What To Do When You’re Feeling Stuck at Work

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

We’ve all had those times: when work feels like a slog, and we hit the snooze button a few extra times to delay getting out of bed. Times when motivation is scarce, and we’re tired of feeling overworked and undervalued. Times when we find ourselves asking, “Is this it? There has to be something more out there. I just don’t know how to find it.” 

As isolating as that “stuck” feeling can be, rest assured that you’re not alone. According to a recent Gallup report, “in 2022 so far, engagement continues its downward trend, now at 32% engaged and 17% actively disengaged, an engagement decline of two points from the 2021 average.” Which makes sense, particularly given that employers have been out of touch with employees’ needs for years – a gap that’s only widened in the wake of the pandemic and resulting Great Resignation.

So, how can you break the cycle of stuck-ness? Each of our journeys are as unique as we are, but in our work supporting professionals transitioning to more purposeful and impactful work through the MovingWorlds Institute, we’ve found a few common themes that come up time and time again. Continue reading to hear advice from past fellows, along with practical steps and templates you can use to take action on them.

Make Time for Self-Reflection

“Get a notebook and find the time to do some self-reflection aided by research. What is important to you in a career? What do you like/dis-like about your current job? What scares you about leaving? Can you make a pivot that might not get you to your dream job but gets you closer?”
MovingWorlds Institute Alumna Kelsey Dickerson, Cohort 13

“Stuck” is a vague feeling, and getting un-stuck starts with being able to get precise about what’s holding us back, and what we want more of. Is it that you’re not able to do the kind of work you most enjoy every day? A culture mis-match? Or that you don’t have opportunities for advancement? Getting precise on the root cause of the feeling is an important step to countering it. 

One of the simplest ways to start is by writing down all of the activities that you do in a given day (without judgment) to see where your time and energy are going. For each task, reflect on whether it’s something that strengthens, energizes, and engages you, or whether it’s something that weakens, drains, and disengages you. When you’re done, look for patterns that can reveal underlying strengths you want to keep building on and incorporating into your day to day (and which you want to offload and pivot away from.) Here is a free template from Part I of our #SocialImpactCareerGuide that you can use to organize your thoughts, and expand on themes you find. 

Research has proven that we perform better when our individual strengths align with our job tasks, which also leads to feeling more fulfilled at work, too. In helping hundreds of professionals transition their careers for greater social impact, we’ve found that the most successful career changes happen from a foundation of self-understanding. When you’re able to pinpoint the things that need to change so that you can engage your strengths in a fulfilling way, you have a starting point for either jobcrafting your current role, or defining the type of role you want to transition into. 

Get an Outside Perspective

“Talk to others who’ve been on the same path and who’ve made a career change similar to the one you’re considering. Talk through their journey – the wins, the things to watch out for, and challenges they’ve experienced along the way. Not only will that give you a realistic picture of the journey ahead, but it is also super inspiring to talk to people who’ve found passion and purpose in their work!”
MovingWorlds Institute Alumna Jennifer Archila, Cohort 11

One of the best ways to inform your own career plan is to look to others who have made their own successful transitions for advice. Who are the people you look up to? What kinds of people are able to engage in ways you wish you could too? Once you have an idea of the kind of person (or people) you’d like to talk to, LinkedIn is a great tool to find and connect with them. 

In our MovingWorlds Institute, we place a big emphasis on networking, and many of our Fellows amass hundreds of new connections over the course of the program. How? By looking at the friends of their friends and the colleagues of their colleagues, and then asking their trusted first degree connections to make the connection.

To look at potential mutual connections you would like to be introduced to, search keywords related to the roles or industries you’re interested in and filter by second-degree connections. Once you’ve identified a second degree connection that you want to be introduced to, try this email template to help take the guesswork out of making the request for an introduction.

It may feel intimidating to reach out to new people, but if you approach the conversation with genuine curiosity, you’ll be surprised how many people are willing to share more about their own journeys with you. Don’t ask them what you should do, or focus on your own job search – instead, express genuine interest in learning more about what they do, what the day to day is really like, and how they got there. The insights you glean from these conversations can spark new ideas for things you can try that may not have been on your radar before.

Find Small Ways to Experiment 

“Test your assumptions! If you think maybe you’d like to be a teacher, become a substitute or observe some classes. If you think you’d like to work in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, set up multiple informational interviews with professionals working in the space to understand the “day in the life.” Find small ways to get a taste of what you think you’d like to do before diving in head-first. You may be surprised by what you find.”
MovingWorlds Institute Alumna Justine Jenné, Cohort 16

As you learn more about yourself through introspection, and more about how others have found fulfilling jobs through networking, you’ll be able to start formulating hypotheses about the kinds of actions you can take to get un-stuck. You’ll need new skills and experiences to bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to go, and there are opportunities to do so both at work and outside of your job. 

Taking on a stretch project at work is a great way to develop your skills and confidence, as well as prove to leaders that you can succeed at the next level. For example, if you work in marketing and content creation but realize that you want to use more of your core strength of process optimization, talk to your manager about taking on a stretch project to gain experience on the strategy side by designing and implementing a new campaign end-to-end. If there isn’t an opportunity that fits in your current department, talk to HR about gaining exposure to other business units that could benefit from your skills.

If you don’t find opportunities within your company, don’t be afraid to look outside of it. Taking on a skills-based volunteering project is a great way to step outside of your comfort zone, grow your confidence, and challenge yourself to further develop your existing skills by applying them to new contexts. When your volunteering is skills-based, you have direct evidence of your ability to affect change that you can draw on in an interview or cover letter to connect the dots between your past experience and your future direction.

In Summary

Getting un-stuck at work isn’t something that happens overnight, but instead involves a series of small actions that move you closer towards your goals. Remember to make time to introspect on what you want and what needs to change, broaden your perspective by connecting with others in fulfilling roles, and look for opportunities to get out of your comfort zone and experiment.

Looking for more support getting un-stuck at work? Apply to the MovingWorlds Institute to develop the confidence, connections, or hands-on experience to launch or grow your social impact career.