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Advice for someone who feels like they are floundering

Hi everyone at Elpha, I am a late-twenties woman (she/her pronouns), and I feel like I am floundering in my career. I started back in the geography and GIS realm, and tried to transition to UX design and research from there. I have held a few UX jobs, and worked for a product analytics company which I really enjoyed, but was unfortunately laid off from this role last year. Since then, I have held a few positions in UX, CX, and now in the public sector doing service design.

Since being laid off last year, I have felt that my work and career has lacked purpose, direction, and clarity. I have accepted roles that do not last long because I do not gel with the company culture or values, or fundamentally feel so burnt out that the only option I see is to move on.

Has anyone ever felt this stuck in their career? Does anyone have suggestions about how to get *unstuck*? Are there any ways to actually find clarity on what I am supposed to be doing with my life?

I appreciate any advice or anything that people can provide. I really dream of the day when I don't dread waking up in the morning for work, or when Sunday isn't the worst day of the week because of the implications that Monday brings.

Girl, this is my bread and butter!I've been in tech for the last 10 years and got a master's in UX, so I have totally been there.Lucky for us, you left a little breadcrumb of where things go awry. "I do not gel with the company culture or values, or fundamentally feel so burnt out "This is helpful! A hint about why things may have felt off and why you haven't been excited about it.Here's a small exercise.What are your values? Make a list of what your values are AND a list of what your values are NOT (using past companies as your muse).Start with this and let us know how it goes. I bet that clarity will be illuminating and give you a sense of what direction to go in.Rooting for you,Sarah (my background is as an engineer, founder, and now coaching women in tech to navigate their careers on their terms) <3
Thank you for posting!I am curious if you think about all the things you've done in your past roles/careers , what have the things that have brought you the most joy ( can be literally anything: the flowers at the entrance, the specific clients you worked with, that one co-worker who became your work husband/wife b/c of XYZ reasons), then when you make a list of these start thinking of the why these were such highlights. Next think of the last time you were genuinely excited about doing something.Then start asking yourself, how you can maximise all of above and what roles might fulfil some of these? A couple of years ago I was applying to business schools and one of the essay questions was:What matters most to you and why? I would advise you to go through the exercise of answering that question, and go really deep (eg childhood)
That essay question seems silly, unnecessarily hierarchical. Why does one thing need to matter the most…It could easily just be “what is something that matters to you?”
You're entitled to your own opinion, it was a very useful exercise for me and for many others who went through this experience because it helped distill the core theme drives me and why I do the things I do.Lastly, just because something doesn’t resonate with you doesn’t mean it is silly.
I didn’t make any claims about the exercise being useful or not. I criticized the question and the modified version I proposed (or something in the same vain) would not prevent anyone from distilling core themes or whatever else while it would allow for not placing oneself in a single box. Most people have multiple things that matter to them “the most”.
I'll disagree (and we can agree to disagree) because when digging deep a lot of the things that matter to us are connected to some general theme that one can surface. I reiterate my statement just because something doesn’t resonate with you doesn’t mean it is silly.
Yeah, it means it’s silly TO ME. The implicit sentiment from the start.
Perhaps something that should have been stated from the get-go (to save us all time), not three comments later,
It’s funny that you’re directing me to communicate very directly and include a passive aggressive insult (in your comment)
Hi @irina106. Firstly, I want to let you know that it is normal to not feel certain about your career path, but there is a way forward to reach that feeling of certainty on which path would be the best fit for you. I recommend pursuing career exploration which includes a series of steps of practical learning and self-reflection in order to compare, contrast, and clarify which role, industry, and environment is the best fit for you. Here are some links you can use to find out more about the process – https://www.iamwoken.com/post/the-chicken-and-the-egg-how-to-break-the-cycle-of-job-hopping-and-unfulfillment and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHVpBpxGY9gPS, I’m Rachel. If you want to discuss further, check my profile to book a call to dive deeper into your goals/challenges.
So sorry to hear about this :( feeling stuck in dissimilar/sorta similar ways but wanted to reach out and show my support
Yup I have. last year I was so sure I wanted to work in tech, got 2 jobs and lost both to lay off and rescinded offer respectively. Now I work in market research and am about to publish a novel. It's all so random and I still have no idea what I'm doing because I don't want to be a full time writer. I just keep doing things and hoping it leads me to my purpose
"Now I work in market research and am about to publish a novel." As one does ;-)You're badass!
You’re not alone. I also got laid off from tech job and I started doing things unrelated to my previous career track. I sell my paper art at different local markets and make decent money from it. I don’t know where I’m headed but making art gives me a lot of energy.
You are not the problem. You are not floundering. Tech really is awful. The only way I cope with it is by making it my mission to help solve it. We may have many companies that lack ethics, but I will stand up for what is right.The layoffs have been brutal and unfair. I saw 80% of the layoffs where I was impacting women and poc. So demoralizing. You are not floundering. You are adaptable and have a broad skillset. That makes you a better employee.
I think it’s not just that it’s awful, but that it doesn’t live up to its potential, that makes it feel so awful
I'm sorry you are going through this. I've been there and understand how difficult it is, especially given our societal conditioning to always be on and performing. I believe the fact that you've identified this stuck feeling and why it is happening means you are already on the path to figuring this all out. This is part of the process to getting where you want to be. A couple things I recommend:1) Do an analysis exercise of every job you've ever had. Think about what you liked and didn't like – your responsibilities, company culture, management style, team structure, industry, size of company, etc. What red flags did you ignore during the interview process because you "needed" the job?Then create a list of features you'd like to find in your next role. The key is making sure this list reflects what you authentically desire, not what your ego desires or what you believe society expects of you. 2) You mentioned accepting roles that are misaligned and feeling burnt out. Are you able to step away from work to do some recalibration? Feeling chronically burnt out can put you in a fear-based response state that has you repeating a pattern. A mindful reset could give you the grounding and clarity you need to become the chooser and say no to opportunities that don't align. Sometimes taking a couple steps back allows you to take 10 steps forward.Best of luck. I'm excited for you!
I love all your suggestions especially the first one!
Hello dear, sorry to hear, sounds unpleasant! I've been there and this feeling of being stuck but also not having the energy to make serious moves or decisions is a clear sign of burnout. And guess what happens when we're burned out? It's waaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy harder for us to have optimism, clarity or motivation to choose something. You want to nourish your body so it can build up the strength to figure this out. And you want to unpack the mental aspect of this too. When you do both, you will feel an emotional release and feel that clarity you seek. I've once worked with this innovation consultant who's felt really lost too and by learning about his situation and helping him unpack things he was able to get to clarity in just two weeks. So there's ways!If you want to try this on your own, start doing some journalling about the things on your mind.See if that works for you. Also feel free to DM me if you want more help.
I recommend reading or watching about Design Your Life or Design Your Work Life Thinking (Bill Evans). Lots on YouTube if you just want to watch/listen.Also, I have built a career app and its foundation is in tracking. Whether you do it in our app or else, I highly recommend tracking or logging how you feel about what you do. This is an essential element of career planning.Lastly, I have a favor to ask (I hope that's OK). We'll be releasing our career planning coach in about 6 weeks. Now we have a performance coach that could help to. It's free to try, and I am happy to give you more free use. You DM me for info.
YES to the book suggestion! this had been recommended to me before and I checked it out. Thank you for bringing it up!
Design Your Life is an amazing book and I also highly recommend it!
Not a career coach, not trying to sell anything - personal experience.I used to job hop every 4-6 months, usually when I reached a threshold of savings (this part was completely unconscious - it wasn’t until 3 years later when I tracked all my expenses for 2 years, I realised this is what happened), I’d just “not be able to handle the BS” anymore and have to resign. I often was just holding back employer’s “bullying,” especially in startups where there isn’t as much accountability. I was so frustrated and stuck, exactly as you describe. I’m also a very hard worker and pretty intelligent, so it was really painful to go through a lot of this, trying to figure out is it this problem or that problem? Each work experience taught me something, but it felt like my next one still had something awful. There’s a lot to the issues I faced. One of the things was I was benefitting off something that I shouldn’t have been benefitting from, and until I removed all the benefits and everything I gained from that, I wasn’t able to have a normal experience. As an example (entirely just an example, isn’t even my experience), if you lied on your resume about something and got a job A from that, then job A didn’t work out, but now, every next job has stuff you weren’t supposed to gain from. So you apply for job B, and job B likes your experience from job A and hires you, you’re now stuck in a negative loop. Nothing will work out well from here unless you continue to lie but inside you will not feel good. The only way is to remove all jobs from the original lie - job B and job A and the original lie on the resume, apply from there, and suck up the crappier jobs until you get something better. This is the most important thing I did that turned the tides for me, 100%. I had a skill that wasn’t rightfully mine, even though I developed it, it was from and funded from something that I shouldn’t have pursued. I remember feeling so scared to remove it from my resume as well as the jobs that came from it (it was only one really), but once I did, literally the next day I started getting interviews for places that were _completely_ different than what I used to do (and is what I now do! :))Besides that, along the way I picked up a lot of good career advice from books that sort of magically presented themselves to me. One of these was “How Google Works” - there’s a short section in there that describes a career plan, and the part that stuck with me was when it said many people look early in their career at the companies they will work for, and this is wrong. Early in a career one should look at the _industry_ you’d like to work for. Because an industry takes time - once you have industry knowledge, the companies will come to you. This made total sense and I wondered why I never realised it. Later on you can be picky about the company, but early on, it’s industry knowledge for the first 10 years you want to gather. These along with a bunch of things reshaped my mentality around work. I had to humble up a lot. But where I am today, gosh I couldn’t be more grateful. I wake up excited it’s Monday so that I can learn more new things in my job and solve interesting problems. And I’m excited about where I’m going. I still have a long way in my career, but I’m definitely grateful and it’s become one of the more stable aspects of my life now.
I'm so sorry to hear that you're feeling this way, Irina! It can be so tough to feel stuck in your career and professional life. One thing that I would encourage that works for my clients who are going through similar issues, is to get super clear on your North Star and seek answers to questions like: - What do I really care about? - How and when do I want to retire? and how is what I'm doing driving towards that goal? - What have been my career highlights and what is the common thread? I hope that helps! Don't hesitate to reach out if I can be of additional support :)
I had a similar "feeling of stuck" a few years ago when I wasn't getting the promotion when all others advocated for me except for my manager. How I ultimately moved on and out of that phase are below:1) I conducted a "Life Audit" and developed plans/actions for areas I value the most. I had been doing year-end reflection prior, but during that time I mentioned above, which coincidentally also towards the year-end, I did a very deep and comprehensive life audit using "Wheel of Life" approach. I outline the aspects important to me, rate my satisfaction level of each from 1-10 (most satisfied), and set two timers to write down all the highlights & lowlights of of each aspect. From there, I dived deeper into what made them high vs. low, and what I can do to make them rated higher. The rating itself was illuminating because it gave me insights on what I actually care vs. what I think I "should" care. This exercise is similar to the "value exercise" @sarahing mentioned!2) I read and did the exercises in "Design Your Life" book (also mentioned by @GiselleGalper.) I first wrote down all the things that energizes, engages and creates state of flow for me. And then I free-wrote alternative routes in 5 years vs what I was on (analytics leader), including bartender making tasty cocktails, travel agent that bring people to culturally rich destinations, social club founder that cultivate communities, climate advocate working in food waste or women empowerment, or coach helping people be more content with themselves. This exercise itself was very invigorating for me, and brought so much hope and excitement towards so many possibilities.3) I decided to come to terms with myself. As a women, Asian, immigrant and tech worker, there are SO many expectations and "should's" I have for myself. I wanted to get approval, get promoted, get recognized, be successful, and be extra-ordinary. But all that have slowly created so much stress while so much is out of my control. So with external helps (e.g. support system, coaches, etc) and self-care practices, I slowly and decided to accept that "I am just ordinary", and it's ok to just be content with who I am and where I am at on this life journey. It's ok to be just ok. This mindset was liberating, and is still helping me today whenever I feel I'm too slow, too behind, too lazy - "I'm exactly where I'm meant to be."There are other things I did once passed that phase of "feeling stuck", including a few technical analyses (e.g. personal financial audit and planning, pros & cons analysis of my 5-year alternative routes), discussions with family members, research & planning, etc. But that's story for another time...Hope the above help and I wish you all the best in finding your way of "feeling unstuck" <3
We built this tracking into our app. The data of you is so so important.
Sending you support and a big hug! Yes - I have felt stuck in my career, lost, and so out of body in my day-to-day where I looked around one day and thought ‘how did I get here?’.Anne Helen Petersen is one of my favorite writers about burnout and I come back to her analysis often:"In short: burnout is caused by 1) problems on the societal level (lack of social safety net, precarity, dealing with being a person in your particular body with your particular identity in the world); 2) problems at the level of the workplace (policies, norms, work culture, productivity expectations); but also 3) problems on the level of the individual (self-value derived exclusively through work, inability to adhere to guardrails against overwork set by yourself and others, obsession with micro-management).”For working on #3, I’ve found therapy, building in-person community, and finding ambition / hobbies outside of work to be helpful. I left tech thinking I had made a permanent career change and am feeling happy and excited to finally be reinvigorated by the work I used to do in People Ops - I’m coming back to it choosing it with intention. I also highly recommend the book Quarterlife: https://satyabyock.com/quarterlife-book It has given me an entirely new framework to understand myself and past career decisions and has me feeling hopeful that I can build a life where I have both stability and meaning. Hope a piece of this helps! Feel free to DM me if you want to chat more about this. I know how tough and isolating it can be to work through burnout and look inward. Here for you!
how much time have you spent inquiring within on these questions? when I was stuck, the thing that actually kept me stuck was asking for advice from everyone else. for some reason, I felt that others new better than me + I had not unlocked the power within me yet. that is where the true answers lie IMHO.
Hey Irina, so sad to hear that this is your experience at the moment :( But I am also very optimistic that there is a looot of cool inspiring things ahead of you :)I would suggest to work with this topic on 2 levels, lets call it big picture and little picture :DBig picture would mean to think rrrreally big picture about what kind of life is that you would like to lead, what do you care about, what do you enjoy, what are your values and experiences that you are looking for, what are your strengths and talents. And I mean really big, like at leaast 10 years ahead. And then how does your career fit into that picture of life? What would be meaningful direction for you?These are great questions for self-reflection and they might give you many answers already as soon as you shift into that perspective (and also once you work also on your energy and emotion) - but if you get stuck, might be a good idea to look for help of a coach, a friend, or a structured process to help you with this.(I also facilitate workshops on this topic under the name of Life Design workshop - if you feel like that would be helpful, do get in touch and I will be happy to tell you more. I will be happy to help if you will need ideas and more structured process - but am also confident that you have all the answers and resources within yourself already <3) Now, about the "little picture"... it is really hard (if not impossible) to see that big picture and inspiring perspective when we are in "down" state - when we feel stuck, without resources, not in a dreamy mood, low on energy or in negative emotions... So, I would say before and while working on that "big picture plan", do give yourself time and space to also take care of your emotions and energy!if you can, take a break.If not, still seek to do things that inspire you - spend time with people who inspire you, read books with inspiring stories and inspiring people, follow your small sparks of joy and adventure, perhaps take a small trip somewhere... I know it's hard to get ourselves in a inspiring, flowy state when our job feels like a drain... but working on many small things to get yourself there is what will give you new perspective, new creativity, new ideas, and also belief that more inspiring path is possible.Sending a big hug and positive energy to keep looking for career (and life plan) that will feel truly fulfilling <3