As I was starting my professional journey, I set my sights on becoming an entrepreneur. I co-founded Influence & Co. with two partners, and the first few years were a total whirlwind.
Entrepreneurship was living up to the hype. I felt inspired and energized. I was learning new skills and growing as a leader, and no two days were alike. But then, after about seven years of being a business leader, I found myself stuck in a rut. Our company was still successful — and our team was still growing — but my professional life no longer felt like an exhilarating journey.
Every day felt like the movie “Groundhog Day.” During meetings, it felt like we were repeating the same conversations and continuously dealing with the same issues. I also grew frustrated with my company’s ownership structure. Although I ran the business with my co-founder, a third party was technically its owner. This made me feel like I couldn’t really call myself an “entrepreneur,” and I would often downplay my role when speaking with friends and family about my professional life.
My mood and self-esteem suffered during the six months that I was stuck in this work rut. But once I came to terms with the situation,I made some much-needed changes and got myself back on track. Especially now that many of us are working remotely and facing other challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be easy to fall into a rut. Take a page from my playbook to reclaim your fulfilling career:
1. Audit your job satisfaction
Begin by auditing your job satisfaction: Are you feeling challenged by your work? Are you feeling excited about any particular aspect of your role? Can you pinpoint specific accomplishments you’ve made? If the answer to those questions is no — or if you find yourself venting about the same issues over and over — chances are that you’re stuck in a rut.
Do this soul searching on a personal level and consider asking a friend or loved one to weigh in. The people around you can sometimes identify patterns that you might not notice yourself. I didn’t realize the full extent of my work rut until my husband brought to my attention two issues: my constant venting about the same issues at work and my habit of understating my professional accomplishments because of my insecurities around the ownership structure. Once these symptoms came into focus, I had the motivation I needed to make changes.
2. Identify and evaluate areas where you’re not making progress
Look for areas in your professional life where you aren’t making progress and figure out why this stagnation is occurring. Sometimes, the source of a rut is a self-limiting belief or behavior that needs to be addressed. Other times, the culprit is an external factor — such as being in the wrong role or being undervalued by your team. In those situations, you might need to have some difficult conversations with your colleagues to voice your feelings, express your desire for change, and work toward a solution.
For me, this step took several months — but it was well worth the effort because it resulted in two major breakthroughs.
First, I identified the source of my “Groundhog Day” feelings: My company had a person in a leadership role who wasn’t thriving. After reviewing notes from our one-on-one conversations, I noticed we would rehash the same two or three agenda items every time we met. This person was not solving problems, making progress, or bringing new ideas to the table — so we decided it was time for this person to move on.
My second breakthrough was becoming the majority owner of the business. Over a series of conversations, I worked out a deal with my two business partners and bought out their interest in the company with the help of a new partner. This turned out to be a great move for me personally and for the business. Between 2017 and 2019 (my first full year as majority owner), my company’s revenue grew 21%.
I didn’t realize at the time how much these two moves would shake me out of my rut. But since taking action, I’ve felt a renewed sense of energy, focus, and determination at work.
3. Pause and ask yourself, ‘What’s within my control?’
When I find myself feeling frustrated, I like to take a step back and ask, “What is within my control?” This has helped me realize that countless problems and stressors are outside my control and not worth trying to solve. For example, no amount of professional auditing and soul searching will change the financial hardships and overall uncertainty stemming from the current COVID-19 crisis.
Don’t try to solve an impossible problem. Instead, focus on fixing frustrations within your scope of influence. Even a small amount of forward momentum can help you extract yourself from a rut, revitalize your career, and regain the enthusiasm you felt when you first began your professional journey.
If you’ve found yourself feeling “stuck,” I’m confident that by stepping back, reflecting, letting go of issues outside your control, and acting on the problems you can control, you can work your way toward a fulfilling, exhilarating career.