Getting your career unstuck

Being stuck in your career is no fun. Getting yourself out of a role or an organisation that’s just not you can feel impossible. If you start to follow the ‘Six Laws of Holes’ there’s hope and a bright future waiting.

Let me tell you about Kate

Kate was a great. She was a real asset to her company. She repeatedly delivered and delivered and delivered. But her organisation didn’t appreciate her. They took her loyalty for granted and as long as she continued to pull the fat out of the fire they let her carry on doing it. It wasn’t that they were calculating about it, they just didn’t notice her hard work, nor did they care. They just let her keep working overtime and giving up her weekends. No one from senior management, let alone her boss, ever acknowledged the effort, energy and extra she was putting in.

And so Kate became increasingly demoralised, withdrawn and depressed. She was well and truly stuck in her career. She needed and wanted to work, but the business she was working for just kept on taking and taking.

Feeling like this is no fun. You don’t know what to do or where to turn. Most people either try to soldier on, or they start conjuring up increasingly desperate or dramatic ways to resolve the situation like: /I’m going to march into my boss’s office and resign – that’ll show him he can’t run this department without me!’

So how can you get yourself unstuck?

In 1983 British politician, Dennis Healey coined what he termed the First Law of Holes: ‘If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.’

So, in the interests of anyone who finds himself or herself stuck in a career hole, we offer you more Laws of Holes, to help you extricate yourself from difficult situations.

  • The First Law of Holes. ‘If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.’
    In career hole terms this means shifting your mindset and realising that you have to get out of this situation and fast. You have to stop expecting that someone is going to recognise the great job you’re doing and give you the promotion/ pay/ praise you’ve been waiting for. Because they won’t. Why? Well, that’s all due to the Second Law of Holes…
  • The Second Law of Holes. ‘No one cares about you, so you might as well start looking after yourself.’ In career terms, no one has as much interest in you and your professional well-being and success as you. So you’d better start investing your time and energy in a profession or place where you can thrive. Start taking your working life seriously and devote yourself to finding a gratifying career.
  • The Third Law of Holes. ‘Focusing your attention on getting out of the hole is the best option there is.’ So, once you’ve stopped digging, and realised you’re the only person who can fire up your career, you need a strategy to get you out of the hole. Or in the words of Richard Rumelt in his book Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, you need to ‘specify how you will focus… resources to respond to a challenge and move forward.’
  • The Fourth Law of Holes. ‘Few people manage to get out of holes by themselves.’ Even the best of us need help either to conceive of a possible strategy, or to implement it.
  • The Fifth Law of Holes. ‘Everyone needs help and support when they’re trying to think beyond the limits of their current reality.’ When you’re stuck in a hole, all you can see is the small circle of light above. That’s why you need someone to keep reminding you that, in fact, there’s a whole world out there. That’s when working with a coach can help. It’s a relationship that provides you with a cheerleader and a sounding board. Someone who will encourage you to think big, explore your options and help you to recognise that you can and will create something better for yourself.
  • The Sixth Law of Holes. ‘While dreaming and imagining alternatives gets you out of the conceptual hole, it’s doing something and being proactive, that gets you out of the hole in reality.’ So, once you’ve begun to see other avenues you could pursue, you have to create a practical road map that’ll take you there. As Rishard Rumelt says about good strategy: ’Strategy is about action, about doing something. The kernel of a strategy must contain an action… to have punch, actions should coordinate and build upon one another, focusing [your] energy’.

Of course, there are other ‘laws of holes’. Famously and ironically, George W. Bush was said to have favoured the following laws of holes: ‘When you find yourself inside of one, deny that you are in a hole!’ and ‘When you find yourself inside of one, keep digging!’

If you think you’re stuck in a career hole then you can extricate yourself by following the Six Laws of Holes outlined here, or continue to stagnate and let inertia keep you where you are. Alternatively, you can take a practical step forward and just follow the first law, which says, ‘Stop digging…’