9 Signs You’re Stuck in Career Paralysis

I went back to work last week.  Don’t get me wrong I love my job, but even I found it difficult. And I remember only too well how dreadful it is if you don’t enjoy what you do.

We work with loads of people who feel like this, but who also fear change . Gradually, then suddenly they get stuck in career paralysis.

It is crucial to try and spot the signs of career paralysis as early as possible.  So I’ve made my own checklist below, from the earliest warning signs through to more acute signs and symptoms.

Which ones can you mentally tick off?  And what would you add to the list?

1. You are conscientious and intelligent. If that’s you, congratulations; you are very likely to be good at what you do. However, you also have the personality traits that can get you stuck.  Not only can you get good at things that you don’t even enjoy (intelligence), but you are also likely to persist at them (conscentiousness)…

People like this also tend to be really good at analysis.  And again that’s great….except intelligent people can always find intelligent reasons not to change.  As Samuel Johnson once said: “Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome“.

2. Your job’s too easy. If you feel your job doesn’t challenge you then you may have a nice life, but it may also feel meaningless. Meaning is usually found on the flipside of a big challenge:  Roman Krznaric talks about finding a job “big enough for your spirit“.  Is yours?

3. You feel tired all the time. Change takes masses of mental energy.  So if you become exhausted you won’t have the mental energy to change your behaviour – or your life.

4. You’d hate to be your boss. I hated the idea of doing my boss’s job, yet I felt obliged to want it because I felt I should want it.  I also got drawn into competition with others and focused on the goal of promotion, rather than asking myself if this was actually what I wanted.  As Alan Watts points out, many of us chase goals before realising that life is a musical thing – and the idea is to dance along.

5. You fell into your job. People often have a sense that they are doing their job more by default than design. In other words, they never actually chose their career, they sort of fell into it. And now they do it because, well, ‘that’s what they do’.

6. Dissonance. Do you experience discomfort when you listen to your friends talk about careers you wish you had? Maybe you try to avoid talking to these people to spare yourself this discomfort?  Or maybe you try to distract yourself from how you’re feeling….ooh look, KITTENS!


Figure 1: Kittens

7. Sunday night dread. I generally managed to stave off the dread til about 2pm on a Sunday, but then it would take over, to the point where Sunday evenings themselves became a source of dread. In my experience there are two types of Sunday night dread. Acute – when you really loathe your job, and chronic which is the nagging, long-term sense that your job is not ‘you’.  This might also show up as FOMO – fear of missing out. You fear there is something out there that’s better for you, if only you could work out what.

8. You start to anaesthetise yourself.  Many of us (me included) try to numb how we feel through distraction, alcohol, travelling, unusual fixations on people who run their own cupcake shops etc.  Gestalists talk about the dangers of staying so busy we lose contact with how we feel.  My own version of this was 10 years of ‘having fun’ (translation: getting drunk).  Whilst it was fun, it was also anaesthetising me just enough that I avoided the need to change.

9. Feeling ‘Headstuck’. Career paralysis is about physical and mental stuckness. It is about going round in circles in your head, perhaps initially feeling excited by alternatives, but then discounting them. Once the mind discounts all alternatives inaction and stuckness take over. Our blog is called Headstuck because Career Paralysis is characterised by feeling stuck inside your own head and a chronic lack of action.

If that’s you, get in touch, because we can help.

Career Change, Getting Unstuck coaching

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