How To Get Out of a Career Rut

According to statistical data researched and published on distractify.com the average life expectancy of Americans as of 2014 is 78.6 years old. Roughly 10 of those years are spent working. This doesn’t mean you spend “10 years of your life holding a job”… this means that if you were to aggregate all of the hours you spent working at your day job, it would rack up to 10 years. That’s 3,650 days…87,600 hours.

With so much time spent at work, it’s safe to say we aren’t always 100 percent satisfied.

Whether you’re a yoga instructor, a server in the fast-food industry, a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a struggling artist, or a journalist like me…you’re going to experience career challenges and even some dreaded ruts. Maybe you hate your job and want out of it. Perhaps you can’t find a job at all. Sometimes you even land a job/career that turns out to not be what you expected. Maybe you actually like your job, but feel stagnant and the frustration is killing you.

Whatever it may be, I’ve been there. Trust me.

Topaz and Sapphire Career Rut

It’s not always possible or feasible to change jobs, get that promotion, or quit your current post. But it is possible to do things that help you feel more career-positive about the future. Here are five tips that have helped me whenever I’m in a career rut.

1. Do things outside of work that mirror your “dream job.”

You know that age-old saying that if you “do something you love you won’t work a day in your life”? Well that’s great and I believe it, but it’s also not always financially or logistically viable to work your dream job at a given moment. The important thing is to cultivate your own dream job outside of your job.

For example, I love design, interiors, decorating and styling. If I could go back and re-do school, I would major in interior design. Since I spend most of my day making interview calls and writing articles I make sure to spend my off hours pretending I’m on HGTV.

Shopping flea markets and thrift stores, picking out paint colors, DIYing, and moving furniture around in my apartment makes me feel like I’m a designer- even if it’s after hours and just for me.

If you’re in your dream job already, kudos! If you’re not, or even if you want to be multiple things “when you grow up” like I do, it’s important to spend your time after you clock out of work doing things that mirror your dream job. Why? Because you will feel like you’re working at something you truly love, whether you’re getting paid for it or not, and self-satisfication is the biggest form of compensation.

2. Develop and practice skills that will help you career-wise.

I believe learning should extend beyond formal schooling. You’re never too old to pick up the piano or learn how to surf. Developing new (and old) skills is a great way to become more well-rounded and strengthen your resume. (Become a more interesting person and get the upper-hand in the job market?! I’m all about lifehacks that kill two birds with one stone).

Cassie basically self-taught herself (is that redundant?) Adobe Photoshop and inDesign. While these skills aren’t required as a marketer, it’s helped her tremendously in her field and here on this blog. It’s something she enjoys doing and sets her apart from other marketers.

I spend my days writing. From social media posts for work, to original articles and rewritten press releases – all I do is write. In all honesty the last thing I want to do is go home and write some more, but I do. Why? One of my biggest personal and professional goals is to publish a novel. The type of writing I do all day for work is news related and doesn’t hone the skills I need to practice in order to strengthen myself as a creative writer.

Whatever you’re into or want to be into eventually, develop and practice skills that will strengthen your current career status and future aspirations. You’ll thank yourself.

3. Pursue side jobs and other ventures.

Again, I understand that some people are barely getting sleep and adequate socialization with the number of hours they put in at the office. But if you’re able to, seek side jobs and other ventures that allow you to explore who you are and what you ultimately want to do.

You might say, “Work SOME MORE? I already work my @** off and the last thing I want to do is get another job!” To that my friend, I would say, “I hear you, I understand you, and I’m going to be real with you. Are you stuck in a rut with enough gusto to peruse other possibilities or do you want to stay there with your feet in the mud?” The answer is truly up to you.

The job/venture doesn’t have to be paid and it doesn’t have to be extremely involved. It just has to give you motivation and inspiration. It could be something as simple as attending a MeetUp with local entrepreneurs in the area who are interested in startups or joining the cast of a community theater production.

Cassie and I felt like we weren’t using our creativity to our fullest potential, so we created this blog. It’s a commitment to put in hours here on Topaz & Sapphire after we’ve completed our duties at our respective jobs, but it’s worth it for the fun, enjoyment and outlet it provides us.

When I first graduated college I was working part-time at my dad’s optometric office, nannying in the afternoons, and freelancing for a local paper on occasion. While I appreciated my dad, loved the kids I nannied, and got paid per article… I still was left feeling unfulfilled. So I accepted a non-paid internship with a local magazine post-college (GASP!) and loved every minute of it. My former editor to this day is still one of my biggest professional mentors and the skills I honed there have helped me land several successive gigs.

4. Come up with a plan.

Plans don’t always pan out. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one.

Hate your job and want out? Apply for three jobs a week, following up every two weeks with the employer. Set a “deadline” of when you want to have a new job and work towards that as a goal.

Want a raise? Set up a time to talk with your boss about options and possibilities. It can be really scary, but it’s illegal to fire someone for asking for a raise and according to Glamour magazine, most women who asked for raises at work got them!

Don’t know what the hell you want to do? Make a list of things that you enjoy doing and work from there.

Where do you see yourself in one year? Five years? Sometimes it’s overwhelming and somewhat “unrealistic” to see yourself in 10 years, but one year from now you should be able to picture where you’d ideally like to be. Then make plans to reach that optimal place.

5. Talk it out.

When I say this, I don’t mean post a Facebook status ranting about how much your life and career suck right now. That is counterproductive. What I mean is, we all want to be heard.

If you are keeping all of your work frustrations inside, they’re going to eventually come out- either verbally (to the wrong person) or in your work. Don’t let co-workers or the people you service in your job bear the brunt of your frustrations.

Instead, find a confidant or friend or partner who can willingly listen to you express your discouragements, concerns, or let-downs about what’s going on at work. Sometimes getting it off your chest can alleviate the stress, and the verbalization of it all may be able to help you pinpoint some of your struggles.

However, don’t take advantage of this person because no one wants to hear you whine all the time. 😉

Career ruts can be challenging, but we all experience them from time-to-time. You’re not alone! We’d love to hear suggestions on how you all cope with career ruts. Comment below or email us at contact.topazandsapphire@gmail.com

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  • Toward the end of my corporate career as I became increasingly dissatisfied with working for someone else (I’m not good at taking orders it turns out after all these years)I decided to go back to school part time – while keeping my job. I was in a total rut but simply applying for jobs wasn’t helping because I knew the problem was as much with what I wanted as it was the job I had – and simply changing location wasn’t going to solve the issue. Within two months of beginning my study I had quit my job and was studying and freelancing full time. It was the best decision I ever made. By opting to study part time I gave myself enough of a distraction from the career frustration to actually *think* about what I wanted to do next. Since then, I’ve spoken with several colleagues and found that’s what they needed too – not necessarily to go back to school – but something to remove their focus from the “this is all wrong and I hate it” long enough to figure out “I don’t like this, I do like that, and I want to be ….” after which it was less challenging to begin taking steps toward a solution.
    Great post – thanks.

    • Cassie & Latisha

      Thanks so much for your comments Angelique. I admire people who just quit and take the plunge and end up so much happier for it. Being a professional is a lot more multi-layered and complex than I even thought!

  • I love love love this post. I definitely think we are all in a career rut at one time or another and it may last days or months or even years. One thing I find that has helped me is giving my current job more of a chance… if things aren’t how I want them to be, I try my best to speak up to management and get some things changed. If that doesn’t work out, then I know that I’ve tried and I can go somewhere else.