Get Out of Your Career Rut

3 steps to reconnect with your purpose at work.

We’ve all been there.

Those days when we close our laptops in the evening and think, what did I even do today?

Those weeks and months when we feel like we’re stuck in neutral at work, while all of our friends seem to be getting promoted, or landing jobs at cool new startups, or even founding those buzzy companies.

It sucks.

Podcasts, self-help books, and glittery Instagram accounts will tell us that the answer to this feeling is to just say “fuck it” and quit our jobs, income be damned. But those big, sweeping changes aren’t always feasible—especially during a pandemic.

Knowing this, we often try to solve for the small distractions that we *think* are to blame for our slump. Uninstalling social media, using the Pomodoro timer method, or trying new noise-cancelling headphones often feel like the answer, but like a dose of Advil, they’re just treating the symptoms.

Instead, we need to start from the root. We need to answer the question: why do I feel like there’s no momentum behind my work right now?

We lose momentum when we no longer feel like our daily activities at work are connected to long-term professional rewards. This—the reward associated with the work we’re doing today—is what I call professional purpose. Usually, that purpose is connected to the professional lives we envision for ourselves 2–3 years down the line.

It’s no surprise that we do our best work when it’s purpose-driven. So, every six months or so, this is how I reconnect with my professional purpose.

Step 0: Assess the mental and emotional safety of your current job.

I say this because for the rest of this piece, I’ll be talking about how to reconnect with your purpose inside of your current role.

However, if you’re in a career rut partially because your current role is in a toxic work environment, please ignore this advice. Get out of there as soon as you can.

Nothing is worth sacrificing your mental or emotional safety.

Step 1: Find a job posting for your dream job.

Hop on your favorite job board (Career Contessa is my go-to) and browse. Job shopping when I’m not actually job shopping is almost as cathartic for me as browsing for homes on Zillow that I’ll never actually buy. Like the actual process of home buying, when you’re actually looking for a job, this part is stressful.

But when it’s just for kicks, it’s a blast.

Pull the links for a few jobs that seem out-of-this-world rad, but a bit outside your current abilities. Jobs that you’d be so proud to do in five years, but that you’d probably never get a call back for right now.

Try to keep this list short; narrowing it down to one is ideal, but if you’re indecisive, you can pick up to three.

Then, copy and paste all of the skills and character attributes required for each job into a fresh document.

Step 2: Use the job requirements to take stock of your current expertise.

Once you have your list of skills and attributes, divide them into three groups:

Group 1: Things you’ve already mastered. I find it helpful to include examples here, as if I were actually applying for the job: which experiences specifically would I cite? This reflection reminds me that no matter how stuck I feel, I am doing meaningful work.

Group 2: Things you can leverage your current role to master. These are responsibilities that you might already have, but you’re not yet an industry expert in. Note how you can use your current role to master them.

It might just be a matter of spending more time perfecting them, asking for feedback from your colleagues on them, or maybe they are new responsibilities that you can ask to take on. This list becomes not just a roadmap to land your dream job, but also a pretty excellent plan to crush it in your current role.

Group 3: Things you’ll need to learn and practice outside of work. For these responsibilities and skills, you might look into signing up for a Coursera course, reading a few professional development books on the subject, or seeking a mentor with that expertise. I’m also a huge fan of taking on volunteer work to master these skills. This gives you the flexibility to practice (and see if you even enjoy it) without trying to immediately monetize the skill.

Step 3: Schedule to-do’s and a weekly reflection ritual.

Once you have your list of things to master, along with your game plan of how you’ll master them, put those plans in ink. In any given quarter, I like to have three goals in my current role, and one external professional development goal.

For everything else, schedule it out. Asana is my favorite way to schedule these for the future; I can set a due date for a goal that I don’t want to think about for another six months, then click Tab-L, and away it goes. It’ll pop back up on the date I designated.

Then, take time every Monday morning to review the big picture. Take a look at your three groups and see if there are any development goals that can be moved into the “mastery” group.

As time goes on, some goals might feel less relevant. You might find that the thing you thought was your ‘dream job’ actually requires work you hate doing. It’s okay to let those go. Part of this practice is learning how to chase the energy in your work, and discovering which parts of it actually bring your purpose. When the dust settles and you find yourself working with momentum again, the purpose behind it might surprise you.

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