How To Pull Yourself Out Of A Career Rut

Are you figuring out the next step of your career? Your job may not be the issue; it could be your outlook on life.

How To Pull Yourself Out Of A Career Rut
[Photo: Flickr user Thomas Shahan]

It’s human nature to feel overcome with doubt during periods of change. Sometimes an event in your personal life can derail positive momentum in your professional career. These disruptions have a tendency to propel you into a state of unrest and uncertainty, where the decisions you make in the moment might not be the best in the long term.


Six months ago, after a breakup and while living through the worst winter on record in Boston, I found myself in a creative rut. When I sat down to write something for work or pleasure, nothing would come out. I’d spend hours scratching at paper with my pen, and then with my nails, as my frustrations turned to anger and then depression.

During this time, I started to doubt my career choices, and applied to new jobs that I hoped would fill a void in my heart. After participating in several interviews for jobs that would take me across the country, I spoke with a friend and mentor at work about my frustrations. He told me to:

“Appreciate the great opportunity in front of you, always.”

As simple as that advice was, it struck a chord. Looking deep within, I realized to feel better about my career choices, I had to fix parts of me that were broken. My job, that I had loved for so long, wasn’t the issue; the issue was my outlook on life.

Here are three steps I took during this time to course correct my mind and rediscover the love I have for my work.

1. Re-imagine Your Goals

At points in your career, your next milestone may feel out of reach. Whether you work for a public accounting firm and you have to wait three years before you’re eligible for a promotion, or if you are at a startup where the infrastructure for career growth doesn’t exist, it’s important to visualize milestones in a way that makes them more attainable. Science suggests that by manipulating time, you’re actually more likely to change your behavior to reach those goals.


An April 2015 study published in Psychological Science, found that measuring time in days instead of months, or months instead of years, makes future events seem closer. The study’s authors concluded people work harder toward reaching their goals when their perception of time has been altered.

We tend to get ahead of ourselves in life. We forget how much we have already accomplished, and how many greater feats lie ahead. Taking a moment to look at the big picture can be a calming way to overcome any professional or personal rut.

2. Ask for Help

We’re all afraid of seeming weak–in both character and ability. The more we feel that we have to rely on others, the less confidence we have in our work.

Over the past year, I’ve learned how important asking for help is to professional growth. Learning to ask for guidance opens new doors for building long-lasting trust with mentors who can help you overcome the hurdles holding you back.

Asking for help also leads to some interesting benefits. A February 2015 experiment conducted in partnership between Harvard and Wharton business schools found that asking for help boosts perceptions of intelligence among those looking for guidance.

In several experiments, participants perceived those who asked for help and advice as being more intelligent than those who did not, regardless of actual IQ and experience.


Remember that old idiom, “Fake it ’til you make it?” I’ve learned to revise that phrase to, “Ask for help ’til you make it,” and it has led me to some unexpected places.

3. Listen To Your Heart

In our pursuit of happiness, we’re often conflicted between following our passion and pushing through tasks that pay the bills. While there are ways to connect what you’re passionate about and what you do for work, it’s important to learn how to listen to your heart: It makes you smarter.

Research published in April 2015 by a team of scientists from the University of Cambridge and Medical Research Council found that when we’re able to listen to our heart–whether through a stethoscope or by taking our pulse–there’s an increase in “gamma phase synchrony,” otherwise known as chatter between different regions in our brains. Meaning that when we can physically tune into the beats and tones of our heart, brain activity between various areas jump-starts.

We feel this during our automatic “fight or flight” response in situations, and after a lot of physical exercise. Has someone ever told you that exercise is a great way to clear your mind? Well, it turns out exercise might not clear your mind; it actually increases activities that might help you better solve problems and produce creative work.

I’ve learned to listen to my heart, as clichéd as that sounds, because when I’m able to synchronize my heart and mind, I make smarter decisions with greater clarity. The beach body I earned in the process hasn’t hurt.

Moving Forward

A friend of mine once told me, “Before you blame others, first look within to uncover self-doubt.”


In my experience, it took a few ridiculous job offers to realize just how much I’ve already accomplished, and how far I can go when I finally learn to trust myself. Your career trajectory will never take a linear path; it’s not supposed to be that easy.

Learning how to calm the nerves in the face of criticism and self-doubt will help ensure you stay on track. After all, you’re the only person capable of holding personal and professional success back.

About the author

Ted Karczewski is a writer and marketing strategist who focuses on bridging the gap between the creative and business worlds. He is the managing editor of the Content Standard, a media site covering creativity, innovation, leadership, and business transformation for Skyword, a content marketing platform and services company