We all have career goals that are important to us. Some of us want to climb the organizational ladder. Some of us want more control over our work. Most of us want to make more money. Whatever your goals are, you can imagine a trajectory from "here" to "there," and a series of milestones you must meet in order to traverse it, such as promotions, raises, new skills, or greater respect in your industry.
For most of us, there are stretches where everything seems to be working--your work gets recognized, your strategies pay off, and those milestones come easily to you. But there are always those moments (and sometimes, those years!) when everything comes to a screeching halt. You hit a slump, and even though you've made a little progress to get to this point, you're unsatisfied because you can't seem to get any further.
We've all experienced this, and in the moment, it can seem like your entire trajectory has failed. But it's definitely possible to break out of such a slump--and there's more than one good way to do it.
Accept That Slumps Are Natural
First, force yourself to accept that slumps are a natural part of progress. Your favorite sports team doesn't win every championship, does it? No--it suffers periods of drought and periods of success. You can't measure your overall potential for success based on one temporary period of distress. Focusing too much on the slump can leave you feeling demotivated, depressed, and like it isn't worth trying to get your goals back on track. Don't let this happen to you. Instead, allow yourself to accept the slump and start working actively to fix it.
Identify the Root Cause
Let's say your goal is to be promoted to a certain position, but you haven't made any progress toward that goal in the past six months. To better understand the slump itself, you have to find the root cause for this situation. Take a look at the situation objectively--is six months that unusual a time span to go without a promotion? If not, then perhaps you've simply set unrealistic goals. Is the company going through a tough financial period? If so, it has nothing to do with you or the quality of your work. Have you made a number of mistakes that leave you passed over for promotion? If so, work on correcting those mistakes.
Start a New Project
If you feel like you're doing the same thing every day and aren't getting anywhere, try initiating a new project. It can be within your department, outside your department, internal or external. For example, you can put together a new workflow for a common activity or launch a new type of marketing campaign. Experimentation will help you break out of your typical mold, stimulating your creative juices and leaving you feeling satisfied with your work. Plus, if it's successful, you'll get a ton of credit and you'll probably end up one step closer to your final goal.
Find a Mentor or Partner
It's hard to work on all your career goals alone. That's why it's important that you find a mentor, or at least a contemporary colleague, that can help contextualize your problems and offer advice on how to address them. Mentors have likely gone through this before, and partners at other companies might be going through it currently. Exchanging practical advice can help you figure out what to do next, or at least give you some valuable perspective on where you truly stand.
Professional networking is never a bad thing. The more people you meet, the more resources you'll gain--you'll have more people to talk to, more people to exchange advice with, and more potential career options (in case your current trajectory truly isn't salvageable). Getting outside your own shell is a necessary ingredient in restoring your momentum, and you'll probably have a good time in the process. You never know whom you might meet or what opportunities you might discover.
Learn (or Do) Something New
This should go without saying, but try learning a new skill or adopting some new responsibilities. There are more than enough free online classes available for you to learn almost anything, and most organizations would be thrilled to see one of their workers actively seek out new responsibilities. The taste of new skills and tasks might illuminate a new direction for your career, or it might make a significant impression on your boss, positioning you well for a possible raise or promotion.
Consider an Exit
Of course, it's possible that your current job is a real dead-end. You can't get a promotion, you can't get a raise, you can't hire any more people, and you probably won't do anything new for a while. If this is the case, and you know you aren't going to make any serious progress in this role, your only choice is to move on. Start looking for a new job at a company that can support your long-term goals, or pursue entrepreneurship and create your own opportunities.
The next time you feel like your career has hit a major slump, try one of these strategies to break out of it. It may take some extra patience and diligence to get the job done, but you'll be rewarded with renewed progress and restored momentum.