I have a confession to make.
Several weeks ago, it dawned on me that I was in a career rut.
Truthfully, I’d been in it for quite a while, I just wasn’t willing to admit it. Yep, the person who is supposed to help people get out of their career rut, had fallen into her own.
Everything was going extremely well in my business and at the same time, I felt restless and unmotivated. From the outside, it might have looked like I was doing fine but on the inside, I felt incredibly frustrated, confused, and aimless.
Turns out, this “rut” was exactly what I needed to reconnect with my work, with myself, and the people I love serving. I had to take a step back and diagnose what was going on. And then it hit me!
I’d reached a level of mastery.
To be clear, I’m not saying that I’ve mastered helping people find career fulfillment (ha…that would be like saying I’d cured cancer) but rather I was seeing great success with my approach with clients but began relying on it so much that I stopped pushing outside my comfort zone and trying out new things. I let the confidence in my abilities create stagnation.
It’s human nature to want to reach mastery in the things we’re passionate about and intrigued by. Nothing feels better than to reach that state of supreme competence. It takes hard work and the payoff feels fantastic!
Or at least it does for a while… and then it wears off.
In the “knowing” (AKA mastery), there is little room for learning or growth.
What if becoming an expert isn’t the point; rather it’s the journey to mastery that enables growth, an energized state, and a heightened sense of possibility and success?
Maslow’s “Stages for Learning” is what made it all click for me. You're probably already familiar with it but here it is for reference:
This is how it played out for me.
When I first started my business, I was scared shitless. Simultaneously, it was terrifying and exhilarating and I busted my hump trying to figure it all out as quickly as possible. There was so much to do. I had to learn how to put a website together, market and brand myself, create service offerings, determine pricing, and the list goes on. Lots of work, not tons of payoff initially.
Once I got those pieces in place and was in my second year of business, I still felt like a novice but the more clients I worked with, the more creative and resourceful I became. I took classes to bolster my coaching abilities, launched a workshop on a topic I was passionate about, began doing more public speaking, and actually began to enjoy marketing. I hadn’t had this much fun in a long time!
By year three, I felt proud of the progress I made, the foundation I’d built, and my solid track record. Everything was going so well, it seemed crazy to change it, so I didn’t. I was still enjoying working with all of my clients, but before long, it felt like my internal fire had been snuffed out. To a certain degree, I had reached mastery in what I was currently doing. I fell into “autopilot” mode.
Having no internal fire is a serious bummer. It’s a sure sign there’s a yearning that isn’t being attended to. The comfort zone of mastery can be a great place to hide.
Now, let’s focus on you for a minute. Think back to a time when you were not exactly sure how to do something and you were excited about figuring it out. Perhaps, you were given a stretch assignment, you took a new job that was bit over your head, or switched to a completely different role or industry? It could even be something you wanted to master for yourself personally.
What did it feel like when you were first starting out?
What about once you began to get a handle on it?
What did it stimulate and bring out in you? How would you describe your motivation level?
Take a few moments to sink into that experience.
Was there a point where you stopped learning and were simply doing? How long did it take to get there? How did it feel then?
Continuously, throughout our career, the key is to notice when the enjoyment of mastery has worn off and you’ve gone into autopilot mode. This is the time to ask yourself what you’re yearning to stretch into and then begin seeking out ways to make that happen. It could be reading a book, taking a class, hiring a coach, asking for a new project or role, or something as liberating as switching careers.
Take action by expanding into something unknown. Start a new journey towards something that will stretch you to the next level. You know you can do it. You’ve done it before and you can do it again!
Whether you’re feeling stagnant or restless now or think it’s right around the bend, I encourage you to be selfish in deciding what you want to master next. Make it all about what turns you on and sparks your imagination, creativity, and curiosity. Inevitably, your thirst for learning and growth will open up alternative pathways with new possibilities.
What’s one thing you could get the ball rolling in learning tomorrow? What’s calling to you? What are you so darn curious about?
If you hear yourself saying, “I should learn X or I should gain more expertise in Y”, then don’t do it. Let’s go for a thought that begins with “I really want to learn X.”
Seek out something that you are consciously incompetent in and enjoy the ride to mastery. Then, do it all over again once the afterglow of mastery has worn off. Keep this up and you’ll never be bored again and will keep raising your game.
P.S. I’m going to practice what I preach. You can expect to see new offerings from me in 2015. I’ve begun developing new ideas and plunging into the discomfort of not knowing exactly how to do them. The autopilot button has definitely been switched off. Yay!