People are programmed to want to improve, excel, learn, and be acknowledged for their work. A career path should provide you the opportunity to work hard, develop your skills, apply your experience, and reap the benefits through new challenges, higher salaries, and more prominent roles. When such opportunities are not presented, we lose our enthusiasm for what we are doing, we disengage, we feel stuck.
It’s what is known as a career plateau, when you feel there is no room for growth, either because you work for a small company with few chances of promotion, or you work for a manager who does not understand or invest in your career goals. Sometimes, the answer is to find another job. But other times, there are steps you can take to get yourself unstuck and back on track, without having to make drastic, dismantling career changes.
Here are some ways to confront and resolve the dreaded career plateau:
- Reflect for clarity. To get unstuck, you must first identify what is making you feel stuck. Are there no opportunities for growth in your current position? How do you define growth? Do you want more money? More autonomy? A more senior position? More challenges? More learning opportunities? Reflect on your priorities to be able to really understand what is missing, and what you really want next.
- Be constructively critical of yourself. What are some areas in which you may be holding yourself back? Where do you recognize areas where you could improve, either through training, interpersonal communication, or assertion of your career goals, for example. Give yourself a performance review that is honest and reveals actionable steps you can take to improve your standing.
- Ensure your manager is behind you. Without the support of your manager, it is far more difficult to manage the trajectory of your career and ensure you are on a path that aligns with your talents, values, and ambitions. Meet with your manager to discuss your career and how they can invest in you to help you reach your goals.
- Network, network, network. Your manager or company may provide mentoring opportunities and introductions to people who can help you achieve your career goals, but don’t limit your networking efforts to your immediate colleagues or field. Diversify your network by seeking out experts in a variety of fields, reaching out to people who may not share all your interests, and just connecting regularly with people who are new to you and can offer an alternative perspective.
- Branch out with a side gig. Sometimes, we ask too much of a job in terms of how much it can challenge, fulfil, and promote growth in ourselves. If we are too focused on our job and too expectant of how it will satisfy us in our lives, we can lose track of the need for hobbies, relationships, and other interests. Think about what you really love to do, what you really care about, and consider whether there is a side gig that you can accommodate without risking your actual career. This kind of balance can bring all levels of low-stakes, high-return happiness.
For any job to be sustainably fulfilling, certain criteria must be met. While it’s not realistic to expect a promotion or sizable salary boost every year, to stay engaged in any activity, including our work, our curiosity must be fed, our accomplishments recognized, our mistakes informative, and our long-term goals valued. We experience a career plateau when any of these elements are lacking, and it’s in our power to identify and resolve these issues to get unstuck.