How You Are Getting In The Way of Your Career Growth & How To Stop

Everyone has moments of frustration with their jobs, but if you have been consistently unhappy at your job it’s time to think about making a change. As with most important decisions in life, it’s not that simple. There are several things to take into consideration: you may not be able to find a job that pays as well as your current job, with your current credentials you may not be qualified for another role and may need to seek additional education or training to work toward the role you desire, or you might simply be struggling to muster up the energy to launch a job search.

I have been in this tough situation and I know that as unpleasant and stressful as it can be, we can make it so much harder on ourselves by self-sabotaging. We compare ourselves to our colleagues and friends, we tell ourselves to “just wait and see”, or we don’t have a definitive plan so we panic instead of doing something.  As a former pro self-saboteur I know a thing or two about totally screwing yourself over while fully being aware of it and yet, feeling unable to stop. So let’s break it down and break out of this career standstill!

How you are getting in the way of your career growth and how to stop:

  1. Comparing yourself

Comparing yourself to your colleagues or friends is going to achieve one thing well: making you feel really shitty. Sure, maybe your former college roommate is killing it as a fancy real estate agent in LA and you know this because her Instagram feed is chock-full of images of the mansions and swanky beach homes she gets sold. And perhaps one of your coworkers is creatively brilliant, while another is a great speaker and can command a room like no other. But comparing yourself to them is useless. Everyone does better or worse than others when it comes to certain skills. What one person does poorly, you may naturally have a real talent for.

Instead of comparing yourself, think about your strengths. What can you do better than most? Perhaps that old roomie of yours is making bank in the vapid west coast real estate world but can she design a website like you? Can they, like you, skillfully compose an email to a difficult client who is complaining, yet again? Can they thrive in a team environment as well as you do? Ask yourself: What do I do better than most? And OWN those strengths!

  1. You convince yourself it’s okay to wait and see

“I should just wait until the next round of performance reviews.”

“I’ll hold on until after the new year and see what happens.”

“A lot of things could change, you never know.”

If you find yourself saying these things in order to convince yourself to stay in your wretched job, you are in denial. The last thing you want to do in this situation is play the waiting game! When it comes to our careers we cannot drag our feet in the hope that other people will come along and make everything okay. I know that working a full time job that is absolutely eviscerating your energy and morale only to go home to meticulously tweak your resume and scour the internet for open positions, is exhausting. But it is a part of the process, whether you are a painter or a software engineer you have to actively put yourself out there, market yourself, and straight up hustle in order to land a dream gig. (Also as an aside can we just accept that your dream gig today will probably not be your dream gig in 5 years, and that it’s totally fine because evolving and learning is important!) Please do not wait for anyone to just pop out of the ether and offer you a great job if you haven’t put in the time and energy!

When is waiting it out a good tactic?: if it’s part of a larger strategy like saving up enough money to start your own business, or waiting to graduate from your masters program, or waiting on more funding so your company can create the roles you really want to do (in the case of startups). Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time, and if you stick to the waiting game long enough it will become a way of life and nothing will ever change.

  1. You don’t know what to do next

It’s really hard to get what you want when you don’t know what it is you want. It can be scary and stressful especially when you find yourself ready to leave your job in order to save your sanity/dignity yet aren’t sure what to do next. When you don’t know what you want, it seems like the only option is to stay where you are until the answer appears, regardless of how trapped it might make you feel.

There are limitless options but maybe you just don’t feel particularly committed to any of them because you can’t see them individually, they all seem to be lumped into this one massive cancerous decision growth that just keeps growing the more you think about it threatening to crush you.

Don’t get crushed! Start asking yourself some questions. Is it the job itself (your role in the company) or the company culture/work environment? Would you be better off in a new city? Maybe you want to spend more of your time with people, have better flexibility in your hours. I don’t think the level of clarity matters a whole lot. What matters is being able to ask some tough questions and being confident enough to go for it!

Meditation

The benefits of meditation are well known. Everyone talks about trying it. The New York Times has covered it. There are apps you can download to help you meditate. Meditation is not reserved for wealthy yoga retreat goers any longer. But as accessible as the practice has now become for many beginners it can still seem daunting. Sitting alone with your thoughts while trying to silent the mind and focus on your breath is not easy for many of us. In fact, it’s the opposite of how we have been conditioned to function.

When you start meditating you will quickly notice just how unruly the mind is. Most people assume that to meditate you have to think about nothing, or “clear your mind”. But when you have it in your head that you have to DO anything when the goal is to quiet the mind, it’s totally counterproductive. So don’t think about thinking about nothing, simply “think neutral”.

When you begin practicing meditation do not be hard on yourself. Some days you will ease into it and other days you may get frustrated with yourself and be unable to defuse the non stop thoughts from coming in. When I first started, I would be bombarded with thoughts , to do lists that I had to get to, work tasks to be completed, an itch on my nose etc. We are so used to moving and thinking and working that when we stop to be still our brains don’t know what to do. It’s like all of a sudden you are tuning into 20 different crappy mind cable channels that click through rapid fire. Click – I should get that mole checked out,  Click – should I get bangs again?, Click – can’t forget to call mom back, Click – am I a good daughter? And on and on.

Tune out, think neutral, focus on your breathe, hold a comfortable posture, and if you are still having trouble I suggest coming up with imagery that helps you. I like to picture a lotus emerging from the mud and slowly blooming. If imagery isn’t your thing maybe focus on a body part. I sometimes will pick a body part, like the top of my forehead or my hands to focus on.

If all else fails, take a seat, and smile. Smile to yourself and think about the things you are grateful for. Take 10 minutes and just dwell in that warm, cozy feeling of gratitude.

The human mind is an infinite journey. We possess the power to go anywhere and do anything but in order to do so, we must learn to tap into the depths hidden beneath our messy thoughts and meditation is a wonderful tool that can help us get there.

The Burnout Epidemic

Chronic fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, anxiety, impaired concentration, weakened immune system and depression. These are the tell tale signs of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. At 27, I’ve experienced burnout a few times in my life and I’ve needed to learn how to balance my energies to stay healthy and happy.

During my senior year of college I worked as a waitress and bartender, I was a nanny to three small girls, I was VP of my schools Hispanic student association and I was interning at one of Bostons top advertising firms. I was 21 and I thought I was invincible. I was an overachiever hell bent on doing it all who sustained herself on caffeine in order to make it through. To decompress, instead of taking it easy and catching up on sleep on my nights off, I would go out with friends. This lifestyle completely destroyed me.

Sure I graduated with honors, a solid internship experience to add to my resume and some money in the bank from my various hustles but it all came at a price. By the time I graduated I was in rough shape. I remember feeling totally uninspired, anxious and emotionally depleted. After graduation I thought to myself “Okay,crazy you did it, now stop!” I remember spending a good two weeks at my parents house doing nothing but watching Harry Potter and working on my tan. It was glorious. It was also a bit of a wake up call.

I’ve written about my last bout of burnout in Letting Yourself Be. Both of these instances of burnout where tough to get through because I had to recondition myself to live a more balanced life. I had to train myself to know when to stop pushing beyond the brink and when to cut myself some slack. It’s not easy to keep yourself in line if you are someone who has high expectations and no patience for themselves. Add to that, living in a society where social media has elevated standards of what having it all and doing it all looks like. We can’t all attend barre class 5 days a week, work full time, keep a tidy apartment that is decorated impeccability, make Instagram worthy organic meals each night, go on exotic vacations around the globe, dress like a street style blogger all while managing to get enough sleep and maintaining healthy relationships! Unless you have a personal assistant, this just isn’t going to happen. More importantly it DOESN’T HAVE TO, despite what all the Pinterest boards and GOOP-esque blogs depict. 

So, what are some ways to avoid burnout? Here are a few things that have helped me and I hope that you find them useful!

  • Know where the stress is coming from – Burnout can be caused by internal factors so ask yourself where is the stress coming from. Knowing the source can help you figure out what is stressing you out and what you can do about it.
  • Take rest seriously – Take time off. This doesn’t need to be a fancy trip but even a long weekend to get yourself organized, and catch up on rest. Go ahead, binge watch that series you haven’t had time for!
  • Enrich your life with hobbies – Always wanted to learn piano? Take lessons! Want to improve your photography skills? Make it a point to get better! Devote just a few hours a week to an activity that has nothing to do with your day job. Whether it’s an exercise regimen or taking up DIY projects, your hobbies will help you unwind and increase your confidence in an array of skills.
  • Unplug – It is hard not to stay connected when you have a demanding job. But make your free time a priority when you can and unplug completely. Sometimes even leisurely scrolling through twitter can be a mind numbing time suck! So drop the phone and get centered, go on a walk, or do a meditation exercise. I have an adult coloring book that I enjoy doodling in occasionally and its very calming.
  • Know when enough is enough – Gauge yourself at the end of each day. Are you feeling anxious? Are you feeling healthy? Are you feeling mentally drained? Are you getting enough rest? We all need to motivate ourselves to be challenged and engaged in both life and work but there is a difference between motivating and forcing. It’s great to push yourself but there is a point in which that can become determental for your well being. Know yourself and know where your breaking point is and stay away from it!
  • Get sleep – I can not stress how important this one is. Sleep is vital! Did you know that women need more sleep than men? Not getting enough sleep throws everything off and is incredibly bad for your health. If you are having trouble sleeping, try sticking to a bed time routine, avoid screen time in the bed room, drink soothing tea and make sure your bedroom temperature is comfortable. If a routine or natural supplements (try melatonin or Natural Calm) are not helping you may want to speak to a doctor. I once had a terrible bout of insomnia that lasted about 4 months and toward the end of it I was seeing visions…it was by far the most frightening health scare of my life. Please take sleep seriously! 

Avoiding burnout starts by putting some preventative measures in place. Also, its important to have support from a partner, colleagues, friends or therapist that can help you implement these practices and know when to call you out if your veering dangerously close to burnout.

Letting Yourself Be

A few years ago I was going through a breakup which led me to focus my energies on other things to distract me. I was running more, writing more and making an effort to meet with friends on a regular basis. These were all healthy distractions for me. I did develop one unhealthy distraction though which was overworking myself.

It started with saying “yes” to everything and everyone at work. If someone needed help, I’d say I was available even if that meant working much later. If there were office activities I always attended, if someone was going on vacation I’d offer to respond to their out of office emails. At first I really thought that I was doing the right thing and that nothing negative could come from working extra hard. But when leaving the office at 8pm became my norm, I really began to feel out of sorts. I was exhausted, burnt out and could hardly focus on anything.

I started to have nightmares about my job practically every night. I was answering emails on weekends. I even worked through the flu at one point. I kept on pushing myself and not feeling like all the work was appreciated what so ever, it just became expected of me.

My healthy distraction became unhealthy for me rather quickly and I knew I had to make a change. I began to let things go little by little. I also actively pursued other job opportunities and soon I was at a new company where I was happy and respected.

Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation. You have a ton to do on a tight deadline and there are expectations to meet, but your mind refuses to cooperate with you because you have overdone it. You can either indulge a sense of panic about the things you’re not getting done. Or you can remove yourself from the situation and do what is best for your wellbeing. This could mean taking a break, meditating, going on a walk or venting to a friend. It could also mean making a drastic change in your life and switching careers but that doesn’t guarantee you won’t fall back into your same cycle. We must learn to continuously allow ourselves to just be, and  cut ourselves some slack in order to not burn out.

Everyone has responsibilities and goals, and we want to keep up a sense of momentum with them until we reach completion. To keep working away at a goal makes us feel productive and feeling productive makes us feel accomplished. But this doesn’t necessarily make us happy. Our happiness has less to do with how fast we complete a task and more to do with how well we treat ourselves through the process.

Simply let yourself be. Put your wellbeing first because if you aren’t okay, you will get in your own way and make that to-do list seem never ending.