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When your career becomes a fast-track to nowhere

Feeling stressed and exhausted in your job at times is one thing, but when it becomes an unrelenting marathon with no end in sight, then it’s time to re-examine what you’re doing.

Often, the underlying reasons for discontent actually have nothing to do with your job at all. It’s more often about the state of your inner life.

When your outer-life and inner-life are out of synchronisation, it’s time for a re-think about who you are and what you really want, rather than going on the career change merry-go-round.

Running toward something or being chased by something else?

If you find yourself running away from “something,” that “something” has a very unique way of finding you in your next job, and will continue to haunt you if you don’t examine your inner life first, and take some time to learn the lessons.

Career angst can creep up on you when you least expect it, or it could have been an aching or numbing state of yours for some years. The trick is to acknowledge that it exists and then see if you can do anything about it.

The good news is that because it is primarily caused by an inner state as distinct from outer circumstances, you can indeed do something positive about it.

The four stages of the career journey

While largely age-based, these four stages of the career journey can apply to anyone at any age.

The four stages can be represented by archetypes, and was first spoken about by Carl Jung who researched extensively the human and psychological aspects of growth through the years.

Stage One: The Athlete

This stage represents the active and discovery aspects of our career-life. As the athlete prepares for the race, this stage involves preparing the body for career-fitness.

The athlete is preparing for the race and at this stage, it’s all about education and discovering where their particular strengths lie.

So we start as athletes in our career-life, young, enthusiastic, full of hope, and very centered on ourselves, as we learn and discover where our particular path will take us. It’s an exciting period full of opportunity.

Stage Two: The Warrior

This stage represents the competitive and ambitious aspects of our career-life. It is all about climbing the corporate ladder, getting great promotions, and earning as much as can be possibly gained. The key motivators here are status, prestige, power and wealth.

The warrior asks:

  • How much can I get?
  • Who can I defeat?
  • Who am I better than?
  • How much stuff do I have and how do I get more?

This is fine as a stepping stone in the career journey, unless of course, you remain stuck in that stage. In fact, the vast majority of people are indeed stuck in this stage.

This stage often causes the most angst, because there is only so much upward and competitive action you can do before you inevitably:

  • Upset people
  • Get stuck in the acquisition of material wealth and goods for your own sake
  • Become addicted to work for its own sake
  • End up exhausted and jaded
  • Loose sight of what you aimed to achieve in the first place
  • Let activity and earnings override any other purpose for being at work
  • Become an ego-centered person

Stage Three: The Statesman

A smaller, but wiser, percentage of people will grow developmentally through the last two stages to arrive at this stage.

The major shift in this stage is to move from asking what’s in it for me? to what can I do for you? The shift from simply taking to giving back through service is the prime objective.

This does not necessarily mean giving up a corporate role to join a not-for-profit or volunteer for a cause, but is more about a mindset of serving others.

As a leader in an organisation, it means a change in orientation from defeating and beating others to co-operating and collaborating with others. It’s more about WE and less about ME.

Management guru Stephen Covey, said that maturity occurs when we move from dependence, to independence, and then finally to interdependence.

It means seeing things differently and noticing things that were previously ignored through being self-centered. You begin to look for the goodness in others, rather than seeing others as a threat or something to beat along the way.

It turns out, however, that a set of attitudes need not be so set to the extent where being stuck anywhere becomes inevitable.

According to Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, everyone has either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is one in which you view your talents and abilities as… well, fixed.

In other words, you are who you are, your intelligence and talents are fixed, and your fate is to go through life avoiding challenge and failure. This is more likely to keep you stuck in a less mature career stage.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, is one in which you see yourself as fluid, a work in progress. Your fate is one of growth and opportunity which allows you to mature and continue along a new path with a re-definition of success.

Stage Four: The Sage

The final stage is one where you can choose to bring your wisdom to the table. As a sage you impart your wisdom to others through choosing to mentor and coach others so that they too can be successful.

This is the final stage in one’s career growth, and let me stress, very few choose to get to this and the previous stage.

So what do you do if your career is a fast-track to nowhere?

The first step is to recognise where you are in each of the four stages of your career.

Once you acknowledge that, see if you can gently make the shift into the next stage by applying some of the suggested ideas and behaviours into your current role.

Remember, you can make the shift along the career continuum by incorporating these later stages into your current role. You do not need to look outside for a solution unless there is no other reasonable viable alternative.

You will start to discover that your career is no longer a fast-track to nowhere, but can indeed provide numerous opportunities to add greater value to both yourself, others you work with, and your company through a change in mindset.

This creates greater opportunities for bringing meaning and purpose into your career-life.

What career stage are you at?


This is a guest post by Warren Frehse, registered career development practitioner, transition coach, leadership specialist and author. You can follow Warren here.

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