Dear Megan, I'm an executive assistant at a marketing firm in Seattle, and while I love my co-workers, my boss and the general "culture" here are a real drain. My boss has essentially told me that there are no growth opportunities for me here, and after three years, I'm convinced she's right.
Besides the fact that this hurts my pride, it's also troubling because I'm not sure I want to continue working as an executive assistant anyway. I feel completely stuck and am not sure how to go about figuring out what's next. Can you help?
Stuck in the C-Suite
Dear Stuck in the C-Suite,
I know this might be an annoying response, but from where I sit, it's a real gift that there are no growth opportunities at your firm! If there were an appealing career ladder there to distract you, you may not have realized that your heart wants something to change. So, while I know it hurts your pride and is probably very frustrating, consider the fact that this may also be a blessing.
Two immediate next steps come to mind in terms of helping you figure out which direction to head at this stage in your career: shift your energy, and get curious.
I'm not sure how much energy you're putting into your job these days, but if you've been there for three years and have strong relationships with your co-workers, I'm guessing you work hard and are great at what you do. This might sound counter-intuitive, but I'd encourage you to be a little less great at what you do going forward. Making career transitions of any kind can take a huge amount of energy, and you want that energy to propel you into what your heart and soul needs next, not into a job you know is dead on the vine.
So pull back a little. I don't mean that you should just stop showing up or do anything to put your job in jeopardy, I just mean pulling back on the amount of emotional and mental energy you're putting into your work there. Maybe you settle for "good enough" instead of "perfect" on that next thing. Or maybe you make a real effort to leave work behind and not use your emotional energy on it after you get home. Instead of going out for happy hour with co-workers again, perhaps you use that money to sign up for a night class that intrigues you, or you just go for a walk in your neighborhood.
Try to reframe your day job as just that: something you do to pay the bills, but not your "real life."
Your life now is about finding that meaningful, juicy next step in your professional journey, and you want to cultivate as much positive energy in that direction as you can.
My second suggested step is to get curious. When people start looking for what's next, they often do one of two things: they're either too afraid to imagine other possibilities and settle for the most logical move, which is usually just more of the same, or they go in the opposite direction and search high and low for their "passion," often leaving them burnt out and convinced that they'll never find a job they love.
I'd encourage you to aim for somewhere in the soft middle of those two extremes, dear Stuck in the C-Suite. And the best way to be balanced in that attempt is to simply follow what you're curious about, even if it's seemingly ridiculous things like why the fabric on your duvet cover is so soft or how a city decides where to put in the next bus line. Teeny tiny things like that are little trail markers, and while some will lead to nowhere, others will lead to somewhere.
One of the wisest people talking about curiosity v. passion is Elizabeth Gilbert, and she has an awesome interview on On Being that I'm linking to here in case you're open to listening to it. It's wonderful and encouraging, and I think you'd get a lot out of it.
I'd also suggest that you start a daily curiosity practice. One way to do that could be to jot down three things you're curious about every day and to spend at least five minutes researching each of them. Simply notice what tugs at you over time and what doesn't. Pretend you're a researcher and just follow the threads that are intriguing to you.
With this practice and the energy you're saving from your day job, you'll eventually build the momentum and knowledge you need in order to launch yourself into the next thing.
I'm sorry your job feels yucky and stuck and all of those things, but if you can start with these two steps, I think you'll begin to feel unstuck. Be kind and patient with yourself as you start on this new path, and if accountability is helpful to you, consider partnering with a coach or therapist who can walk this path with you for a time.
Thank you for sending in your sweet and honest question, Stuck in the C-Suite, and lots of love to you as you venture into this new territory.
If you have a work-related question or a perplexing situation of your own, I invite you to send it into Dear Megan!