Feeling frustrated and stuck because of lack of a career plan is something I come across a lot. The root cause of feeling this way comes from lack of direction.
When you have a vision of where you want to go or what you want to achieve, you can get on and plan the steps to get there. Without this vision, you stay stuck. You want to move forward, but you can’t.
This is something I have experienced, and it’s a difficult place to exist in. Every day feels like it’s a little bit difficult, it’s gradually harder to stay motivated, people start to become frustrating, and all this builds into a kind of negativity that starts to grow into stress.
This makes you feel low in energy and starts to chip away at your well-being. Eventually you loose the motivation to try and progress, which can affect the chance of promotion.
The good news
Not only is it possible for you to create a career plan, but in doing so you will reduce your stress levels improving your well-being and happiness.
There is science behind this claim. A study was undertaken with 2,000 decision makers to understand how planning versus procrastinating affects things like task completion, stress reduction and happiness.
The results of the study demonstrated that both procrastinators and planners are driven by anxiety, which is a way of managing stress.
Those that were planners were able to better use the anxiety to motivate them into action. They reported a more positive emotional disposition, a better social life, more “me time” and overall better life outcomes compared with procrastinators (1).
Consequently, planning is not only important for career progress but also for your well-being and happiness.
If you feel like you’re the procrastinator don’t worry, you can move towards being a planner.
The key reason you procrastinate is to make yourself feel better. You are effectively protecting yourself from a stressful situation.
The stress or frustration you experience can relate to feeling like you are failing, the idea of other’s judging you negatively, your own negative beliefs about yourself or your capabilities.
Whilst it seems natural and logical to give yourself comfort in this situation, it will make you feel better in the short-term, however in the longer term it will impact your career negatively.
How to become a planner
The mistake many people make is to jump straight into defining a five-year plan. It can be extremely demotivating to start here as often people find themselves getting increasingly stressed because of not knowing the direction to take.
If you are currently frustrated and want a career plan for the rest of this year, next year, five or even ten years, you need to begin with building the right foundations.
The first place to begin is with some self-reflection. It’s important to take some time out to sit and contemplate how you really feel about your career.
Create some space in your diary. It can be as little as thirty minutes to one hour, or longer if you feel you want to dedicate the time.
One of my favourite ways to reflect is to take myself off to a café, indulge in coffee and cake and think about things. It’s a busy space but somehow, I’m able to transport myself to my own head whilst the café noise blends comfortingly into the background.
If you prefer a quiet space, you could go for a walk and find a quiet bench to sit on. Equally you could curl up on the sofa with a cuppa and notepad.
Find something that works for you, but also that feels nice. This will make it feel less of a chore but more of a pleasure.
Once you are in a space that works for you it’s time to consider some key questions.
- How do you feel about your career today?
- Why do you think you feel that way?
- How are these feelings affecting your career?
- How are these feelings affecting your personal life?
In answering these questions, you start to understand what is happening in your career and what is not in alignment. It might be that you feel sad after answering these questions and that’s okay.
The call to change
Whilst it’s not great to feel sad, one thing I’ve learned about uncomfortable feelings is that they serve a purpose which is to tell us that something isn’t right. It’s what’s known in Positive Psychology as the “call to change”. It’s your wake-up call saying it’s time to do something about this because you are not happy.
The sad truth is that unless you do something about these feelings, they won’t go away. You can try and send them away as much as you want, but that unrest and dissatisfaction will slowly chip away at your confidence, wellbeing and you’ll become more unhappy.
These feelings are an invitation to understand how you feel about your career today. Only then can you do something meaningful about it.
Decide if you want to accept the call to make changes to improve your career.
What one thing do you need to do to progress forward?
It could be to get clarity on career direction so that you can work on developing a career plan. It could be applying for a promotion you’ve been considering, or it could be updating your CV because you want to change jobs.
The first step in any effective career change is to reflect on and understand what is going wrong. This enables you to decide, to plan or to procrastinate.
Which will you choose? Remember your well-being and happiness depends on this choice.