Feeling stuck in a career rut? Maybe you know you should be doing something else, but you’re not sure what that is. Maybe the Great Resignation has got you thinking. Here, Mark Crossfield, Scribd Coach author, career-switching expert, and author of The Complete Guide to Career Success, shares his best advice for understanding when it’s time to change your career — and how to make that happen.
Feeling trapped is common
Crossfield says that most of his clients come to him feeling like they’re stuck or trapped in their current career — they’ve gotten promotions and moved up in the company. But, with all of these accomplishments, they’re not happy, and the idea of starting over is daunting. “When I talk to people who are stuck in their career, quite often, they're feeling very trapped, they can't really think very clearly beyond the boundaries of the present organization,” he says. "But then you start asking people to think back to what they enjoyed when they were younger, what sort of things interested them at school, what hobbies they had. Once they start thinking about those things, they can begin to see a different future. It gives them headspace to think about what's next. It shifts people's minds away from where they are, it gets them thinking about what sort of things they are interested in.”
Loving dinosaurs as a kid doesn’t mean you should be a paleontologist
If we all just tried to jump into the career we wanted as kids, many of us would be paleontologists, dolphin trainers, world-famous detectives, or rockstars. You get the idea. Your childhood interests can help inform more realistic choices today, even if it’s not exact (though if you really want to be a dolphin trainer, go for it!). “Someone that was interested in horse riding, for example, I would ask, ‘What was it about horse riding that you liked?’ Was it caring for animals, being outside, the other people who worked on the farm, the training? Investigating these old passions helps you learn a lot about yourself. It's a magic process of bringing people back to life again, helping them to discover where best they can add value in life.” So you might not be a jockey, but maybe you could consider teaching riding lessons, getting involved with equine therapy, or working in a different outdoor setting.
Really think about your values
Crossfield is a fan of being really honest about what your true values are — not thinking about the ones you might parrot during a job interview. “What you say in an interview is quite often different than what you would say to your career coach, isn't it?” he says. "I always encourage people to be honest about what really matters to them. Integrity sounds like a great value, but is it really one that informs the career you want?” Your values change over time, so if you’re feeling stuck in a job you used to love, it could be that what matters to you now has changed. “Straight out of university, generally speaking, there tends to be some extrinsic rewards — salary, title — that are quite important to a lot of new graduates because they're in a peer group where different friends are comparing starting salaries. But then, as you get older and further on in your career, things like that tend to matter a bit less, and it becomes more about intrinsic aspects of the job, making contributions and doing work that is really important to you.”
Try to step away from outside pressure
Scroll your social media for five minutes, and you’ll be inundated with people sharing their highlight reels of what’s great about their lives — and that can make you think you want something that just doesn’t fit with your real values or desires. “It is difficult when you have the pressures of social media and the pressure to conform to what everybody else is doing,” says Crossfield. “As a coach, it makes my job harder, because it makes it less easy for people to think about their own needs and their own values, and what’s actually important to them. Become aware that you may be adopting the values that other people might have, because of social media. Step away from that and think about what is important to you — what matters, even if no one else can see it?”
Recognize that career success looks different to everyone
“There's more than one view on what career success means: For some, it means doing well at work. For others, it means being able to have a successful life away from your career. You have to decide for yourself how you want your career to fit into your life, and there is no wrong answer. Some people want their careers to be integrated into their whole life, others want to be done at a certain time each day,” says Crossfield. “But really, when it comes to success, I think it's about finding work that you enjoy that provides you with happiness and satisfaction while still giving you the income you need to do the things you want to do in life. That’s my definition, but everybody has their own definition around what exactly that looks like.” At the end of the day, a big part of this is that you need to reflect on what your personal definition of career success is, so that you’re living your life deliberately.