Ask The Experts: How Do I Stop Feeling Stuck And Uninspired In My Job?

What happens when you're young, accomplished, and making a decent salary but feel like you aren't making a difference? You turn to our experts, that's what. Leadership Coach Lolly Daskal and Psychologist Art Markman offer their advice on how to get out of a rut and answer one of life's biggest questions.

We often joke about how every new startup claims that they will "change the world," but isn't that what we all really want to do?

When checking off the boxes for success and money leave you feeling like there has to be something more, you start asking yourself the big questions. This reader's question address exactly that.

Hi,

I am 28 years old and I'm doing well professionally, I make a good salary and I've been pretty successful, but I don't feel like I'm living up to my potential.

I feel stuck in a job that doesn't interest me. For the last three years I have felt like I am not doing anything worthwhile, and I don't have a connection to anything I do. I want to do something that makes the world a better place but I don't know what that is. I daydream about creating the next big thing that will change the world but I don't know where to start.

I follow all of the new big startups, and I am particularly fascinated by peer-to-peer sharing economy but I don't know how to make that work were I live (India). I know I'm young and early in my career, but l feel claustrophobic about all this and I have a lot of pressure to get married. I feel like I haven't really started my life or career yet. Where do I start?

Thanks for your help,

Lost in India

For advice on how to deal with this perennial question we turned to Leadership Coach Lolly Daskal and Psychologist Art Markman.


Dear Lost in India,

You are not alone. The early career phase is hard, because there are so many things to do, but it can be hard to see how those add up to something bigger than the sum of your daily tasks.

Peter Drucker, one of the great management thinkers of the 20th century, talked about the difference between achievements and contributions. An achievement is some task that you check off your daily to-do list. A contribution is a big-picture goal that—when you complete it—is the kind of thing you can really feel proud of.

Right now, you are struggling to find your contribution. Your work life is clearly busy, but it does not seem to be adding up to anything that will go beyond your daily routine.

Making Time to Find What Your Contribution Can Be

In order to make time for your contributions, you need to do some planning. That starts with finding a contribution you can commit to. To figure out what contribution is right for you, you need to identify something that is both interesting (like the peer-to-peer work you mentioned) and feasible.

Start by keeping a list of the big ideas that fascinate you. Then, find about 30 minutes a day to investigate these ideas. Find magazines and websites that cover those ideas and read up on them. Email some people in those communities to find out what they are doing, start following them on Twitter. Find networking groups if you can to meet other people who are engaged in the kinds of activities you want to be a part of.

It is important that you start adding time into your daily schedule that will allow you to find and engage your contribution. Otherwise, you will continue having busy days that do not allow you to reach your long-term goals.

Do A Reality Check

The one caution I have on this search is that you need to find a contribution that excites you but is also possible to achieve with sustained effort. It is easy to get paralyzed by committing yourself to something you would love to do that simply can’t be done right now. That allows you to dream about a future without actually taking concrete steps toward making that dream a reality.

When you make your list of potential contributions, keep track of the concrete steps you are taking to actually accomplish that goal. Label the activities you are performing as you work toward your contribution as "thinking" or "doing."

If you find that you are engaged in more thinking than doing, consider shifting your long-term goal toward something that will allow you to perform specific actions that move you close to your goal.

Finally, getting married is just one more contribution you can make in your life. Just as you shouldn’t let anyone pressure you into taking a job you are not excited about, be wary of getting married just because other people say you should. Any contribution in your life will require sustained daily attention. Make sure that the time you put in involves acts of love and not necessity.


Dear Lost in India,

I hear where you are at and I can understand how you feel. But, if you want to make a difference and to create a change in the world it must first start within you.

Follow these steps and spend time contemplating the questions:

Find your sweet spot.
The secret to finding your purpose and potential is to first learn an acceptance of self. You will never become who you want to be if you rely on everyone else to qualify you. Find your sweet spot where your passion and gifts intersect. Working from your sweet spot is where achievement happens.

Ask yourself:
What do I love to do and what gives me the most energy without a lot of effort?

Shift you negative thoughts.
Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, and your words become your actions. When you think that something is impossible, shift your thoughts.

Ask yourself:
Do my thoughts propel me forward or keep me stuck?

Be who you are and say what you feel.
As with anything in life, when we are making a decision or trying to solve a problem, we have to have confidence in ourselves.

Ask yourself:
What kind of daily rituals do I need to cultivate within myself when my self-confidence is waning?

Live your values.
It's easy to make decisions when you know what your values are. Create for yourself a list of values that you abide by and let them lead the way you live your life.

Ask yourself:
What are four uncompromised values that lead my life forward in all that I do, think, and act?

Focus on the small things you can do, not the big things you can't.
Small changes can make a big difference in the end. When you are not sure, when you feel frustrated, just taking one small step in any direction can end up being the biggest step in your life.

Ask yourself:
What can you do today that will help move you toward what you want tomorrow?

Be prepared to fail.
Setbacks and failures will happen; they're a natural part of life. Failures are a simple way of showing you what works and what doesn’t. Life is about trial and error. You gain strength, courage, and confidence through every experience in which you really stop to look failure in the face.

Ask yourself:
When failure shows up how will I get up and move forward?

Get comfortable in the transition phase
Many times in life, you will be going through some kind of transition. In those moments you can choose to fight it, or accept it and comply with it. Complying with transitions allows us to keep calm in tough times. But remember, there are two kinds of pain: pain that hurts and pain that changes you.

Ask yourself:
What do I need to do to become friends with my transitional phases? How can I learn from pain?

Pay attention to the present.
There is much to learn from your current job, the people you interact with, the life you lead. Stay present and don’t miss out on it.

Ask yourself:
What can I learn from my present life that will help me while I take the steps to move forward?

Life is about give and take. It will have ups and downs. It will be painful and joyous. What you are going through now is just part of your journey. We can feel frustrated or can learn to cultivate our source from within.

I am a big believer that if you want to change the world, if you want to make a difference in the world, you need to follow your heart. Because wherever your heart is, there you will find your potential and purpose.


If you have a dilemma you’d like our panel of experts to answer, send your questions to AskFC@fastcompany.com or tweet us a question using #AskFC.

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9 Comments

  • Hi radiant soul, I am glad to share with you some thoughts but first let me clarify that I am a student of life and I don't pretend to teach anything. When we feel stuck or uninspired basically we are living out of Spirit meaning out of touch with our true-selves and to change this we should consciously and purposefully re-connect by looking inside. "All I seek is within" the only place where we can find truth. The other aspect of this is our mindset because "we are what we think" I would love to share with you more of this "stuff" :) which I believe to be the only truth because its source is truth. Get in touch so we can together share more insights @mclifecoaching. Blessings

  • Jim Whitt

    Try The Transformational Power of Purpose: Finding & Fulfilling Your Purpose in Life at www.PurposeUnlimited.com.

  • The only expert on your life is you. There's some good advice here, but I'd caution against leaning too much on others advice and feel goodisms ("just think positive!, follow your heart!"). At the end of the day, you're your own consultant. I'd say that daydreaming and thinking is actually a good thing. Of course, doing it all the time will paralyze you from achieving things but it is equally important to consider, ponder, and think. A building doesn't get built without planning or dreaming; an architect doesn't just start doing. Thinking, envisioning, dreaming, conceptualizing. All big parts of making something a reality.

    Also, be wary of empty sayings, e.g. follow your heart. The ambiguity here isn't helpful and many don't know what that really means. A very good article I recommend on what this means is here: http://www.theminimalists.com/cal/

  • ...current value and what life would be like if we had none. What if the concept of the paper clip was enhanced in some way, by design, color, shape, size, competencies, purposes, message, branding, logo, etc., etc.? I am all about the creative and innovative power of a passionate purpose at work. Why not form a sub-company of your own, in your own mind, inside your current company, and experiment and experience and grow the possibilities that unfold for you as a creative entrepreneur while sitting right there in your same chair? I challenge you. I’ll give you one tip: You may have to reinforce and reimagine your avowed purpose or mission when needed - in order to reenergize and maintain momentum. You may want to build that practice into your plan.

  • The excellent advice from Art and Lolly gives you much to consider. Please allow me to add to something to Lolly’s suggestion regarding the present. Your job you already have offers you an opportunity to experiment, try new mindsets and behaviors, continue to earn money, and more than likely make a contribution to your current employer and its customers. I feel strongly about the power of creating a personalized version of my company’s mission – one that resonates with me and my values. Being driven or attracted to a mission based on the contributions I/we make to our customers is surprisingly engaging, empowering, and enlivening – if you sincerely take it to heart. Whatever it is that your current employer does to solve problems for your customers, there is a way to reframe it into some contribution that makes a difference to the customer and to you. Even if all you do is manufacture and sell paper clips, for example. Think about paper clips from the point of view of their...

  • Dear Readers:

    I find this exchange interesting; nice plot twist that the author lives in India. This young man seems to be wrapped up in competing among his emerging middle class peers and coming up a bit hollow inside. His daydream and marriage anxiety suggest he feels his choices today are final. Certainly, focusing beyond oneself to contribute to society generates a truer sense of purpose.

    However, I believe he should trust that doing something that makes human connections will lead him to his peer-to-peer insight and opportunity in future. He may not be rich and famous as a result. It seems his fear of not being noticed among peers as a success may be overshadowing the good one person can do. He will learn a sense of achievement comes from within as he matures.

  • I agree with Lolly that it's about finding your sweet spot, but that phrase implies a singularity, that it is one thing, one talent, one passion, one strength, which is misleading. We miss the forest because we are looking at the trees. That sweet spot is found in a complex, unique, nuanced motivational pattern for each individual. And most people will need help identifying and defining that pattern for themselves before they can get unstuck and into a better jobfit that engages them at the level of purpose, passion, contribution. http://www.jobjoy.com/its-the-pattern-stupid/

  • Hi Lost in India, Art and Lolly,

    I have an idea I've started that I'd like to share, which may help. I can honestly say that I've felt this at times too. I recently started a new project called "Learn Something New Everyday".

    I decided to take on the challenge to learn something new everyday for at least one year. Regardless of how big or small, I'm using an HTML page to track articles I read and things I learn. In parallel to learning, I plan to implement new ideas into my current projects! Fun stuff. I learn things about web development, design, business, etc. — whatever I choose! It's creating a paper trail of my progress for future endeavours / business partners / employers.

    Since you mentioned you're into peer-to-peer, you may have some development experience. If not, a Wordpress blog may suffice instead.

    What jives about this idea and what Art outlined is that it's a balance of daily achievements and contribution.

    What do you think?