Over the years, I've found myself in several less than ideal roles. For some reason, I felt alone in this plight. But, I've since realized this could not have been further from the truth. In fact, it is not uncommon to find ourselves in a role or an organization or both — that are not adequately aligned with our career goals. Indeed, no role is perfect. However, what if it becomes crystal clear that the fit just doesn't seem to be there? (More about 6 signs of a poor fit here.) We can't simply pick up and leave — and in most cases no one would advise this. So, the looming question then becomes: What should you do while waiting for your next (and hopefully improved) opportunity?
Consider Jamie, an experienced professional who has re-entered an industry after a few years on the sidelines. The organization she recently joined is not fully aligned with the experience she amassed in her core sector and she is feels incredibly challenged to keep up with the daunting learning curve. She knew that this first step back into full-time work wasn't going to be perfect a fit. However, the daily stress is challenging her resolve to stick with things for the longer haul. She knows this step is crucial one, but feels she is quickly fading.
Of course, a poor fit isn't reserved for seasoned professionals.
Jessica, a recent university graduate, entered the world of work with high expectations concerning what she might accomplish in her first year on the job. Active in clubs and organizations related to both her training and intended path she enjoyed a high level of both autonomy and respect. However, in her new world of work — she is faced with the challenge of proving herself once again. Her manager clearly isn't open to new ideas from a less established employee and she is struggling to gain meeting invites. Frustrated and dejected, she toys with the idea of moving on to greener pastures.
Both situations are common — and potentially devastating. Having a heart-to-heart with yourself is often number one on the agenda. On some level, you must embrace the fact that this happens to many contributors and does eventually resolve.
Jill Katz Founder & CHRO at Assemble HR Consulting, shares this advice: "You would be surprised how often people feel stuck in their own role". Jill who has led HR for several brands, including Macy's and Calvin Klein continues, " As we move into a world where personal and professional goals are blending — it is more important to get in touch with what we want — how to get it and how to manage the interim. One critical strategy is to be highly candid with a direct supervisor during the interview process and every week thereafter, to ensure the communication is fluid and open. More than not, these frustrations correlate with this process not occurring."
In most cases, a combination of strategies can help us move forward effectively.
Here are a few to consider:
- Get real. Expectations can be a real bear to deal with, especially when you've over-extended an idealized vision of the near future. If you've realized that you miscalculated a role's potential or there were promises made that couldn't possibly be met, you may find that a "come to reality" discussion with yourself may be in order. Clarify what you can — and cannot — accomplish career-wise in this role and emphasize the positives. Look for "smalls wins" that will feed your workplace soul.
- Chill & give it time. Being impetuous is not a great virtue within the broader context of a career plan. If you are new to a role or organization, for example, give things at least 3-4 months to establish. This allows time to gain an understanding about the ways things work and for your manager and colleagues to learn your strengths. A career is not like microwaveable popcorn — things take time. If you've been with an organization for a time, you know how things can change and things can resolve for the better.
- Look for an inspiring project. Organization work on many fronts. Seek a project with an inspiring mission, that might help build your connection to the organization and those within it. Exclusively focusing on work that you do not connect with, is a miserable experience.
- Glean what you can. If you can't move into the right role, make a commitment to learn something valuable. For example, you could seek inspiring individuals that might contribute to your development. There may be a colleague well-versed in a skill or knowledge realm, that would be advantageous to you and your career.
- Take the time to focus on people. Forming connections with colleagues can carry you a great distance. Jill points out that "Regardless of the subject matter, building relationships will always help to drive a career forward. In moments of stand-still, maximize relationships, get to know others on a more human level by offering time and assistance. This will pay off in the end when new teams are formed and new opportunities become open in the future." These formed bonds could carry you through a difficult impasse.
- If all else fails, consider short-term "survival" goals. If you find yourself barely hanging on, setting shorter-term goals can help. If you are overwhelmed or have lost your patience, focus on getting through the week. Then the next week. Thinking longer-term may be counter-productive.
Being in a less than perfect role, doesn't necessarily mean that you cannot continue to move forward. It simply means that you must change the lens — and utilize the time in front of you in ways that you may have not previously expected.
Of course, I'm hoping that a better fit is right ahead of you.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.