How to tell when you’re stuck in a career rut

The worst thing about being stuck in a miserable career is that it’s very hard to break free. Unhappiness makes you apathetic. You doubt yourself. You think there can’t possibly be anything better out there. You’re unfulfilled, so there’s no energy to propel you forward and help you take the risks that lead to change. And because you’re so immersed in it, you can’t even recognised how trapped you truly are.

We’ve rounded up five tell-tale signs that you’re stuck in a job rut, and how to take action in breaking free. Read, digest and get set to throw those shackles to the wind, as you embrace a life you *truly* love….

You’re motivated by obligation

I should be making money.

I should really stick at what I know.

I should do what’s expected of me.

No good sentence ever began in “I should”. You need “wants”. Only something that fires you up will keep you going through the blood, sweat and tears of any given career.

Write a list of shoulds. Then write a list of wants, right next-door to it. If the two don’t marry up, it’s time to re-assess.

Read more: Sex and sleep are the two keys to happiness

You’re motivated by fear

Being scared is such an easy trap to fall into, and yet it’s not a valid reason for keeping a job.

Be honest with yourself about changing direction. If it’s just fear of the unknown that’s holding you back – that will always be the case. You can’t stop fear. You can’t predict the future. No-one can tell you it’s going to be OK.

Quitting a job is always going to be terrifying, even if you’ve spent the past six months wishing yourself somewhere else. If fear is paralyzing your decision to stay or leave, take hold of it. Accept that it’s always going to be there.

Then, take the precautions you need to (save money, tell friends, call in favours) and make the leap. Just by the very act of making a decision, you’ll feel better.

You’re bored

Forget Sunday night dread. This is more about a vague sense of apathy.

You can’t be bothered to check your work. When once you were horrified at missing a deadline, now you’re trying hard to care. Everything seems like more of an effort than it once was.

Read more: Meet the pensioner who traded love for lifelong travel

All of these are glaring signals that you’re unfulfilled and need a change of scenery (it could also be the sign of something more serious, like depression, so it’s worth ruling that out, too).

Think about the job that you have. Does it challenge you? Does it excite you? Does it scare you? Do you still make mistakes?

If the answer to these are all “no”, and there’s no way of changing that (say, via a new project or fresh responsibilities), take the hint and move on.

Your unhappiness at work spills over

Rare is the saint who doesn’t bring work home with them. But if you’re continually frustrated by your career to the extent that it’s corroding your personal life, you need to take action.

Grill your friends and family, and ask them to be honest: do you complain about work the whole time? Do you gripe and moan, but nothing ever changes? Do they know the names of all the bosses you hate? Are they fed up of hearing about it?

If they tell you “yeah, maybe… a little bit”, you have to draw a line. Everyone has their bad days but a job that consumes you is healthy for no-one. It’s fine if you love what you do. Maybe you’re stressed but the hours fly by and you love giving it 110%.

It’s a different story if your work weighs you down, and you continually dwell over who said what, and the unfairness of it all. Bye-bye, crappy job…

You separate work from life

work hardWork and life are mirroring principles, since they work in tandem to deliver happiness and purpose.

It doesn’t matter how you balance this. You may have a big, shiny career that defines who you are and gets you up in the morning. Or you might work a series of part-time jobs you don’t really care about, to fund your passion for travelling (this isn’t the same as the point above about being bored, because you have an overriding purpose).

The key is not to think of work and life as two separate entities. Work and life are both you; between them, you need to figure out your drive – the goals that really chime with who you are – and then align everything accordingly.

Read more: Avoid this common mistake to make the most of your travels

What do you love? What don’t you? Is money more important, or having free time? What about the emphasis on creativity or travel?

Expect the answer to these questions to change over time, too. Though we tend to think of a career as one long trajectory, it rarely plays out like that. Instead, the average person goes through different cycles of desire and need – and you should respond accordingly.

Be flexible. Always question what it is that makes you happy. And stay true to it, taking swift and decisive action along the way.

Photos from Shutterstock and Flash Pack

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