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Dead end sign with bullet holes. (Ron Chapple/www.jupiterimages.com)
Dead end sign with bullet holes. (Ron Chapple/www.jupiterimages.com)

Ask a career expert

Help, my career is going nowhere Add to ...

The question

I've been working with my current employer for the last three years, with 10-15 years of experience in total. I was courted by my company under a false job description (my supervisor already held the role they advertised). When they later told me my real role, they said I would move up the ranks.

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It’s a media-related job on a website that covers the news 24/7, so I work weekends and evenings. I showed ambition, dedication and, above all, I showed that I could do tasks above and beyond my scope. I gave my ideas on several projects, since these were always welcome, but they were used without credit from my supervisor.

There were several other instances that left a bitter taste in my mouth. The breaking point came when I had to work New Year's day, there was no news, and my supervisor e-mailed me wondering why there was so little being posted. I had to give up my holidays with family and friends and then I was being told that I wasn't doing my job the way I should. They have since hired a new person to help out so that we can share duties, and he's moved up the ranks in the last year.

Here's my issue: I know that after a lot of introspection, I am not the problem. Glowing performance reviews aside, I have always done more than my fair share, always tried to help out whenever I could and I always asked for more to show that I'm a team player.

I am finally acknowledging what my family, husband and friends have been telling me for years: this job is not what I'm meant to do. But I can't seem to get anywhere from here, nor do I know how to get myself out. I'm worried that I'll end up in another situation similar to this one – or worse – so I stay partly out of this fear.

I'm 34 and I fear my career life is going down the drain. Short of going back to school for yet another degree, I don't know what else I can do, and whether going back to school is even something I should consider. I've exhausted all patience at this point, as well as the last of my desire and ambition. I need career advice that isn't centred around what I've already done, because that's gotten me here, and here is not where I am meant to be.

The answer

I feel your pain. It can be frustrating when you have aspirations, put in hard work but don’t feel like you are advancing. But rest assured, many highly successful people have experienced situations like what you’ve described and were able to advance their careers just the same. This is not a dead end for you. It just may be a fork in the road and perhaps, as you’ve recognized, time to shift gears in a new direction.

A few thoughts to consider:

Remember that careers are meant to be marathons, not sprints. Some miles will be tough, others smoother. Consider this a tougher part of your career run but if you plan wisely and learn from this leg of your career journey, you can leverage this experience into a better one ahead. Do not assume all was for naught! But you do need a plan and a healthy dose of resilience to stay the course and reach your goals.

Own your career. If you let one bad experience define your future, you will have lost your most valuable asset: your empowerment. You need to own your career and take responsibility to reach your goals. Channel your energy to learn from this experience and find a better opportunity – one where you can better express your strengths, further develop yourself and actualize your career goals.

New career or perhaps just a new “pond”? It sounds like you are wondering if your past efforts and the career path you’ve chosen have not served you. Be careful generalizing one bad experience into an entire career. That would be an extreme and limiting perspective. Additionally, do not dismiss the entire experience as wasted; as you will find, there is always value to be found in any experience.

There may be other organizations and roles in which your skills can be of great use. The worst thing you could do is try to “etch a sketch” or erase the past, because you may be overlooking a gold mine of experience and knowledge that can be transferable to other jobs.

You need to consider other work environments, not necessarily a complete career change. For instance, you seem resentful that you had to work holidays. Keep in mind, online news media evolves on a 24/7 basis, and in those types of journalism roles, it is not unusual to have to work weekend and holiday shifts. So if this is no longer something you are willing to do, consider other avenues where your media skills can still be of value. For instance, many organizations need people with strong social media and online skills that do not require 24/7 news monitoring.

Take stock: Your confidence has taken a beating so you are doubting yourself. Now is the time to take stock of all your accomplishments, skills and strengths because they are going to be your most important asset in whatever you choose to do next. As well, this exercise will boost your confidence! At the same time, it is useful to consider areas that you can further develop so that you can identify some appropriate professional development to keep growing and learning.

Seek feedback: Although you say you have had positive performance reviews, your perception of your advancement doesn’t appear to be in line with this. You may not have the full picture. If there are any blind spots that are limiting your success, you will want to know. Although this may be a tough one, do your best to try to get some honest feedback from your manager. Ask your boss to provide feedback on areas you could have improved. Try to engage in as open a way as possible and do your best to park your judgment. The more you can get honest feedback, the better poised you will be to understand what you can work on going forward – whether in this role or elsewhere. This is all about taking responsibility for being the best you can be and an important part of career development.

Retrain or retool? You may not need to go back to school for a complete “do-over” or career shift but it is important to be a life-long learner. There are always new skills – whether personal, technical or professional – to brush up on, so retooling is not a bad idea at all.

More than technical skills, you will need large doses of resilience and optimism. Career changes can take time. Finding a suitable fit isn’t always quick and easy. You will need more than your technical skills. Set the intention to be hearty in your spirit, to do away with the resentment, and focus on the possibilities ahead. With that kind of attitude, you are bound to create more success in your next career steps.

Eileen Chadnick is principal of Big Cheese Coaching.

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