“Why isn’t the phone ringing?” a senior executive asked me quizzically over coffee.
“It will,” I replied, “once you have made your decision.”
Faced with a choice to stay in a career built with an organisation over two decades, or take a leap into the unknown for a metaphorical last hurrah, it is likely the former will win.
Even though staying:
- means surviving on scant sparks of passion
- means another decade where work will feel like a chore
- won’t change the reality that even at board level influence is limited
- won’t shift a culture where change is inevitable but often unwelcome
- means fear is the ultimate master
Reasonable reasons for staying
So why would any smart, career savvy professional stay in this position? Why would anyone wake up with daily dread to attend to the same old same old, able to predict how each quarterly cycle will unfold with meticulous precision unless something really dramatic is thrown into the mix?
There are obvious reasons many of which can be connected to two key emotions:
The first is fear. Fear of what people will think if you leave; fear of losing financial security, fear of rejection, or fear of being too old. Fear can also be linked loss of power, status, title. Sometimes the fear is there are no other jobs as good as your current one or that you belive the market is either too volatile or too cautious.
The second, which I believe is a bigger risk is apathy. An indifference to the experience you are having. A numbing out of reality. A dullness deep inside where once there was fire. A selling out of yourself.
These two emotions have the power to keep any intelligent, powerful leader stuck in a rut in a job they no longer enjoy. TWEET IT
However, most leaders have the emotional intelligence to move through these fears and see them for what they are. Yet in my experience they still find themselves stuck in a career rut, attracted like a magnet to metal and remaining entrenched where they are.
Why is this?…
I believe it comes down to dreaming.
You can’t make a leap into the unknown without knowing what you’re reaching for in either your career or your life. TWEET IT
It’s a simple emotional equation:
Staying + familiarity = safety
Leaving + unknown = risk
To the logical mind staying seems to cause less pain.
Yet the consequences of staying are more pervasive than you might realise.
- No stretch means no growth
- No spark means no drive
- No desire means no innovation
- No purpose means no fulfilment
- No commitment means no freedom
So how do you stop coasting and overcome this?
In his book The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris shares a process he calls Dreamlining.
Tim gets you to dream big in three areas, ‘having, being and doing’ for 6 and 12 months. The dreams you have may or may not be linked to your career, the point is to start exercising the dreaming ‘muscle’ to get out of the rut. The dreams must be relevant and exciting to you! Here are some examples:
- Having i.e. in 6 months having a sabbatical to learn how to build bamboo buildings, in 12 months having an ocean front home in Australia
- Being i.e. in 6 months being in the same country as my family, in 12 months being an entrepreneur with my own business
- Doing i.e. in 6 months attending a tech conference in San Francisco, in 12 months spending one month exploring Japan
Then, crucially he also gets you to build some solid financial plans around these dreams. The point is dreams alone are not enough, but when you are stuck in a career rut they go a long way! Converting dreams into action requires financial planning – this helps you create structure around your dreams, but more importantly allows your mind to relax so you can begin to make the mental leap.
In the end fear and apathy won’t keep you stuck, but a lack of fire in the vision you have for yourself, and your life will.
The key for leaders stuck in a career rut is to learn from the agile entrepreneurial mindset: “dream big, fail fast”.
It means being brave enough to play with the second more risky equation; knowing that the cost of doing nothing is your freedom while you continue to show up every day handcuffed by a golden handshake.