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You may have started the year with a healthy dose of optimism, and intentions to not let the pandemic derail your 2021 career goals. Yet here we are racing towards the end of yet another challenging year, filled with uncertainties fueled by endless shifts in lockdown levels, unpredictable work environment, and the constant barrage of Covid-19 obituaries.

There’s no doubt this second year of pandemic working has taken its toll on even the most resilient of us. However, the reality of its presence remains for the foreseeable future.

What proverbial walls have you built up over the past two years or more in the name of survival? How do you ensure that you do not lose another year of just coasting and potentially plunging into a long bout of career stagnation?

The Oxford language dictionary defines the word stagnation as the state of not flowing or moving or a lack of activity, growth, or development.  

It’s important to note that every person experiences a career lull or two, there are ebbs and flow to every career path. But there’s a huge difference between a career lull and stagnation. Career stagnation will have you feeling like you’re stuck on a hamster wheel going nowhere. 

For us to figure out whether we are experiencing a career lull or stagnation, it’s essential that we set aside a chunk of time to: 

  • Firstly just breathe and acknowledge all that you have endured in this year while also taking care of house and home, not to mention your professional responsibilities!
  • Secondly, to zone in and honestly reflect on the year that was careerwise. 
  • Thirdly, to intentionally map a pathway out of career stagnation into purpose and fulfilment. When was the last time you sat and recalibrated your career path?

With over 15 years of experience, Industrial Psychologist Ashley Motene defines career stagnation for us and talks us through the pitfalls of career stagnation and Executive and Career Coach Vumile Msweli, will give us pointers on how to overcome career stagnation and thrive, on this career Tuesday.

Here’s how our conversation with Ashley Motene unfolded… 

Q. What is Career Stagnation?

Career stagnation happens when you lose touch with what fulfils you and gives you energy in your career. People often associate career stagnation with being stuck in the same work role, career field, or income bracket for years. However, one can still experience career stagnation even if you have kept busy, have held a lot of different positions, or experienced numerous career paths.  

What Career Stagnation Can Look Like Daily Is :

It looks like prolonged periods of dissatisfaction with the progress or richness of your career, regardless of how much you are earning or how great your team is.  

Sometimes what others may see as a fantastic work opportunity might not feel like it’s adding meaning or growth to your life. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you try to psyche yourself up, the nagging disconnect between: 

  1. Your efforts. 
  1. The energy you expend on your career.  
  1. What you wished you did more of, grows louder. Usually what follows is less of a desire to pursue those New Year’s resolutions that look less appealing, the more your motivation dwindles. You may even be discouraged by how easily you have decided to postpone the plans you had for your career this year. 

Q. How can one identify if there are internal proverbial walls causing stagnation?

Whilst it’s easy to look back on another year with this rough experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and wish for the year to just end, have you taken the opportunity to slow down and cast a new simpler vision for your career?

Whilst many have lost livelihood and income, is it enough to just “be grateful that you still have a job” or “grateful that you are still alive?’’

Dr Maya Angelou once said, “Have a purpose to your life: Purpose does not mean having a job…you can have a job and still be unfulfilled.

Q. How can one tear down their proverbial walls? Can you please give us some pointers? 

One way is to perhaps review your career plans and personal growth every few months and not just once a year, and perhaps even adopt the Japanese concept of IKIGAI which means “a reason for being” or ensuring that your career is purposefully driven by your “WHY?”; staying true to yourself and honouring what is valuable to you. Ask yourself the following questions that clinical psychologist, Akihiro Hasegawa, drew from the concept of IKIGAI:

  1. What do you love? 
  1. What are you good at? 
  1. What does the world need from you? 
  1. What can you get paid for?

Q. Can and does career stagnation impact one’s life beyond their professional life? 

Yes, it can. The moment you stop honouring what your life and this world is uniquely needing from you, it can set off an imbalance in your personal life with your career being a big part of your frustration with life. 

A growing career has a combination of paid work, community work, hobbies, passions, and work opportunities that allow you to contribute your work efforts through your unique self with your various abilities, inborn skills, learnt skills, competencies, personality preferences, values, interests, strengths and development areas. In addressing your career stagnation, spend more time getting to know yourself again and the parts of you that you have betrayed by not pursuing your passions and honouring your interests.

Q. What advice would you give a new client battling to overcome career stagnation? 

Never assume that your career is what you get paid to do only. Life is not a straight line so don’t try to make your career grow in one direction whilst ignoring your passions. Brave the unknown and be hopeful that your effort will be to your benefit and others’ too in the future. 

Career stagnation can happen to the best of us but with intentionality and support, we can overcome our stagnation and thrive! 

“If an individual is battling with career stagnation, I would advise that they get professional help from a career coach, who can help support them on the journey to a more engaging career,” adds Vumile Msweli. 

Here are 3 key steps to overcoming career stagnation from Msweli. 

  1. Analyse the journey from being engaged in one’s work to stagnation. Ask yourself, What has changed? What needs to be reverted for me to overcome my career stagnation? 
  1. Master the art of building relationships that effectively challenge you. As the old saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. Do you want to be purposeful and fulfilled? Find your tribe.
  1. Leverage technology and education to ensure that you are up to date with the trends and latest knowledge in your chosen profession. 

Sometimes learning about the new technological advancements in my chosen career path geeks me out enough to feel like I’ve accomplished something despite the progression having nothing to do with me but it’s a collective sense of progression. Like we all accomplished something. Ultimately intentionality is the name of the game.

“Intentionality is a critical pillar in building a career that is growing and thriving. Having a clear career strategy, and a team of people dedicated to supporting you in your career,” Msweli concludes. 

For more golden career nuggets from Msweli, check out this Insta Live edition of ‘The Sitdown’  with our CEO and host Olwethu Leshabane.