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How to shake yourself out of a career rut

Worried you’re a little too comfortable in your career? Perhaps you’ve been in the same role or company for many years – not to mention the same desk – or your responsibilities outside work have left less time and energy for career planning.

‘We often expect that our careers will contain constant excitement and will always be an upward climb,’ says Nicola Corner from DeakinTALENT’s Graduate Talent Development team. ‘However, this isn’t always true. Over time our sights can be lowered to what’s in front of us rather than what could be.’

Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do to break out of a rut and take your career to the next level.

Why it’s easy to settle for less-than-perfect

Everyone settles at some stage in their career, even corporate high flyers and other professionals who’ve achieved enviable levels of success. Why? Because we’re hardwired to settle.

‘Settling is built into the way we approach the world,’ Corner says. ‘Research suggests we typically become competent enough that we are not immediately aware of our obvious limitations, and then do not improve significantly after that.’

The other major barrier is our strong preference for habits. For the sake of efficiency, the brain prefers repetitive behaviours over new actions and it’s worked out a nifty system of grouping behaviours together.

The brain adopts whichever habits you have focused on and practiced throughout your life. Do you wash yourself in the same order in the shower and drive the exact same route to the office every morning? That’s your efficient brain at work.

The trouble is that even if you want to change things up and get ahead at work, this efficiency makes it difficult to do things differently. Old habits die hard, as they say, whether it’s driving to work or what you do at work.

And, of course, change is scary, says Corner. ‘While normal and natural, being fearful can negatively impact our ability to try new things that we know deep down might be very good for us,’ she says. ‘There’s often fear associated with making a career move – for example, fear of the unknown, failure, loss of income, status or pride, and facing rejection.’

'We often expect that our careers will contain constant excitement and will always be an upward climb.'

Nicola Corner,
Senior Graduate Talent Development Consultant, DeakinTALENT

Why settling can be risky

Settling may have been an effective, and even encouraged, career strategy in our parents’ day when jobs were often for life, but the workplace has changed and settling can be a risky approach today.

‘Career paths are no longer linear. Employment is less secure, and skills such as flexibility and adaptability are gaining priority over long-term employment in structured roles and environments,’ Corner says.

She says ongoing professional development and building your resilience are key to creating a satisfying career. ‘We must run our own careers – and run them like a business,’ Corner says. ‘The skill of learning new skills is critically important because this enables us to adapt and change in line with these new demands.’

How to work towards something better

The first step to changing your professional direction is to recognise and acknowledge you’re in a career rut. ‘The feelings can build up slowly over time and may include your days feeling monotonous or indistinguishable from one another, or regularly feeling bored, unfulfilled or unmotivated,’ Corner says.

Next, evaluate your values, motivators, interests and skills. ‘Having spent some time in the workforce you will undoubtedly have built up a better picture of what you like and don’t like, and what skills you enjoy utilising,’ says Corner’s colleague Gavin Walker who leads DeakinTALENT’s Graduate Recruitment Services team.

‘Your values may have also changed as you mature and enter different stages of your life and your career. What once motivated you from a value point of view might now be the least attractive thing in a role.’

Then set a goal – a promotion, a new job, enrolling in further study or a career change – and find a mentor to help you reach the goal. ‘Set a goal that’s backed up by a well-structured career plan and well-chosen mentor for support,’ Walker says. ‘If you can select a mentor in the type of role or sector you want to work in then that will add extra impetus, support and advice.’

Finally, break down your goal into small, achievable tasks and take action. ‘While we might feel like we need to make a big, immediate change to get past feeling “stuck”, the best place to start is to make a few small changes that shift the way we view our current situation,’ Corner says.

‘Career transitions and changes don’t follow a linear path, and small incremental changes that increase self-confidence and move you closer to your end goals are key.’

Think study might be the key to help you out of your career rut? Check out the four questions to ask yourself before returning to study.

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Nicola Corner
Nicola Corner

Senior Graduate Talent Development Consultant, DeakinTALENT

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Gavin Walker
Gavin Walker

Manager, Graduate Recruitment Services, DeakinTALENT

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