Stuck in a Professional Rut? 5 Ways to Reach That Breakthrough Moment

Here’s an interesting fact: People who like their jobs are in the minority. Over half of all Americans are unsatisfied at work, and this “disengagement crisis” costs the nation an estimated $300 billion in lost productivity annually.

So if you’re itching to find something better, you owe it to yourself (and your country) to move on. But first, you need to know what will actually make you happier. And that’s deceptively difficult to figure out.

Here are five ways to discover a profession you might enjoy.

 1. Stop and reflect.

Before you pass Go, you should know why you’re going. Pause and ask yourself: Why now? Did you get passed over for a promotion? Have a bad experience at work? Making a career move is a big step, so be clear on your reasons.

Next, think about a time when you felt really energized at work. The time flew by and, dare you say it, you had fun. What were you doing? Who were you with? What skills were you using? The goal is to identify what you like so you know what to pursue.

Never felt that way at work? Let’s dig a bit deeper. Think of a time in your childhood when you were nothing but excited. What were you doing then? Many of your skills and interests emerged when you were younger, when you just did whatever drew you in.

These answers will help you find what you’re actually passionate about.

2. Read up.

Time for a thought experiment. Say I gave you $1,000 and locked you in a bookstore. You had to spend all of it before you could leave. What type of books would you buy?

Sure, you might leave with some periodicals and a paranormal romance novel, but you’ll also walk away with a few topics that really pique your interest. It’s worth your time and money to browse, purchase a few and get your cog wheels spinning.

If you’d like more specific advice, I can recommend a couple great books for personal development. “What Color Is Your Parachute?” is a classic for the career-curious, and “Love It, Don’t Leave It” covers how to find satisfaction with the job you have now. For something told more as a story, grab “10% Happier,“ which chronicles one man’s scattered pursuit of self-understanding.

 3. Assess your skills.

Sometimes, you take what you’re good at for granted. Things you do every day without thought may be hard for others to do themselves. Knowing what these skills are — and how you can put them to work — will make your job easier in more ways than one.

There are tons of skill assessment surveys out there, so I’ll save you the trouble of searching. Here are a few widely used inventories:

4. Talk with others.

You don’t have to walk your path to personal development alone. If you’re unsure of where to go, turn to your family and friends. Ask them, “What am I good at?” — you may be surprised by what you hear. Again, it’s not always obvious to you where your strengths lay.

It’s also a great idea to sit down with your boss for a real coaching conversation. This talk shouldn’t be a performance evaluation but rather a career exploration. Come prepared to discuss what more you can offer the company and see if there are opportunities.

Similarly, you can speak with peers and co-workers about what they do. Trawl your professional network for people with interesting positions and set up a few informational interviews. People are usually happy to talk about how they got where they did.

Another approach is to join a professional organization. Even if you’re not sure of what profession you’d like to pursue, you’ll meet folks with widely different skills in many hidden niches. You might stumble across a role that’s perfect for you.

5. Find a career coach.

A good career coach will not help you get a job. They won’t look through want ads or open positions. But they will help you find your career path, set goals and be accountable.

If you do hire a career coach, you’ll likely go through many of the steps mentioned above, but sometimes you need that push to get going. Having someone with experience to rely on will make your next step less daunting.

Career coaches usually charge by the session (typically $100 or more per hour) or by the package (monthly sessions and on-site training from $250 and up).There is no official licensing agency for career coaches, but there are professional organizations that certify their members. The International Coaches Federation (ICF) and the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches (PARW/CC) are good places to start looking.

Finding a job worth working is not simple, but no one is going to hand you a career. Part of the solution is knowing yourself. The other part is taking action.

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