If you’re feeling stuck in your job, you’re not alone. It can happen for a variety of reasons: Maybe you’ve become captive to your routine, or you’re coping with a difficult boss, or you feel like you don’t quite fit in.
But the good news is: It doesn’t mean you have to do something major, like up and quit. You can take smaller steps toward advancement and see if that makes the job you have the one you want, too.
As Thomas Jefferson said, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” In that spirit, here are three things you can do to break out of a rut and start feeling good about your workdays again.
1. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Network laterally across your company to learn about other departments, and apply your unique perspective to what they’re working on. For example, if your role is more inward-focused (i.e., product, operations, finance), collaborate with the sales team. This will develop differentiated skills such as empathy, storytelling, and public speaking that are keys to growth, particularly as a future leader. You’ll be developing new skills and relationships, and creating equity in yourself.
Over her 20-year career at Goldman Sachs (from which she recently retired as a partner) my friend Lisa Shalett went from Head of International Equities Sales and Trading to COO of Global Compliance, Legal and Audit, to Head of Brand Marketing and Digital Strategy. Her advice:
Look at every role as a platform for learning and exposure, and always seek steep learning curves. Push yourself to look at your role from other perspectives and ways to add value before you declare yourself stuck. If you are open-minded, you will see opportunities others don’t. Take smart risks, and have confidence in your imagination.
In other words, don’t assume that your role at the company is limited to your position’s description. If you look for opportunities for growth, you may find the potential to do new and interesting things, which could open the door for exciting opportunities (and possibly a future promotion).
2. Create Micro-Internships for Yourself
Create a series of “micro-internships” for yourself. You have a set of skills consisting not only of the functional ones from your day job, but also the accumulation of your experiences, hobbies, and education. If there aren’t natural places for you to apply your talents at your organization, targeting interesting companies who could use an extra set of hands or eyes, or clients who would pay for someone with your know-how.
In 2009, as a research analyst at BlackRock, I became intrigued by startups, but didn’t have the relationships or experience to join one (or start my own). My job at the time was very specialized, focusing on evaluating hedge fund investments. For me, the natural segue was fintech (financial technology) and I got a handful of warm introductions to founders through friends.
I shared my background and offered, “to be helpful, with no expectations.” The work I did ranged from critiquing pitch decks, helping with competitive landscape analysis, reviewing financial models, ghost writing blog posts, and making introductions to potential customers. Since it wasn’t an official internship, I got to decide how many hours I could devote to it, as well as how many weeks.
Of course, some people may be rolling their eyes at the idea of essentially, “working for free.” However, I had a day job that paid my bills: I was compensated with relationships and a “peek” into the startup life, which were the assets I was looking for. To this day, I have advocates on my behalf (a few even tried to hire me). Plus, I’ve used my new knowledge to become an entrepreneur, something I wouldn’t have been able to do without this experience.
3. Spend Time Working on Your Brand
Even if you’re not currently searching for a new company, becoming known as a thought leader’s incredibly valuable. (And no, not just for future job hunts!) Gaining a small following and then sharing original ideas and unique perspectives will almost always lead to interesting discussions and opportunities to learn more about your field.
You may think that if you don’t have an audience right now, very few people will read what you’ve written so it’s not worth your time. However, your goal is not to become the next Warren Buffett, it’s to start building a presence so when people do find you, they have a reason to stick around. Whether that’s higher-ups at your company, other industry leaders, or people who aspire to be where you are right now.
Maybe you use Pulse articles to flesh out your LinkedIn profile, or perhaps guest post, start a newsletter, or add a blog to your personal website. The point is: You want people to be able to see your awesome ideas and know they came from you. (And if you don’t think your ideas are awesome, spending time really thinking about what you’d like to talk about is a great creative challenge that’s almost guaranteed to get your brain moving again.)
A friend of mine who was stuck and trying to get into venture capital wrote a Medium post explaining his view on how changing demographics and technology would influence brands, consumer behavior, and the fabric of metropolitan areas. Would a venture capitalist send it to their LPs? Probably not. Does it serve as a great springboard for further discussion? Absolutely. (Plus: He pinned it to his Twitter profile and it eventually helped him land a role at a top venture fund.)
In addition to laying the groundwork for your own insights, publicly sharing your ideas shows dedication, creativity, communication skills, and grit. It’ll get you thinking through your philosophy, which can help you break free from holding yourself back. Maybe that means you do end up looking for a new job, or maybe it’s something you can point to at a future one-on-one to demonstrate your interests. Either way, it proves you want to be—and are capable of—doing more, which can be the first step to getting more responsibility.
Getting unstuck won't happen overnight, but you will be amazed by the opportunities you can create by deliberately putting yourself and your ideas out to the right people. With a few simple steps you can open new avenues of possibility, and pull yourself out of that rut.