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Career PLATEAUING

If we are completely honest with ourselves, most of us have felt trapped in one job or another. My very first job out of college lasted three exceptionally long weeks. I hated every minute of it. It started to make me feel physically unwell.

Despite years of training in a subject that I adored, I quickly found myself feeling decidedly trapped in the wrong job. I felt less than useless. My eyes were fixed downwards, which was alien to my natural style. I was not adding any value whatsoever. I was not making a difference. Each day felt like a week. 'Mind time' does not pass at the same uniform speed of a clock . My sorry tenure ended more suddenly than I could ever of hoped. The three bright young Directors walked up to the boss, who sat directly opposite me, aggressively announcing that they had set up their own business in direct competition. Understandably, I was not asked to join either team going forward. I was unceremoniously 'let go'. I did feel extremely sorry for the 'top dog' who must have had spotted some potential in me when he took me on. What my boss endured was a deeply unkind act performed brutally in front of all the other staff. The episode taught me so many lessons about leadership and employment.

Same person; same skills; new horizon

Within a couple of weeks I had found a completely different type of job that I cherished. Within two years, perhaps more by luck than judgement, I was running my own small department.

I predict that most youngsters going through school today are going to experience an average of five 'careers' during their long lifetimes. This trend began in the States twenty plus years ago and has spread across the pond. The glorious opportunity to enjoy career variety is in stark contrast to the working lives of our great grandparents who would have stuck rigidly to one 'career' or 'trade' throughout their shorter working lives. Skill sets being taught today need to take into account this accelerating trend. We need to learn how to reinvent ourselves and not many of us are naturally good at that.

I find that I am discovering more people who's career has plateaued for disparate reasons. The pattern is logical as we are all living and working for longer. My input may start by helping the individual to reprocess and repackage what they have done to first convince them that their knowledge and experience is decidely portable. Once a person believes this himself/herself (the hardest part), they become more able to learn how to confidently share their new message with potential new employers.

The reality is that a great many people find that they have ended up in some dead end street. The fear of change is usually far worse than the change itself. 'Career plateauing' is a tragedy and yet so many of us battle on in this depressingly flat situation to retirement. Drudgery doesn't help the person concerned, nor their colleagues, who feast off explicit (or more subtley communicated) negativity. Negativity acts as a magnet by attracting yet more negativity.

Same person; same values; new horizons

During the last ten years, as one aspect of what I do now, I seem to have ended up helping dozens of otherwise clever individuals to have the courage and conviction to change course… often radically. Here are some memorable transitions - a teacher and part time drummer into a successful IT/media guru, a depressed lawyer with almost no work to his name into the best in his niche area of expertise with a relentless pipeline of exciting new business opportunities, a Deputy Head of a well known independent school into the Church and a farmer into recruitment. Then there was a bright youngster who, having applied for a hundred jobs or more in vain, succeeded in being selected on his next application (I had to ban him from further making further applications during his four two-hour session coaching initiative). And boy! How happy they all are having succeeded themselves in achieving these long-overdue career changes. Instead of dreading the next day (and every day), they discovered or rediscovered their passion. Transitions like these also help reinvigorate home lives - spouses can be the first to excitedly email me to report the sudden change in temperament. A great weight hanging over the whole family can lift.

Whilst most of my one-on-one candidates begin with open scepticism about the prospect of coaching/mentoring, it's entirely normal for something strange and positive to start to happen… almost immediately. It's hard to put one's finger on what exactly happens though it can, for example, start with spontaneous laughter about the stupidity of the given situation. Laughter is often a valuable catalyst for turning a negative situation into a positive. Whether it's laughter, tears or some other form of 'wake up call', something needs to trigger the end of a nightmare spell in order to facilitate different ways of thinking. It's rather like squirting oil on a jammed hinge. It's time to focus on a bright future again and leave the past where it belongs - in the past.

Total career change may not be needed in every desperate career situation, though to achieve long lasting change invariably requires a major rethink. Sometimes it might involve changing location - perhaps within the same country or moving to a different culture. Sometimes the real problem turns out to be deep-rooted boredom; boredom can drain one's natural energy and motivation and fracture self-confidence/self-esteem. I love my work so much and I have learnt that it is possible to work so quickly with people. I used to offer six coaching sessions to everyone though now I average just four (that's just eight hours). The good news is that I've discovered that the roots to 'career plateauing' are rarely far from the surface and not so 'impossible to resolve' as people choose to believe.

It's undoubtedly true that some people are able to transform their highly individual 'career plateauing' challenges without any need for external intervention. In my experience, it's not uncommon for a spark of motivation to be triggered by some significant life event, such as divorce or the sudden death of a close relative or friend. Another of my own significant career moves followed the untimely death of my father. My boss at the time, with every kind intention, chose to redecorate my office whilst I away on bereavement. I returned to work choosing to feel that my space had been unforgivably invaded. It proved to be the valuable signal that I needed to start the first of several successful business ventures. Without that powerful impulse, I might have never done it. I found myself ready to take the risk. Better to take the risk than never to know…

Same values; new horizons; new person

If this short article resonates with your own situation or that of a friend, do consider getting in contact even if I only act as a signpost to guide your own research.