If you are feeling stuck in a professional rut, you’re not alone. Many people know what they don’t want to do, but have a hard time knowing what they actually want. A big part of being stuck comes from not being able to hear your own voice. If this sounds like you, here are five action steps you can take to help you figure out what’s next:
1. Pay attention to your body
Your body often talks to you first, before you can hear the thoughts in your head or make sense of your emotions. Ask yourself: What is my body telling me about what’s giving me energy and what’s draining me?
When you’re feeling drained, you might notice a headache or pressure behind your eyes, or your neck and shoulders may feel tense. You might get a stomach ache or feel tired and want to nap. Noticing how your body feels when you’re unhappy is often the first step to hearing your own voice about what specifically you don’t like. Once you identify them clearly, you can work to have less of those things in your life.
When you’re feeling energized, you might sense a lightness in your chest or in your head. You may notice that your shoulders have dropped and that you feel looser in your neck. Maybe you feel warmth in your chest or a tingling in your arms and legs. You might even feel like you’re high! (And that might be an actual endorphin high!) By recognizing how your body feels when you’re happy, you can look back on other times in your life when your body felt similarly relaxed and carefree. Then ask yourself: What was I doing during those times? This is a great clue to help you figure out what you want to move towards and not just away from.
2. Identify the PEOPLE who give you energy and those that drain you
Think about the people you see the most often. Which ones are energy boosters and which people are energy vampires? These people could be co-workers, friends, loved ones, or ones you want to love more than you actually do. I call this the “wanna wannas.” I WANT to want to be around this person, but I don’t actually want to be around this person. I think I SHOULD want this person in my life, but I really don’t. Being able to name how you really feel around people is an important step in moving out of stuckness and into enjoyment.
Think about it: What’s the cost to your mental health when you keep people in your life that are toxic to you? And – how good would you feel if you surrounded yourself with people who support you in the ways you need?
3. Identify the PLACES that give you energy and those that drain you
Think about the places where you spend time. These could be physical environments like your office or favorite coffee shop or specific rooms at home. These could also be social environments like playing on a sports team or connecting with a faith community. Think about the vibe in these places: What’s it like to be there? How is the space laid out and how is it kept? How do people interact with each other, and how comfortable do you feel there?
I’ve worked with a lot of clients who think there is something wrong with them when they don’t like working somewhere they think they SHOULD want to work. People often feel embarrassed or ashamed for not liking something they worked hard to achieve, which leads them to double down on trying to make themselves fit. Instead, think about how freeing it might be to acknowledge that it’s not a fit and put energy towards moving on to a better place.
Consider, what’s the cost to your mental health if you stay in a place that is toxic to you? Or – how great might you feel if you were in a supportive environment that nurtured you?
4. Identify the PROJECTS that give you energy and those that drain you
Think about the day to day activities you do at work. Sometimes my clients tell me that they love their coworkers and their workplace culture, but they are bored by their actual day-to-day work. I have clients who lean more towards brainstorming and coming up with ideas, but they’re less excited about implementing them. Or clients who love when they have a clear task and can focus on getting it done alone, but hate when they have to spend their time in lots of meetings.
I had a client who realized through our coaching session that he didn’t need to change his workplace, just the day to day work that he was doing. After getting clear on the types of projects that energize him and those that drain his battery, he was able to talk with his boss and make some small, but important, adjustments in his work responsibilities.
Obviously, we can’t always make those types of changes, but getting clear on the root of what is unsatisfying about a task is the first step in finding out what IS satisfying. For yourself — what is the cost to your mental health to continue to work on projects that leave you drained? And what would you do with all the extra energy you’d have if you spent your day working on projects that feed your soul?
5. Give yourself permission to make some changes
It’s ok to move on from things that are not working for you. You don’t need to stay in a place that doesn’t support you. In a sense, think about yourself as a plant – what’s the right kind of environment for you to grow? When we buy plants at the store, we’ll often see a label explaining what that plant needs to grow: well-drained soil, lots of sunlight, etc.
Unfortunately people don’t come with those labels, so it can be harder to find the right place to plant ourselves that gives us what we need to thrive. But unlike a plant, we have legs and can get up and move if the environment isn’t right for us! That’s why it’s important for us to be able to identify what we need so we can go plant ourselves where we can blossom.