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How to Get Unstuck In Your Career

How to Get Unstuck In Your Career

For the vast majority of us, job transition—whether by choice or involuntary—is a fact of life.

We transition positions, or get laid off, or jump from job to job, not quite sure what we’re looking for. This reality is particularly true for the current generation of young professionals: According to the “Multiple Generations @ Work” study from Future Workplace, 91 percent of millennials have the expectation that they will stay at their job for less than three years.

After going through a major job transition himself, Jon Acuff decided to write a book helping people navigate such transitions. We talked to him about that book, called Do Over, and how to take the first steps in a job change, pursue dreams and find a job that you love.

What inspired you to write Do Over?

I wrote it because I needed it. I went through the biggest career transition I have in 16 years of working in corporate America.

I realized there are a lot of people going through career transition. A lot of us spend 18 years getting ready for college, and then we graduate, and the next thing we get ready for is death and retirement.

We’ve bought into this cultural lie that a job’s just a job. We eat at TGI Fridays, not TGI Mondays. But if you’re going to work for 40-60 hours a week for 40 years, it should matter.

What are some of the things preventing young people from making healthy job transitions?

It’s simple things. Even just being present—that’s going to be a game-changer. Your ability to not be on your phone and lost in a meeting is a game-changer.

We’ve all been in meetings where somebody texts under the table like we can’t see them. Above the table: so rude. Below it: they’re under some sort of Harry Potter invisibility cloak.

You know, the American economy loses $6.5 billion dollars of revenue during the 15-week fantasy football season. I’m not against fantasy football, but there are so many little things like that that matter.

Sometimes, just going to a millennial and going, “When you say to me, how dare my boss tell me to move my lunch hour or do these things!? … Well actually, they’re 100% of the people who get to tell you to do that because they pay 100% of your check, and that’s OK.”

You’re not going to get your dream job at 23. I hope you don’t. You wouldn’t even know how to appreciate it. Your first job’s job is to teach you how to have a job. You traded 3 months of vacation for 8 days a year—that’s a transition, so let’s figure out how to work through that.

I think there are a lot of things that millennials can do that are pretty simple. But there’s also 39-year-olds that have that same kind of attitude. And I think millennials unfairly get labeled as entitled and kind of lazy, and I don’t think that’s the case especially if you work hard.

Young adults typically go through about seven different jobs in their twenties. Why do you think that is?

One of the transitions we all hit is called a ceiling—where you get stuck. Maybe you come to the end of a ladder.

I think we’ve bought into the idea that the moment you hit a ceiling you should just quit. You should just leave. We forget that there are a lot of great opportunities within the same company that we can explore.

Right now, we kind of have this over glorification of the entrepreneur. So there’s this sense of guilt, like, if you’re at a big company and you’re not starting your own thing, you’re not really chasing a dream. But if 70 percent of Americans don’t like their job, then not all of them are supposed to be small business owners. You can do amazing work as part of a big company.

I think that’s part of it, when we hit our first ceiling, we go, “It’s this place. It’s their fault.” I worked in corporate America for 15 years, and I blamed my bosses for holding me back until I got out. And working on my own, realized I was the one holding me back. It was like all the sudden this sense of, “Oh, remember all those things you said you would do if nobody was holding you back? Well now you don’t have a boss, let’s see you do them.”

It was really overwhelming to realize, “Oh wait, that was me and not somebody else.”

Another thing is, it’s not your company’s job for you to have a good job. That’s your job. That’s your responsibility.

What are some good first steps for people who are in that rut of doing what they don’t want to do? What’s the first step they can take to get to a different place down the road?

There are two really easy ones. Get some good advice from a smart friend. We all have that one friend who’s just as much of an idiot as we are, who will tell us, “Yes, start the ferret farm! People love ferrets!” They’ll just wildly support anything we’re going to do.

Don’t talk to that friend. Talk to the friend who is 10 years ahead of you and goes, “I was in the same place, and I thought these 10 things mattered, but these are the only things that do.”

The second thing is, learn new skills. It’s impossible to get stuck somewhere old if you keep learning something new. The way to break through a ceiling is to learn something new. For me, right now, I asked a room full of high schoolers, “Who here reads blogs?” And not a single one of them raised their hand. As a blogger, that was good information for me to know.

I said, “Well, what do you do?” They said, “We’re all on Snapchat.” I don’t want to get on Snapchat. I honestly don’t want to, but if I’m going to stay relevant with this conversation with high schoolers who turn into college students who turn into employees, then I might need to develop that skill and know how to do that. So talking somebody who is further down the road than you and learning something new are great ways to get unstuck.

Editor’s note: This interview was edited for length.

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