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What makes you stuck in your career?


I am stuck in my career. My career trajectory is not matching my expectations. I need to do something differently to jump start it again. What can I do?

This is a common pattern that comes up in career coaching conversations.

When we dig deeper, what becomes obvious are three things:

  1. The person was not aware what gets them to becoming 'stuck'.

  2. The person was not aware when they are continuously in the 'stuck zone'

  3. When they become aware that they are stuck, it takes quite a while to get out - as a lot of time has elapsed being in 1 & 2.

The fundamental reason is - our past successes create our current failure.

It is because we believe that a certain behaviour or a certain outcome or a certain strength created success for us in the past. We keep repeating it till it no longer works in our present context.

So what makes you stuck in your career?

So here is a simple model that helps you self assess if you have any saboteurs that keep you stuck.

In his book, "Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity", Jamshid Gharajedaghi talks about hierarchy of 5 forces that erode competitive advantage for an organisation. They are summarised in Fig 1.

5 forces that keep you stuck

Fig 1: Hierarchy of forces that erode competitive advantage, Courtesy Book:Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity.

  1. Imitation

You may have reached a certain level in your career with some strengths that are distinct from your peers. Over time, the same strengths would stop being exceptional and become the norm as others start imitating it.

So there are a lot of people with the same strengths that makes you lose your outlier position. This in turn creates no forward movement in your career.

2. Inertia


Inertia is a tendency to not do anything to change status quo. It reflects a mindset that sticks to comfort zone and not put oneself there when there are changes happening in the industry/technology/process/ market.

Inertia may also project deep seated risk taking issues. Having (at least) a moderate risk taking ability is a necessary must-have for senior roles.


3. Sub-optimisation

The wrong belief that improving your past skills can get you to the next level.

Especially in senior positions, what got you here will not get you there.

If you have got to a senior level position with technical skills, sustaining in that position will require you to hone your influencing skills, learning negotiation, building relationships etc.

Learning one more technical skill will not compensate for lack of others. More technical certifications will not help you either.

change of game

4. Change of game

Due to an environmental contingency (eg:Covid) or a disruption (eg: Cloud)

the nature of the game itself could change.

Not being aware of what's happening in your industry/market/ technology keeps you oblivious of the change and remain unprepared.

When the game changes and you scramble to adapt, you are stuck with limited opportunities. You feel like the carpet beneath your leg has been pulled and you have no choice but to fall.

5. Shift of Paradigm

parading shift

A paradigm shift occurs as a cumulative result of the above mentioned factors and the mental model that creates our perception, gets reframed.

For eg: Most of us believed in a linear career, however reality is far from truth.

Our parent's generation worked in the same organisation for long tenures. It is no longer possible.

A paradigm shift questions our basic assumptions and reframes our belief systems in a way that we can no longer have the same mental model.

The slower the willingness to reframe, the longer is the "wait-time" / a feeling of being stuck.

If you are wondering, how to get unstuck in your career,

  1. Curate your strengths consciously and according to your next few higher roles.

  2. Understand what can make you extinct and stay away.

  3. Put yourself in the zone of discomfort consciously repeating in a timeline.

  4. Be on top of what's happening in your industry, competitors, your organisation etc.

  5. Question your assumptions periodically.

  6. Have mentors within and outside your organisation

  7. Hire a coach when you first feel stuck or you are deciding your next play.

What are the saboteurs for your career within you? What do you like to do differently about them?

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