Written by Carolyn Compas, Talent Lead
So, you’ve hit a professional wall. Or at least it feels that way. Your social media feeds are filled with posts from friends who seem to be killing it in their careers. Your family asks you when you’re going to get that promotion. You wonder whether you’re being challenged enough at work, if your boss is even a good mentor, or if your role is the right fit for you.
As a co-lead of Talent at Bionic, I often get approached by folks who feel “lost” or “stuck” in their careers. I understand how tempting (and all too easy) it is in those moments to start applying for jobs through Indeed or to interact with recruiters like me on Linked In while fantasizing about the next right job for you. And sometimes, leaving your job is the right decision. But before you decide that the grass is greener on the other side, try these 10 tips to water the grass on your side first. You might find that by changing your mindset, rounding out your skills, and making the most of your current situation, you can transform yourself and your company.
1. Reminder: You are in control of how you react to difficult circumstances. Most people act from their own emotional circumstances, which includes learned behaviors and genetics, reactions to traumas, insecurities, and expectations. If you find yourself suddenly emotionally charged in a work situation, evaluate where those feelings are coming from. Why do you react the way you do when your boss doesn’t like your presentation? Where does your fear of asking for a raise come from? Identifying these sources is your first step in managing your reactions in difficult situations. (Remember that everyone else acts from their emotional circumstances, too, so while you can control your own reaction, you cannot control theirs.)
2. Check your attitude, adjust expectations, and say “no” whenever possible. You might be experiencing burnout, and when’s the last time anyone made a good decision from a place of emotional and physical depletion? Saying “no,” delegating the right responsibilities to others, and adjusting expectations or timelines could actually solve more problems than you might think. I dare you to resist the urge you might feel to take on more responsibilities just so that you can climb the corporate ladder or impress your boss. (But do give the corporate lattice a try.) Again, if you have this urge, examine why you want to achieve success in this way. Is that pursuit making you feel empowered…or exhausted?
3. Learn a skill or try a new hobby to round out your professional experience. Do you have a professional development stipend at work? Use it! Interested in taking a class or learning a new language? Start today. Whatever that skill is, try seeking out books, podcasts, conferences, workshops, or courses to help build it. Attend meetups and join interest groups and clubs. If you feel like you’ve hit a ceiling at work, learning a new skill or deepening an existing one will give you a new edge or perspective that could move your career in a different direction.
4. Take on a junior employee to mentor, advise, or manage. They don’t have to be at your company or even in your department, but find someone to coach and develop. Or, try being an “onboarding buddy” to acclimate new hires at your company. Sharing your expertise, both personal and professional, can remind you of how far you’ve come, strengthen your leadership skills, and show you where you’ve got more room to grow.
5. Constantly ask for feedback from everyone around you, not just your manager. Feedback doesn’t always come automatically. We could all be better, so seek feedback on how to improve yourself, and seek it often. Instead of asking, “How am I doing?” be pointed. Try, “What’s one thing I could do better?” From there, build and execute a plan for self-improvement. It only takes one helpful word of wisdom to change your life. Don’t deprive yourself of that chance to progress.
6. View every assignment as an opportunity to challenge yourself. Look for assignments everywhere. Constantly ask yourself, “What can I bring to this situation?” Maybe your company is smaller than usual. Great! Ask to take on some leadership responsibilities. Did your company successfully venture into new territory? Write a case study about the experience. Are the mundane aspects of your job getting you down? Decide to completely master the fundamentals of your role. If you view every situation as a chance to develop your abilities and stand out, you can prove to your company — and yourself — that you’re ready for more. For example, we once interviewed a candidate who took on an undesirable client simply to challenge himself and grow in his role. It was hard work, but his manager took note of his hustle and offered to sponsor his long-term working visa. Often, the best opportunities are the ones that first appear to be “unglamorous,” so it’s up to you to do the most with what you’ve got.
7. Shadow fellow coworkers, or perform “stretch assignments” in other departments. Offer to pitch in on a project that could use extra hands. Others will take notice of your can-do attitude and will advocate to have you on their team if you’re seen as someone who is dependable and in the right place at the right time. You could also add a valuable POV if you are able to step outside of your normal day-to-day responsibilities. Plus, you might accidentally discover a department or team that better suits your passions and abilities.
8. Be a champion of and active participant in the company’s culture. Go to company-sponsored events, be present, stay engaged, and learn about what your coworkers are working on. If your company doesn’t have events yet, be a culture advocate; suggest ideas and help plan company-building events with your HR team. Or, start small. Try being more intentional about going out to coffee, taking walking meetings, or having 1:1 lunches with your coworkers. You might be surprised or inspired by something you learn from them. No matter how long you stay at your company, feeling connected to your peers will improve the way you feel about coming to work every day.
9. Be even more of a team player. Proactively refer candidates and potential partners to your company. Be a connector. Another suggestion: Get involved in writing thought leadership pieces, or be a guest speaker on a panel or a conference. Showcase the expertise you’ve acquired in your career, and portray your company in a new light. You might find that bringing other folks into your company’s ecosystem can help you understand the bigger picture and change how you see your company, too.
10. Start your own side hustle or business. Have an idea that hasn’t hit the market yet? Think you could do a better job with an existing product or service? Start building it. If you feel like you’re plateauing and have the bandwidth in your current work schedule, there is no better time to reignite your passions outside of work. Work on finding people that are just about as passionate about this subject, and you can start to build a team around the idea. Tinker. Do research. Brainstorm and talk to potential customers outside of office hours to see if you’re on the right track. Having this side project could be a potential full-time option someday, but at the very least, it will let you spend more time feeling curious and creative.
Most importantly, recognize that you have impact where you are right now, even if you ultimately need to move on in the future. I recently read US Women’s Soccer legend and Olympic Gold medalist Abby Wombach’s inspiring manifesto, Wolfpack. In it, she gives you permission to be disappointed when it feels like life’s benched you. “What you aren’t allowed to do is miss your opportunity to lead from the bench.” Try this thought exercise: What would it look like if you committed to staying at your company? What’s the you-shaped void that you would leave if you left? What would stop happening if you quit? Right now, you have a seat at the table. And if you’ve been with a company for a long time, you know the business better than most. Advocate for change and lead by example. Commit to a depth of a longer experience rather than a breadth of short-stinted ones. Your presence makes a difference, so what difference do you want to make? Aim to leave the company much better than you found it.
If you’ve already tried these tips, then (and, I would argue, only then) start your game plan for identifying other opportunities. There’s something to discover and glean from every opportunity if you give it enough patience, effort, and time. Remember that you have a unique impact to make, so identify it and bring it to wherever you are…or wherever you go next.