The Impasse

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Sometimes it is only when the status quo becomes intolerable that change happens.” – G. Richard Shell 

You have jumped through hoops throughout your life – finished school, got a job, started a business and hired people.  Yet in the background you know that you have hit an impasse.  The impasse is the time when the energy and enjoyment has left your life.  No longer do you wake up with a clear vision of what you are supposed to do, instead you are lost.

Impasse – Stuck, stale, unchallenged, not progressing and bored

Timothy Butler in his book “Getting Unstuck” outlines a common cycle many individuals go through in their career.  Typically, what happens during the impasse is that we ‘muscle through’ and find a way vs. reflecting.  Often times the central themes of the impasse re-emerge and you find yourself in the impasse cycle again.

The career gurus outline several suggestions to attack the impasse –

1.) Clarify Your Cause– (Timothy Butler) Butler suggests we need to spend more time clarifying our vision and seek to outline the significant energizing events in our work that brought us forward in our career.  Those are the moments when your energy was extremely high, the outcomes were exceptional and you were in flow.

Instead of rationalizing your current reality and staying the course, pause and reflect on your career vision.  Butler suggests that unresolved issues do not go anywhere. Instead they return with greater tenacity than ever when we choose to muscle through.

2.) Joy, Flow and Money- (Chris Guillebeau) This career triumvirate outlines the essentials for a great job.  You need to have joy when you do your work.  Have a sense of flow in the midst of it – i.e you are skilled at it & get paid to do it.  When it comes to joy – if you are not sure if you like your work then you probably don’t.   You really need all three in your life to have hit what Chris calls – “The Career Jackpot”

3.) Fundamental Reasons vs. Instrumental Reasons –  (Dan Pink) We often make decisions in our career because of fundamental reasons.  We assume that if we get an MBA then this will lead to career success and happiness.  Pink suggests that we need to make more decisions for instrumental reasons, which are made because they are important to us.

4.) Interests Matter –  We tend to gain skill in the activities that we enjoy.  If you are in a position, where the subject matter or the industry is not of interest you may need to take on some internal projects that are outside the scope of your role.  This will allow you to explore, while maintaining your current position. As you inventory your work, consider the items that are of interest to you.

5.) Be Caused vs. Caused Upon- Having a cause is about waking up each morning with a sense of direction or vision vs. catering to the cause of another.   The later is not bad it just may not be sustainable.  Identify your cause as this will provide information on what direction you ought pursue.

Career Suggestions –

1.) Career Audit-  Outline the “Top 10” moments of your work history.  This includes the moments that you had great energy, created great outcomes, were around great people and you sensed that you had skill at what you were doing.

2.) Informal 360- Identify 5 previous co-workers, clients or business partners that would be willing to give you candid feedback on your work.  Simply send them an email asking them to give you some feedback on your work.

Here are a few sample questions:

  • When have you seen me at my best?
  • What have been times when you have seen me at my worst?
  • Describe an example of a time when you experienced a great outcome from something I was involved with.

3.) Visualization Exercise- This image gathering exercise can be helpful to uncover moments in your career, when you were in work heaven.   It is best used in conjunction with Dr. Butler’s book “Getting Unstuck” – but I believe you can do the exercise without having the book as a guide.

4.) Career Leader Assessment –  This is one of the best career assessments out there.  The data created is very helpful in confirming your areas of interest and connects them with actual job titles.

5.) Exploration Interviews –  During my time of career impasse, I was intentional about interviewing people in occupations of interest to learn more about what they did and how they got into that work.

Humans are wired to stay the course, which is also known as homeostasis.  It will take courage to move toward lasting change that will better yourself and the business world.