. That’s why when you find yourself stuck in a rut, it can be devastating.

Businessman holding a small shovel ready to dig himself out of a career rut

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If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you need to do is to stop digging.” – Will Rogers

Less than a year out of college, I found myself in a bit of a rut. Although I had a seemingly great job, I wasn’t happy with the work I was doing, and it started to become a real problem.

I was physically dragging myself out of the apartment everyday just to get to work. Then, once I got there, I would spend half the day scrolling through social media, trying to find a mental escape from my current reality.

This may have seemed a bit drastic, because on the outside, I had the perfect job: great pay, solid benefits, and a healthy work-life balance.

The thing was, none of that mattered. I simply wasn’t happy with what I was doing, and found myself slipping deeper and deeper into a career rut.

Unfortunately, this feeling of being “stuck in a rut” isn’t uncommon.

According to a study produced by Rasmussen College, almost one fifth of Americans are unhappy at work.

That means, someone on your team right now, one of your co-workers, is miserable with what they are doing.

And for something that you spend over 60% of your waking hours on this planet doing, it seems irresponsible to be doing something you don’t enjoy.

But before we tackle the problem head on, let’s dig into why this happens in the first place.

Why do we fall into career ruts?

At it’s bare bones, a career rut happens when two things occur:

  1. You aren’t happy with your current work conditions
  2. You feel like there is no hope for positive change

On the outside, it looks different for everyone: you don’t like your boss, you aren’t being promoted, the company isn’t investing into your personal growth, you can’t move up, or the company doesn’t align with your values.

On the inside, however, it’s almost always the same: you are incredibly stressed out, anxious about the future, unsure of yourself and your career, and are constantly distracted.

When these two things happen simultaneously, it’s the perfect storm for a career rut.

Boat being chased by the perfect storm

In my own career rut, I knew something had to change because I was miserable.

I wasn’t excited about the work I was doing  (or the city I was living in) and had no idea what to do to change my situation. I couldn’t see a way out and was continuing down the black hole of nothingness.

Luckily, I was in so much pain that I just needed to do something — anything — to get me out of my funk.

I began to experiment and try different things. I started reading, going to seminars, hired a coach, and even started a side business.

All of these different experiments (eventually) helped me dig myself out of this rut and rebuild my career.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. While I wish I had more tools to help me, hopefully, the lessons I learned can help you through your rut.

Here are the 3 most effective ways that I’ve found to help you quickly (and easily) get out of the funk that’s holding you back.

1. Don't Ghost Yourself

The first and most important thing you can do to get out of your rut, is to face your problem head on.

If you don’t know what’s wrong, how are you going to fix it?

It’s like going to the doctor when you’re sick: you come in with symptoms and they prescribe a specific medicine after doing a full exam. 

Confused Ghost

It would be ridiculous for a doctor to prescribe medicine without knowing what’s wrong with you in the first place.

However obvious this may seem, we rarely take the time to do this in our personal life.

Just like in modern dating, we ghost ourselves more often than we stand someone up on a date.

Think about it: when was the last time you actually spent time analyzing where you are in your life and career?

Your answer is probably like everyone else’s — it’s been awhile.

Once you begin to figure out what the protagonist is to your misery, you can start to see things much clearer.

Getting this right could mean having a solid foundation for getting out of a career rut. Getting it wrong could mean you’re giving the wrong medicine to a healthy body (i.e. wasting your time).

There are 2 methods that you can use to help nail down your problem:

1. The Goal & Barrier Method

Often when we have a problem, we make it into a much bigger issue than necessary. For instance, have you ever been SO mad about the traffic on your morning commute that any small problem throughout the rest of the day seems bigger than it is?

The Goal & Barrier Method helps break down the problem into smaller “sub-problems”. Sometimes what seems to be the big problem was actually just a sub-problem hiding in the background.

Hint: it wasn’t the traffic that was making you mad.

Let me give you an example:

Let’s say that your goal has been to land a job that you’ve been dreaming about for months. The problem is that you can’t even get your foot in the door for an interview (a common problem for job seekers) and are getting frustrated because you don’t know what to do next.

Let’s break this down:

First, you need to get clear on what the overall goal is.

Goal: I want to __________ (e.g. get this dream job).

Okay, now — how can you break that goal down into smaller parts?

Barrier (sub-problems):

1. I want to get a new job, because I’m not happy with my current one. (main problem)

2. I don’t know how to get an interview.

3. I feel lost in the application process and feel like I’m running in circles.

Good.

So now that you’ve broken these problems out into smaller problems, you can then begin to solve for each one of those smaller issues.

In order to do that, I recommend using the 5 Whys Exercise.

2. The 5 Whys Exercise

Back in the early days of manufacturing and production, Toyota was the king of problem-solving. Taiichi Ohno, the former executive vice president, developed a system for problem-solving that he called, The 5 Whys. Ohno used this system to find the root cause of all their problems.

This process helped Toyota expand their manufacturing and eliminate efficiencies, but it didn’t stop there. The same system has been re-popularized by Eric Ries in his book, The Lean Startup, and is widely used across the startup community.

Whenever you want to determine the root cause of a problem and its sub-problems, ask yourself: why, why, why, why, why?

Using the example above, ask yourself why for each of the sub-problems:

  1. Why are you not getting a callback?
    • I submitted my resume online, maybe the recruiter doesn’t know who I truly am.
  2. Why doesn’t she know who you are?
    • I just submitted my resume online, maybe I could have done a better job at reaching out.
  3. How could you have done a better job?
    • I could have gone through my network to see if I have any connections.
  4. Why didn’t you go through your network before?
    • I don’t really know anyone in this field.
  5. How could you meet more people in this field?
    • I could find out where these people meet (networking events, conferences, etc) and begin making connections.

Once you know the core barriers, you can change up your strategy.

So in this example, you aren’t getting interviews because you aren’t meeting people in your new field. Using these two exercises, you know that you need to start meeting people by making powerful connections.

There is, no doubt, an art to this, however, more times than not, going through these two exercises will help eliminate any uncertainties that come up.

Action Step: Complete these two exercises to help you identify the biggest obstacle that’s currently holding you back. What is it, and what can you do to begin changing it?

2. Decision Making, Made Easy

Anytime you come across a major decision in your life, you will always lean on your personal values, even if you don’t consciously know them.

Although this might seem silly, knowing your values is crucial to radically turning around your career rut. It’s not some cult that corporate trainers want you to join.

Dilbert Values

When we are in a career rut, one of the most important things we are looking for is a sense of clarity. We feel bogged down just don’t know what we want.

In fact, according to the Rasmussen study mentioned earlier, 22 percent of adults reported being unable to see a clear career path in their current job.

In order to find that clarity (the clarity that Americans don’t have), you need to start with what guides you every single day — your values.

If you haven’t clarified what you want in life, how do you expect to get there? The truth is: your values matter.

Nailing down your values will help you get crystal clear on how you want to run your life. They will be the compass that drives you in the right direction. Decision-making will be a breeze because you will have your own compass in the back of your head.

Is this something that aligns with my values?

Regardless of your career, what job you are doing, or what business you’re running, there will be shitty times.

There will be moments that you don’t enjoy and that can easily throw you into a rut.

But if you know your values and your work is aligned with those values, you will be able to get over those short term bumps in the road.

Action Step: For a values assessment that works, download a copy of my ebook, Definition of Success (located in The Success Toolkit). With a full values exercise and other helpful tools, you can get crystal clear on what success means you.

3. Muscle Up...Buttercup

Most likely, you know what you are good at and what you suck at.

For instance, I am a pretty awful swimmer. I know that (and so do all my friends).

I also know that I’m a pretty good hiker.

So, I stick to the mountains and avoid long swims in the Atlantic.

Just like me, you also have unique strengths that have gotten you to this point in your career.

And if you are driven and successful, you know what those strengths are (and probably have taken several different tests like Strengthsfinder and Myers-Briggs to figure out them out).

But when you are in a career rut, you tend to forget about them.

You are too distracted with the problems going on, which is taking away from your productivity and overall happiness.

Psychologists in the U.S. found that people who tried using their strengths in new ways each day for a week were happier and less depressed six months later.

Bottom line: when you do something you are good at, you are happy. When you do something that you suck at, however, you can struggle.

That’s why when you are stuck in a rut, doing more of what you are good at, is a good thing.

If one of your top strengths is Restorative, find more ways to solve problems at work.

If your top strength is Command, find a way to challenge others in a positive way and encourage them to challenge you too.

The more you lean on your strengths, not only will you be happier but you will also start producing more, which can hopefully bootstrap you out of your current job and on to something better.

Action Step: Take the Strengthsfinder 2.0 Test if you haven’t already. What are your top 5 strengths?

Take It to The Next Level

Going through a career rut is not an easy thing to do, especially alone.

There are things you might be missing, small details that you are overlooking – all which could mean the difference between having an average job and a truly fulfilling career.

If you’ve implemented these strategies and are still stuck, I’m here to help. For a limited time, I am offering a free Dream Job Strategy Session – a 30-minute one-on-one chat with me so you can get out of your funk and on to building your dream career.

Ready to break out of your rut?

Click the link below to book your 30-minute Dream Job Strategy Session today, completely free. Get the help you need, in the time you have.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.