As one’s career ebbs and flows, it’s common to experience times of peak productivity and effectiveness as well as times of frustration and stagnation. When everything is working as it should, the highs are incredible and create natural energy to drive you forward. But when the tough days turn into rough weeks, months, or even a year, that job can start to feel a bit like quicksand.
When the lows hit, the worst thing you can do is keep pushing ahead without making any changes. You can’t run out the clock using the same ineffective behaviors and choices you used that landed you in the quicksand. The challenge is that when you’re in the dark days, it’s hard to even think of what changes would help get you unstuck. We’re experts at talking ourselves out of trying new things, taking risks, or even addressing the core problem. But getting unstuck requires venturing into uncomfortable territory.
The first, and most difficult, step is asking yourself the tough questions.
- Why are you stuck?
- When was the last time you felt happy and fulfilled?
- What changed?
- What have you tried to do to fix this?
- What are you afraid of?
- What will happen if you don’t get unstuck?
- What can you control?
Each of these questions should guide you towards finding the heart of the problem as long as you’re open to recognizing that you may have made some assumptions that should be challenged. A trusted mentor or colleague could help put a fresh outlook on the situation if you’re open to sharing your struggle.
Next, start making changes. As the cliché goes, “the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over but expecting different results.” Whether the changes you choose to make are big or small, have a trial and error mindset from the start. Acknowledge that getting unstuck might require several changes over time. This will protect you from giving up if the first change doesn’t result in the expected outcome.
It’s vital to communicate to the team why you’re planning to make changes. Taking a trial and error approach to getting unstuck can look like madness to others if they don’t understand why changes are being tested.
Finally, set small goals and recognize every possible win. When you’re stuck, getting your mind back to a positive place can be a Herculean task. If you’re at 20% of your goal for the year, one small new client may not seem worth celebrating, but recognizing that win is a must. You must convince yourself that this is the moment things will turn around. This is the first step out of the dark place you’re in. Positivity breeds positivity. Find a kernel of hope and use that to fuel your momentum forward. Getting unstuck is as much about changing your perspective as it is about changing the situation.
“If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” – Mary Engelbreit