At some point in your career, you might find yourself feeling stuck with a sense of ambiguity about your path forward. Until now, your trajectory has been upward. You rarely questioned the course you’ve been on. After all, your hard work has brought you to where you are today.
On the outside, you seem to be in an enviable position. Your job seems pretty good to others, and many have even commented on how fortunate you are. It’s true – you recognize the benefits. However, internally, you grapple with the feeling of being “stuck.” You’re not entirely satisfied with your current position, and you’re unsure about how to overcome this feeling. What can you do to free yourself from this nagging feeling of being stuck?”
In this post, I’ll share a design thinking method to navigate this “stuck” feeling, inspired by the insights in the book, “Designing Your New Work Life: How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness–and a New Freedom–at Work” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.
🙏 Appreciate What You Already Have:
Burnett and Evans state, “The truth is, when we live our lives waiting to get somewhere, the only place we get is stuck.”
One of the most vital skills you can learn in life is the ability to appreciate what you already have, including your family, friends, and your job. Reflect on these elements of your life and realize how fortunate you are. Although things may not be perfect, remind yourself, “it’s good enough…for now,” a phrase borrowed from “Designing Your New Work Life.”
This acknowledgment is the first step toward breaking free from the feeling of being stuck in your work life.
💭 Identify Your Life and Work Views:
Everyone carries unique beliefs about life and work. Burnett and Evans refer to these as “Lifeview” and “Workview,” respectively.
Your Lifeview includes your personal values and principles, the things that truly matter to you, and what you believe you were put on earth to do.
On the other hand, your Workview covers your beliefs about work, what it means to you, and your motivations for working.
Understanding these views is crucial. Aligning your job with your Lifeview and Workview can render your work more meaningful and fulfilling, helping you overcome feelings of being “stuck.”
Burnett and Evans suggest jotting down your Lifeview and Workview in about 250 words each.
🛠️ Remodel Your Career:
Consider your career like a house. If you wish to implement changes in your house, you don’t demolish the entire structure; you remodel. The changes can range from minor, like repainting walls or introducing new décor, to major renovations. The beauty of remodeling is that it’s often easier and more practical than tearing everything down and starting from scratch.
The same logic applies to your career. Rather than radically altering your career path, start by making small, incremental adjustments, such as taking on new projects, learning a new skill, or expanding your network. These steps can open new possibilities and choices.
If these adjustments don’t bring satisfaction, then larger changes, like transitioning to a new company or completely changing your career field, may be considered. However, remember that just as with houses, remodeling a career can be easier and more practical than starting over completely. Before taking such drastic steps, try applying design thinking. Especially if your current job is “good enough for now,” this approach can help you shape a more fulfilling work life.
💡 Introduction to Design Thinking in Life and Career:
Design thinking, a methodology traditionally used in product design, can be an invaluable tool to reframe your career and alleviate feelings of being stuck.
In their book, Burnett and Evans outline seven mindsets to assist you in redesigning your work life:
- Bias to action
- Radical collaboration
🤔 1. Cultivate Curiosity and 🎬 2. Develop a Bias to Action:
Designers are naturally curious individuals. They maintain a beginner’s mindset, always asking, “Why?” Adopt this designer’s mindset and cultivate curiosity. Burnett and Evans say, “interested is interesting.” Let your curiosity lead you and come up with lots of ideas.
Once you’ve thought of an idea, no matter how small, put it into action. You might dismiss a minor change as insignificant, but give it a try anyway. Acting upon an idea often opens up new perspectives and uncovers possibilities that might have been hidden when you were merely thinking about it.
🖼️ 3. Master the Art of Reframing:
When taking a picture, you decide what to include and exclude from the frame. The same principle applies to your work life. There might be numerous challenges that need addressing, but realistically, you can’t resolve all of them simultaneously. It’s akin to framing a picture – you need to decide which problem to tackle first.
Reframing is a crucial skill to master when navigating feelings of being stuck at work. Avoid focusing on “gravity problems,” or issues beyond your control. For instance, I have long struggled with the fact that English isn’t my native language. However, this isn’t a problem I can “solve”; becoming a native English speaker is impossible. Therefore, it’s unproductive to choose a gravity problem to address.
Burnett and Evans suggest mapping out your Minimum Actionable Problems (MAP) and tackling your Best Doable Option (BDO). By defining the smallest problems you can act upon and choosing the best options available to you, you can make incremental changes. These small steps could be the key to alleviating feelings of being stuck in your work life.
🔄 4. Nurture an Awareness of the Process:
Keep in mind, it’s a process. The design thinking process has two fundamentally different phases: flare and focus. The flare phase involves generating a multitude of ideas, while the focus phase is about zeroing in on a specific concept or area to test and prototype.
By leveraging these two distinct phases of the process, you can successfully navigate out of the feelings of being stuck.
🤝 5. Embrace Radical Collaboration:
When you come across people who are involved in things that pique your curiosity, put your “bias to action” to use and reach out to them. Certainly, it’s beneficial to connect with individuals within your organization, but don’t limit yourself – also engage with people outside your workplace. Seek their advice, offer your assistance, and extend your network. This practice of expanding your horizon and embracing a wide range of connections is what the authors term “radical collaboration.”
📖 6. Harness the Power of Storytelling:
Start crafting your story, an engaging and positive one, and share it with the world. Storytelling is a powerful tool to break free from the feeling of being stuck in your work life.
The authors reference an old proverb, “You cannot prevent the birds from flying over your head. But you need not let them make a nest in your hair.”
We all occasionally entertain unproductive or negative thoughts. However, it’s crucial not to dwell on them. Instead, learn to replace them with better stories – stories that you want to share, and more importantly, tell yourself!
As you tell these positive stories, you’ll start believing in them, and they will become an integral part of your new identity, your refreshed, unstuck self!
💡 Moving Forward:
By adopting these design thinking mindsets and utilizing the “good enough… for now” philosophy, you can gain a fresh perspective on your work life. This new perspective allows you to reframe and remodel your career, aligning it better with your Lifeview and Workview.
Breaking free from the feeling of being “stuck” isn’t a one-time activity. It’s a continual process of exploring, prototyping, and evolving. Each step you take can bring you closer to a work life that truly aligns with your beliefs, values, and aspirations.
Remember, you are not alone in feeling “stuck.” We all have those moments when we feel like we’re spinning our wheels. But with these practical strategies from Burnett and Evans, you can turn that feeling of inertia into momentum. You can break free from the feeling of being “stuck” and move toward a work life that’s more fulfilling and in line with who you truly are.
P.S. I would love to hear from you. Please share your experiences of feeling stuck in your work life and the steps you took to overcome it in the comments below.