It can be really hard to know whether it's time to leave a stagnant job or just make some tweaks to improve the situation. If you're like me, then your first assumption when something really isn't working is to leave. Change. Move on. Most of the time, I appreciate my inclination to cut out what's not working and move on quickly, but that's not always a helpful impulse.
Sometimes when we're feeling the urge to leave a job, it's not because we really should - it's because our orientation to the job needs to change.
All of us get stagnant in our work from time to time, and we start to wonder how to shake things up again: do we leave? Do we stay? Do we stay but make changes?
Stagnation in a job can show up as fatigue, procrastination, or a general "numbness" to the work. There's a sense of agitation, like we just know that something's not right.
If you're feeling this way, I'd encourage you to slow down and carve out at least 10-20 minutes per day to get quiet and connect with your intuition. These periods of feeling stalled are so ripe for a deeper connection with our inner voice, which is there to help us figure these things out.
Assuming you're setting aside quiet time to still your mind, get outdoors, journal - whatever it is for you - then I have some ideas for how you can make the most of the situation while you're waiting for the answer to "what's next"?
Here are three things I suggest for folks who are feeling like their career is entering a transition period:
First, let go of the pressure to figure this out.
Your soul is on its own timeline, and it does not respond to our frantic rushing (trust me, I've tried). This transition will go much more smoothly if you can settle in and assume that the path will open up when it's time. Your life isn't a sudoku puzzle that you can solve with your mind. There are other things at play, and when we can stay calm and trust the process, we'll get the results that we need.
So, the mantra for this period is: "I'll know what to do when it's time."
Second, amp up the emotional labor you're putting into the work.
"Emotional labor" is a term I first heard from Seth Godin, and it's essentially the effort we put into cultivating meaningful connection through our work. It's the amount of effort we put into building strong, authentic relationships or expressing who we really are in what we do.
It's easier for many of us not to expend emotional labor at work. We like to hide behind our professional "personas." But if we're going to create careers that are meaningful, we have to expend emotional labor.
We need your heart in the work you do, and you need it, too. When we shield ourselves from the work and don't make the effort to show up human, doing work we're proud of, we stagnate - no matter how awesome the job was at first.
You can amp up emotional labor instantly. You can genuinely ask your coworker about his weekend. You can check in with your gut as you start on your next task and see if there's more "you" that you can put into it. You can be honest when your boss asks you how you feel about something.
The more you can show up in this way, the more energy you'll cultivate at this job, which will multiply and create momentum for whatever's next.
Finally, toss your job description in the trash.
It doesn't matter what you're "supposed" to do at work. Forget about that for a minute. Here's my question to you instead: what needs to get done?
Where are there holes? Who's in pain? In your sphere of influence (which is larger than you might think), who needs help? How can you help them?
Stagnation comes up when we've mastered our day to day work enough to feel like we could be doing more. We're going through the motions, starting to feel bored, but then we wait for someone else to give us the freshness we're seeking. We think we have to stay in these boxes because anything else just "isn't our job."
Choose instead to look around you. What can you help with? How can you expand your influence in a way that feels generous and interesting to you?
Now, if you're feeling stagnant, you might believe that there's no point in exerting extra effort where you are. But now is exactly the time for you to see your organization and the work with fresh eyes. Try pretending it's your first day again. What do you see? Where can you connect? Where can you show up more fully?
If you try these things, you'll start to create movement that will nourish you, and that movement will help clarify what it is you're meant to do next.
If you do these and get stalled at every turn by systems or peers who want to keep you in one particular box, then it may be time to leave.
But give them a chance. Do the work. Bring a little more of yourself to work each day.
No matter where your path ends up leading you, you will have done your part to be present with wherever you are, which is such a gift to the rest of us.