The 7 warning signs of career distress

Midlife — it’s supposed to be the time when we have it all. In actuality, it’s more like, “My life is more complicated than I ever imagined and my career is not turning out as I had hoped. I’m at a crossroads.”

Perhaps the most difficult part about finding your career in flux is that this is the time when you have the most to give. And yet you are feeling the most vulnerable, trying to determine whether your company considers you valuable and whether you will continue to be rewarded and given challenging assignments.

To dig out of your doldrums, start by bringing awareness to your current circumstances. To create awareness, you have to have the ability and presence of mind to step back and see your current situation for what it is. While everyone’s situation is highly personal, some common themes can be found among people at a career crossroads. These are what I refer to as the 7 W.A.R.N.I.N.G. Signs of Career Distress:

1. Wavering self-confidence: You have put pressure on yourself to succeed, but you have never felt completely satisfied in your career choice, instead questioning the benefit you provide. After years of doing something you don’t love, often with unrealistic expectations, you have a diluted sense of worth. As a result, you are uncertain about your value and cautious about finding the career you want.

Tip: Create your own definition of success that highlights your value and the contribution you bring to your organization.

2. At sea: You are no longer learning and feeling challenged. Your career has lulled you into complacency. You have been a good soldier, performing as expected and thus allowing others to control your destiny. In doing so, you have not actively managed your career. But when something (such as a significant company change) forces you to finally look around, you discover your job has become something you never wanted it to be.

Tip: Reassess your career goals and ambitions. This may be the time for reinvention by learning new skills or potentially finding a new employer.

3. Relinquished control: Scratching and clawing your way to the top can result in losing sight of who you are. Your eagerness to be successful can be blinding. Without a good early role model, you can quickly latch onto how others in status positions behave. You begin to sacrifice yourself in order to fit in and be part of the club.

Tip: Clearly articulate the leader you want to be. What are your beliefs? How do you want to be treated? How do you want to treat others?

4. Neglected: Have you ended up in a career or job where you no longer feel as though you have control over how that job is performed? Do you feel as though you are drifting in a swirl of corporate despair, neglected and shunted to the side by your team, superiors, or board? Now you are struggling to make yourself relevant.

Tip: Get reacquainted with your best assets. List your top five strengths and the key contributions you’ve made in your current position.



5. Idling: Idling is characterized by the inability to make progress on decisions that affect you. You have become emotionally paralyzed, and your life feels stuck. It begins when you lose sight of what you want and others become your focus. You feel the weight of every personal decision and the impact on those around you. The frustration is mounting, and you feel like you are losing bits and pieces of yourself.

Tip: Think of yourself first. Determine what you need for yourself in order to feel fulfilled and energized.

6. No focus: You might experience this if you enthusiastically imagine lots of potential career options, but like a kid in a candy store, you can’t quite decide which one you want. Ultimately, you are overwhelmed with all the choices, and every day you come home with a new, exciting possibility. While it’s encouraging to see the opportunities, it is frustrating for you and those around you because there is a lot of talk and little action.

Tip: Create a checklist of specific criteria for your career. What would you be doing? Why would you be doing it? Who would you be doing it with? How would you be doing it?

7. Growing discontent: By all accounts you have a great job. The title. The money. The office. The prestige of working for a respected company. But you are not feeling fulfilled, and it’s wearing you down. During your ascent through the company, you collected all the trinkets of success, but you lost sight of what really gets you excited. Now you know what you want to do, but you haven’t yet found the path forward. Something or someone (the organization) is holding you back.

Tip: Clearly and succinctly articulate how a change for you would also be a positive change for your company. Identify a champion or mentor who can help support and navigate this change.

If your current situation is not working for you, you do not have to accept it as your fate. You can set forth a new vision. It takes not only awareness of where you are today but also self-discipline to start taking a series of small steps to initiate the change you want in your career and life.

Peter C. Diamond is the author of Amplify Your Career and Life: 4 Steps to Evaluate, Assess and Move Forward. He is a professionally trained and certified coach who works with hundreds of senior-level executives and others to guide them through change. You can find him on Twitter @petercdiamond.

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