(This article is adapted from the new book, Amplify Your Career and Life: 4 Steps to Evaluate, Assess and Move Forward by Peter C. Diamond.)
As an executive coach who has worked with hundreds of clients, I’ve come to believe that there are seven warning signs of career distress and that there are effective ways of dealing with them.
Actually, I call them the Seven W.A.R.N.I.N.G. signs, because each letter stands for one. They are:
Here’s a brief description of each, followed by four steps to take if you have one or more of them:
Wavering Self-Confidence: With this warning sign, you question what you are doing and why. You have put pressure on yourself to succeed as defined by others, but you have never felt completely satisfied in your career choice, instead questioning the benefit you provide. After years of doing something you don’t love, often for companies that held unrealistic expectations, you have a diluted sense of worth. In turn, you are uncertain about your value and cautious about finding the career you want.
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At Sea: This warning sign arises when you realize you have stopped advancing and growing in your career. You are no longer learning and feeling challenged. In many cases, your career has lulled you into complacency. Your motto has been Go along to get along. But when something forces you to finally look around, you discover your job has become something you never wanted it to be. Worse, you have been abandoned to figure things out on your own.
Relinquished Identity: Scratching and clawing your way to the top can result in losing sight of who you are. I see this happening a lot with people who are “first-generation” corporate leaders — the first in your family to go to college and land a corporate job that takes you into senior management. Your eagerness to be successful can be blinding and you latch onto how others in status positions behave. You begin to sacrifice yourself to be part of the club.
Neglected: Have you ended up in a career or job where you no longer feel as though you have any control over how your office is run or your job performed? Do you feel as though you are drifting in the sea of corporate despair, neglected and shunted to the side by your boss?
This warning sign is often the result of uncontrollable factors such as a management shake-up, corporate takeover or the now-too-common bankruptcy. Now, you are struggling to make yourself relevant.
Idling: This is characterized by the inability to make progress on decisions that affect you because you’ve become emotionally paralyzed and your life feels stuck.
It begins when you lose sight of what you want and others become your focus. You put the wants and needs of others before yours. You feel the weight of every personal decision and the impact on those around you, so you focus on others. But there is a slow simmer happening inside, the frustration is mounting and you feel like you are losing bits and pieces of yourself.
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No Focus: You might find yourself experiencing this warning sign if you enthusiastically imagine lots of potential career options but can’t quite decide which one you want. Ultimately, you are overwhelmed with all the choices and every day you come home with a new exciting possibility. While this is encouraging because you can see the opportunities, it’s frustrating for you and those around you because there is a lot of talk and little action.
Growing Discontent: By all accounts, you have a great job. The title. The money. The office. The prestige of working for a respected company. But still, you are not feeling fulfilled, and it’s wearing you down. During your ascent, you collected the trinkets of success, but you lost sight of what really gets you excited. Now you know what you want to be doing, but haven’t yet found the path forward. Something or someone is holding you back.
What the W.A.R.N.I.N.G. Signs Have In Common
Three threads weave through all seven W.A.R.N.I.N.G. signs of distress and identifying them will help enable you to craft a new vision for yourself:
Relinquishing control of one’s life. When you relinquish control of your life, you find yourself in a position of waiting for someone else to make decisions on your behalf. The result is inaction.
I see this often with clients who have successfully been on career autopilot. Often, they’ve been at the same company for a long time and have cultivated a satisfying career based on the decisions of others. Then, when faced with a new reality requiring them to make decisions on their own behalf, they become paralyzed.
Putting the needs, wants and desires of others before one’s own. Certain people are always looking out for and helping others. While this may give you a momentary sense of joy, over time it has a good chance of turning into resentment.
Losing belief in oneself. This is a great example of putting too much stock in what others have to say about you and your skills and often happens in highly competitive businesses. It’s easy to lose your mojo if people are casting doubt on your abilities. And if your self-confidence is a bit fragile, you can end up believing the critics.
4 Steps to Fend Off the W.A.R.N.I.N.G. Signs
If your current situation isn’t working for you, set forth a new vision. Doing so requires not only awareness of where you are today but self-discipline to initiate the change you want. Here are four action steps that can fend off the dangers of the W.A.R.N.I.N.G. Signs:
Action Step No. 1: List your top five strengths and the key contributions you’ve made in your current position. This will highlight your value to an organization.
Action Step No. 2: Create your own definition of success. All too often, it’s easy to get caught up in someone else’s idea of success that may not align with your values and aspirations. Having your own definition will aid in navigating your career and prevent you from being swayed by others.
Action Step No. 3: Reassess your career goals and ambitions. Take a moment to pause and reflect on what you want for the future. This could result in adding to your skillset or applying your skills within a new industry or company.
Action Step No. 4: Create a checklist of specific criteria for your next job. What would you like to be doing? Why? Who would you be doing it with? How would you be doing it? Having something written will assist in your evaluation of current and future opportunities.
Take these steps and you can turn your W.A.R.N.I.N.G. signs into a greenlight for career success and happiness.
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