There are few things worse than being in a place where you feel stuck, complacent, stagnant; like you could be getting somewhere much better, much farther in your career, so much faster.
And while some employers do invest in professional development and growth for employees, these opportunities can often feel like slow growth—a small improvement on your existing skill set by going to a conference, a new ability refined over the course of a year with the help of a mentor as you’re primed for a promotion.
There’s nothing wrong with growing as you go. But if you’re ready to grow big, then we think it’s time to be proactive, to no longer rely on our employers to push us forward but to invest in growing our knowledge ourselves. The good news? There are plenty of online classes and in-person programs you can take that won’t interfere with your 9-to-5, but that can have a big impact on it.
Here are four common reasons we tend to feel stuck, and in each case, how leveling up your skills can help you get out of a rut and closer to the future you imagine.
You’re Not Doing the Work You’re Meant to Do
This is an all-too-common feeling among professionals today: You know you’re unhappy with your current job, but you aren’t really sure what you want to be doing instead. While there are many ways to find your passions, diving deeper into little curiosities by taking classes related to them can open up your mind to possibilities and hopefully give you more clarity about what you do and don’t enjoy.
Here’s one example: Apryl DeLancey, Founder and Data Scientist at ElPortoShark.com, credits General Assembly’s 12-week Data Science Immersive course with helping her find her way back to the work she loves: “I originally signed up for the Python class to refresh my programming skills. After then taking the Data Science class, I quickly remembered everything I had forgotten about (but loved) in grad school!” Her class project—a data research project on shark sightings—led to ElPortoShark.com, a departure from her work in marketing and her now full-time passion and profession.
Even if taking a class doesn’t magically point you to your calling, it can still be a valuable learning experience. Like DeLancey, you may find that your renewed passion will lead to an entirely new career—or you may become very clear that you shouldn’t go down a path you were curious about. Engaging your brain in a new way could even help invigorate or pivot the work you’re currently doing. Explore topics that light you up, and see where it takes you.
You’re Not Moving Up Quickly Enough
If you love your job, you want to rise up through the ranks, and you need to show your boss what you’re capable of. Taking a course in a relevant subject matter is a great way to show off not just your additional skills, but also your dedication to your work.
Of course, you should be strategic about your class choices. Consider what is required of the role you want to move into and focus your learning there. Will you need to learn more about data and analytics? There’s a course for that. Will you be speaking in front of bigger audiences? There’s one for that, too. Whether you need expertise in broad topics like management or communication or niche fields like user design and UX, there are myriad courses that can help you develop the necessary skills for the role you want.
If you’re not sure what, exactly, you should focus on get to the next level, reach out to your network. Poll people who have jobs one to two steps ahead of yours (at your company or elsewhere) about what they’ve done to get ahead, then have a sit-down with your boss about your findings and your plan. At some companies, you may even be able to get your professional development paid for! Either way, share key learnings as you progress through your class and look for ways to demonstrate your new skills at every opportunity. You’re working hard to learn more—make sure to show it off!
You’re Not Landing the Jobs You Want
Much like with garnering a promotion, landing a brand-new job often means adding to the skills currently listed on your resume. Whether you’re trying to transition to an entirely new field or simply want a refresher on a topic you know and love, it’s worth looking at courses to help you build the skills you need to land the role of your dreams.
Take a good look at the requirements of the job you want. Those bullet-pointed on the actual listing are helpful to review, but think outside of the box, too. What would be necessary to be exceptional in this role? What would you need to learn? What would help advance the goals of the company? Maybe you’re a marketer who knows your lack of data analysis chops is holding you back, or a graphic designer who wants to learn web design to start applying for different types of roles. If you’re having trouble figuring out what you need to get from your role to where you want to be, consider talking to a career coach or admissions consultant, who may be able to see the gaps you can’t.
Then, find the courses that will help you grow in the specific skill sets this new job requires, do your best work possible, and find the right ways to use your newfound abilities to make your application shine. Yes, you should make sure to list these courses on your resume the right way and talk about them in your cover letter, but more than that you should look for tangible ways to show potential employers what you can do with your skills. For example, you could create a portfolio to show off the work you did in class or put your snazzy abilities into practice by doing a pre-interview project.
You Just Need a Little Inspiration
Pushing yourself to learn something new doesn’t always have to be tied to a specific professional goal. Given that there are courses on topics ranging from public speaking to podcasting to poetry, learning about something that’s interesting to you can help you grow not just as a professional, but as a person, too.
“I’ve been wanting to take an improv class for 10 years, but had never found a three-hour intro class where I could get my feet wet,” says Yolanda Enoch, a digital photo organizer who signed up for just that at General Assembly. “It really changed how I interact with people and start conversations. It’s one of the most impactful things I have ever done to become more comfortable socially.”
No matter why you’re feeling held back in your career, it’s worth taking steps to invest in your professional development. Start browsing classes online or in person to see if something out there sparks your curiosity. Look for a short-form workshop in your budget range, or start saving today so you can take your dream class in a few months. Or, if you can make a case that your continuing education will help your work, ask your company to pay for it.
Whatever you do, start believing today that you deserve to not only pursue the work you love, but to pursue what you love to learn. You’ll grow and succeed personally and professionally in the process.