Can you relate?  

Your work is no longer challenging, and you are bored at work. You lack motivation and you know that the quality of your work has dropped as a result. Your job no longer aligns with your values. You feel stressed or irritable because of work and it is impacting on your personal life. You feel overwhelmed and overworked yet do not have the time or energy to think through what you want to do about it.  

If your answer is “Yes” to any of these questions, there is a chance you are in career limbo.  


What is career limbo? 

Career limbo is a common dilemma in the world of work. It describes an ongoing sense of stagnation or uncertainty that leads to not feeling fulfilled in your job. In severe cases, being stuck in career limbo can lead to sustained stress levels that impact negatively on health and mental wellbeing.  

Despite being unfulfilled, there are times that an individual may feel they have no choice but to continue working for a company. Reasons for staying can include a fear of searching for a new job, encountering a lack of job opportunities in their field, or the fact they cannot afford the salary drop that starting as a junior in a new career may bring. Or they may really enjoy working with their current team even if the job is boring.  


Here are four common reasons an employee may find themselves stuck in career limbo: 

  • Monotonous routines. Too little work – or the same work daily, without any chance of change – can lead to being underemployed to the degree that it is detrimental to mental wellbeing.  
  • Lack of advancement or challenge. If an employee has no hope of being promoted into a more senior position (no matter how hard they work or how well they do their job) there is every chance they will feel stuck in limbo.  
  • Excessive work with no autonomy. An overwhelming workload where leaders are not giving employees the right level of support or guidance – or an appropriate level of autonomy – can lead to a feeling of hopelessness and being stuck.  
  • General dissatisfaction. Career limbo can be a result of repeated job hopping due to dissatisfaction at various workplaces and a continual quest for something more. 


How to break out of career limbo 

Before you can move forward from being stuck in limbo, you must take stock, decide on where you want to be and then take action. Here, in more detail, are three steps for getting out of limbo:  


1. Identify the cause 

It is essential to get to the root cause of your career limbo and uncover what is hindering your growth and happiness. This will require some introspection – perhaps with the help of a coach or trusted confidante – as it is only when you understand why or how you are stuck that you can plan an effective action strategy to move forward in your job or career. Self-awareness provides the foundation upon which you can begin to transform or refresh your career path. 


2. Set a career objective 

Once you have clarity, you are better equipped to plan to shift your career out of its slump. Even if you only have the short-term future in mind, it is essential to have something concrete to aim for. In the interest of taking the first step, pick one immediate action – no matter how small – that will move you closer to where you want to be in your career. Factoring in your qualifications and interests can help you get a clear idea of what goals you need to set a more satisfying career. Goals could range from gaining a promotion, landing a new job, acquiring a new set of skills, or even a total career change. For example, a person who is feeling stuck in their current role due to a lack of advancement opportunities, could set an objective to pursue further education or training to equip themselves for promotion. 


3. Create career objectives and goals 

Getting out of career limbo may not happen in one step. Setting a series of career goals to reach your objective will entail creating a set of action steps that lead from where you are now to where you want to be – step by step. Be sure to make each of your goals SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-prescribed. Your coach or confidante can hold you accountable for reaching each milestone.  


You may be happy working for your current employer and yet feel like you are marking time in your current position. It could be that you would like to move up the ranks in your current department – or even to be given a chance to switch careers by moving into a different department within the company. Prove yourself by doing an excellent job in your current position and your boss may be extremely happy to keep you in the company by facilitating your growth and promotion within the ranks.  


Here are two important steps to take in order to explore growth and career expansion without having to look for a new job:  

  • Communicate you desire to grow
    Your employer will not know that you are not sufficiently challenged in your current position unless you tell them. If you find yourself bored or under-employed – yet happy in your current work environment – communicate your need to grow with your boss. Regularly ask your manager or team leader for additional responsibilities. Offer to help a colleague who is bogged down with work. Taking on new challenges allows you to test yourself and to prove your capabilities. Consider scheduling a one-on-one meeting to discuss your career growth and get feedback and guidance from your boss.  
  • Develop a growth mindset
    The road to a dynamic, fulfilling career is paved with never-ending learning and personal growth. Choosing to have a growth mindset is a crucial step towards progressing out of career limbo and moving forward in your professional journey. It means you are not taking your current situation as “just the way it is.” In practical terms, reskilling, upskilling, and learning new things could translate to taking short courses to upgrade your skills, attending personal growth workshops, or seeking mentorship within your company to exhibit your desire to grow into handling a more senior position. By embracing a growth mindset, you are acting on your belief in your potential. Find out if there are any additional skills, knowledge or even certifications that would position you for future opportunities. 


Pursue your passion  

If attempting to break out of stagnation in your current job or career has led nowhere, you may be looking for a whole new opportunity. One surefire way of staying in love with your career is to pursue your passion. Identify what brings you joy and strive to incorporate that into your career. This may seem counter-intuitive if you are looking for job stability, especially if it involves changing career paths. However, successfully aligning your career goals with your greatest passion is not just a pathway to potential happiness – it is an effective pathway to fulfillment in your job and career success.  

Over to you for sharing your comments and experiences.

About the Author: Kerstin Jatho

Kerstin is the senior transformational coach and team development facilitator for 4Seeds Consulting. She is also the author of Growing Butterfly Wings, a book on applying positive psychology principles during a lengthy recovery. Her passion is to develop people-centred organisations where people thrive and achieve their potential in the workplace. You can find Kerstin on LinkedIn, Soundcloud, YouTube and Facebook.

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