8 ways to get out of a career rut

Feeling stuck in your career? IT leaders give their advice on what steps to take to reinvigorate your career path
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The pandemic was difficult to navigate for most of us, but if we can try to identify something positive that transpired as a result, it allowed (or forced) time for reflection and re-evaluation.

Consider the millennial who felt stuck at a small company with no room for growth. Or the older generation of workers who thought they should retire early because the future was so uncertain and accepting a complete shift to digital felt daunting. For Gen Z, the prospect of never meeting managers or colleagues – because of virtual interviews and remote jobs – was foreign and left some without a sense of belonging.

Not only were we physically absent from workspaces, but many of us also struggled mentally with the sudden, enormous changes to our daily routines and goals. It became a time of contemplation, where many professionals began reassessing their careers (and lives). And the realization for many? They felt stuck.

What are your options if you want to take a big leap out of your current situation? How do you find motivation, especially after a couple of very stressful years outside of your control? What inspires you to take on a new challenge?

I reached out to my community and asked for advice for those feeling the tug to make a significant life or career change. Here is what they shared to reinspire the passion, reignite motivation, and re-establish the goals for professionals who feel stalled in their careers.

Career paths are not always linear

“There is no reason to subscribe to the idea that career paths are linear. Every experience provides an opportunity to grow and gain a new perspective. Graduates with liberal arts degrees are sought after in tech for their creative backgrounds and well-rounded educations. Focus on your skills and strengths and market them for what you can contribute, not what you think you missed by not following someone else’s idea of a career.” -Amara Graham, Head of Developer Experience, Camunda.

Discover inspiration in the process of taking action

“I believe that the secret sauce is to reverse the sequence. Rather than address "How do you get inspired to take on a new challenge?"I think the trick is to simply decide to take on a new challenge. Once taken on, the experience of addressing it generates the inspiration needed to succeed. It’s not unlike “luck,” which is arguably 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration, i.e., we create our own luck the same way we discover our inspiration in the process of taking action.” -Bob Kantor, IT Management Consultant and IT Executive Coach, Kantor Consulting Group, Inc.

Passion opens doors

“I believe that passion is at the heart of great work. If you are passionate about the problem you are working to solve, doors will open up for you. It’s also important to take advantage of opportunities when they’re presented. The individuals that continuously grow and progress in their careers are the ones that are willing to step outside their comfort zone, challenge themselves and follow their interests.” -Shailesh Kumar, SVP of Engineering, ClickUp

Consider internal recruitment

“Smart companies should anticipate the dangers of stalled careers and put digital tools in employees’ hands to empower them to break out of ruts by seeing various options for what comes next, as well as the step-by-step path to get there in daily workflow. Internal recruitment works in current employees’ favor by enabling and supporting total career changes. If someone is a software developer and wants to get into sales, no company will hire a totally inexperienced seller. But the right training, learning, and development tools inside a company can help a developer turn into a seller.” -Purbita Banerjee, Senior Vice President, Korn Ferry Digital.

Be your own emotional VC

“Change is exciting. There are times in your career when you can take a step back and consider what you “want” to do rather than what you “have” to do. And one singular force can drive this type of change – you. A startup mindset would help when taking this step; it’s similar to the feeling when you started your first job, but this time, you are not fresh out of school. Use those years of valuable work experience under your belt to tap into the network you have built to your advantage, but be prepared to be your own emotional “VC” to start with!” -E.G. Nadhan, Global Chief Architect Leader, Red Hat

Agile works for career management, too

“When I work with agile teams, I remind them to devote time to plan, implement, and drive transformation in every sprint. This approach also works for managing your career, especially because technologies change quickly and what businesses expect from transformation leaders is evolving. Inspire yourself by prioritizing at least one learning activity and one relationship-building activity every sprint, and remember to listen for feedback to help prioritize what to focus on next. Recognize that you may ‘fail fast' in some areas, but by continuously investing in learning and relationship-building, you’ll feel unstuck by growing the number of potential opportunities.” –Isaac Sacolick, President, StarCIO, and author, Digital Trailblazer.

Act first, then reflect

“Stuck is a wake-up call. It is a state of restlessness when your head, heart, job, and work environment do not align. This could happen at any point in your career. You won’t think your way out of this. First, articulate what’s in your head for you and others to hear. Find and engage in opportunities you’ve been tossing around. Act first, then reflect. Movement in a straight line is not required or recommended.” -Dr. Alan M. Patterson, Author, Burn Ladders. Build Bridges. Pursuing Work with Meaning and Purpose

Envision the future, then work backward to figure out the next steps

“These days, a career spans many phases, and the trick is to plan for each one. Brainstorm with your friends and family about where you see yourself five years from now and work backward to figure out the steps needed to accomplish your goal. Never be afraid to take baby steps—possibly twenty of them—to achieve the career pivot of your dreams. Find people who are doing what you want to do and contact them. Take classes or do volunteer work to build the necessary skills. Be fearless.” -Vicky Oliver, Author, 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions

[ Check out essential career advice from 37 award-winning CIOs! Get a variety of insights on leadership, strategy, and career development from IT executives at Mayo Clinic, Dow, Aflac, Liberty Mutual, Nordstrom, and more: Ebook: 37 award-winning CIOs share essential IT career advice. ]

Katie Sanders
Katie Sanders is the Content and Community Manager for The Enterprisers Project, seeking contributors who have expertise that can be shared with an audience of CIOs and IT leaders. She has always been interested in building relationships and connecting people.