Four-step approach to getting out of a dead end in your career
Webster defines an impasse as ‘a predicament affording no obvious escape’.
But here’s the key point about an impasse: there is an escape, but not one that is ‘obvious’. Something similar occurs when one is at a career impasse – feeling stuck, vulnerable or stagnating in one’s career –without any apparent solution.
The chances are you are facing a career impasse, if you ever say:
- “I am getting bored at my job with my monotonous routine.”
- “I had a clear career path but now I am not too sure.”
- “My colleagues are getting promoted & I am stuck forever in my current role.”
- “I like my job but have no idea how to progress from where I am standing today.”
Many of us, in fact, do not even recognise that we are at a career impasse. Shireen Kapoor, a Senior Manager with a HR Consulting firm says, “In my previous role, for almost a year I kept thinking that I liked my work but my role was not shaping up the way I wanted it to. Yet, I couldn’t find the right avenue and after some time I accepted the sense of stagnation, thinking that I could not stretch my profile beyond what it was. However, an unexpected turn in my company took me out of my comfort zone to new opportunities and helped me get out of the stagnation that was setting into my career.”
We reached out to Executive Coach, Anamitra Chatterjee, to find out exactly what is a career impasse and what to do when facing one.
As Anamitra explained, “A career impasse is a repetitive pattern, one that is basically cyclic in nature. When facing an impasse, a person moves from feeling deeply stuck in a job to imagining a life which would be different. However, we are not able to take steps towards achieving our goals, leading again and again to the feeling of being stuck and so the cycle continues. In fact, the returning of unresolved past issues is the core of a career impasse. Thereafter, we mobilise defenses against these career issues, saying that this is alright; other people are also doing it in the same manner… Then comes the lowest ebb: when people become stubborn and try to exist within their existing situation, believing that it will pass if they rough it out.”
So what does he suggest on how to get out of a career impasse? A career impasse can be overcome as long as one follows a systematic approach to find an escape – rather than believe there isn’t one – suggests Anamitra.
Step 1: Recognise that you are in an impasse
Anamitra says that the first breakthrough moment for people stuck in an impasse comes when they start questioning: Am I doing the right thing? Am I on the right path?
Questions such as these are the first step to recognising that you are at a career impasse and need to fix it. He adds, “The moment you start doubting your choosen career path or questioning why you are the only one stuck while others are moving along in their careers, (you must) realise that everything is not alright. You could have a sense of ‘being stuck’ forever at a certain position, you may or may not like your job – or your boss – and you still are going through the same grind. You know something is not right, but you do not want to evaluate the situation. Realise at that moment that you are at a career impasse.”
Step 2: Change your approach to tackle the barriers
Anamitra shared that often even after recognising an impasse, people try harder and harder to do the same things rather than to do things differently. Fear of change rather than accepting change as natural, inevitable and – even – good is usual and perhaps one of the most important reasons that the cycle of being stuck continues. Often one even knows that change is required, but still falls back into old patterns. Anamitra adds, “Preparing oneself for change is an important aspect of breaking through the barrier of an impasse.”
Step 3: Take an impasse as an opportunity
Look at a career impasse as an opportunity to understand yourself and your career interests and work towards those. An erstwhile IT professional says, “Even after 7 years of working with a renowned IT firm, I was only promoted twice. As year after year, I was overlooked for promotion despite performing at a satisfactory level, I began questioning my career choice. I knew I wasn’t particularly happy with it and instead wanted to work as an educator. That’s when I decided to quit, take up further studies and get the career I wanted.”
Question yourself and discover what you truly aspire for. When you start listening to yourself, you will be motivated to break the impasse.
Step 4: Grow yourself to grow your career
Anamitra says that the final step towards breaking the impasse can only come when one takes specific action steps towards personal growth. Muster the courage to hone your skills, go for training or apply for cross-functional roles. “Often, professionals find themselves at the same job for years. What they need to realise is that while their capabilities took them from being a management trainee to a senior manager in 10-12 years, the same capabilities might not be enough to take them from being a senior manager to a CEO. They need to add value and undertake training to reach the next level.”
While an impasse could look like a frustrating dead end, it has a solution though perhaps not an ‘obvious’ one. As Dr. Timothy Butler, author of the ‘Getting Unstuck’ series and Director of Career Development Programs, Harvard Business School suggests, an impasse is a phase that is required for a person to grow for as he says, “Without it we cannot grow, change, and—eventually – live more fully in a larger world.
Anamitra has rich and diverse experience in the areas of HR-Training-Leadership-Coaching across consulting, education and financial services. An alumnus of IIM Calcutta, London School of Economics & Ashridge Centre for Coaching (EMCC), UK, he now works as an Executive & Career Coach, motivating his clients to explore and attain their career goals. He is a member of our expert panel to answer career related queries.
Email him on firstname.lastname@example.org
*The ideas expressed are the writer’s personal opinion and are not being made in any official capacity.