There are two ways to avoiding getting stuck; one is to plan ahead, and the other is to take a different course of action once you are stuck so you don’t continue to remain stuck and can proceed.
Consider just for a moment a vehicle approaching a wet and muddy dirt road. A wise driver sizes up the road if it must be traveled at all, and keeps his or her eyes well ahead to best aim for the high and drier sections, avoiding the deep ruts, the puddles of unknown depths. If the vehicle does get stuck, instead of sitting there just spinning the tires again and again, the prudent driver gets out, wedges something like small branches under the tires if nothing else is available, and uses this new traction to move the vehicle.
Now apply this same logic and scenario to your present situation. Surely you’ve heard of people being stuck in a job, feeling like they are going nowhere. Most of the time, I have found through conversation that few of those people bothered to really look ahead to see what was down the road. In fact, with no long-distance view or planning, they accepted a job and were quite happy at the time, only to stall and grown discontented with their work. So what went wrong?
Using the same analogy as the vehicle, what really happened was short-sighted planning. The person found out about the job, did a little research, landed the interview after applying, sold the interviewer on them, accepted the job offer and then got so hung up on doing the daily stuff that they neglected to keep on working for the future. The result of course is that the person has the necessary skills and knowledge to do the present job, but hasn’t put together a plan of further training that will allow them to compete for advancement. They stopped looking down the road for higher ground.
Now feeling stuck in a job going nowhere, the solution is essentially the same as the vehicle stuck in the rut. If all you do is come to work and do the requirements of the job you have now, you’re spinning your tires and learning nothing new, and hence are not putting yourself in a position to successfully advance. However, like getting out to wedge some small branches under the tires, you can gain traction in your future by pausing to put some things in place now that will ultimately advance your career.
So how do you get started on a practical basis? Well, first look at positions in your present company that interest you. These positions are primarily higher up on the organizational chart, but consider lateral moves too. A move that keeps you at the same line on the salary grid but gives you additional experience and provides a change might be just what you need at present. Okay so now looking at these positions, get a hold of the job description and see what the requirements are in terms of skills, knowledge, experience etc.
As a first step, you know now what is required and can gauge how you are presently positioned to compete if there was a job opening today. If you find that you are missing a few things, the next logical step would be to determine how you can go about acquiring those skills and experience. And it’s not always a return to school that is the answer. Sometimes it’s displaying leadership which you could obtain by taking on a project or volunteering to chair some committee.
Another thing you should do is communicate to your immediate supervisor that you have an interest in a specific position if the opportunity should present itself. This can be done in a very non-threatening way if you communicate that you are doing some long-range planning. Avoid stating how unhappy you are at present, or that you are considering an imminent departure. You want their support and guidance not their lack of trust and suspicion, so why not ask for their advice and suggestions on how best to advance? Communicate that you admire how they themselves are in a position of leadership for example, and get them on board with you.
When you have a goal of obtaining a different position, be it in the near or distant future, it’s also a good idea to put some kind of time frame on that goal. Is it a six month plan, a one year plan or a two-year plan. I personally don’t like looking too far beyond three years, as too many variables can affect that planning. Decide what’s right for you personally.
Next thing to do is put in place some shorter term objectives that will as you reach them, signal to you and your boss if you have shared these, that you are advancing; things are on track, and your ultimate goal is getting closer. This is also great for your mind if you otherwise feel stagnated, trapped, stuck and unchallenged. Yes this is some work on top of coasting along doing what you normally do, but you want something different right? Keep focused on why you’re doing the extra work in the first place – you want to become unstuck!
Job shadow someone in the job now, set up a lunch meeting. How bad do you really want to advance?