The Most Frequent Cause of Career Plateaus and How to Prevent It

Photo Credit: rawpixel on Unsplash

Photo Credit: rawpixel on Unsplash

Over the course of your career, the pursuit of reaching your full potential never ends. Meaningful careers are a labor of love, and the work to better oneself and keep moving forward should always be present. A career full of promotions and accolades often requires balancing your strengths with challenges that force yourself outside your comfort zone. However, when you feel like progressing (e.g. moving up or accomplishing significant feats) is not realistic, it’s likely because your career lacks this balance, and you may be headed toward a career plateau.

So How Did You Find Yourself In A Career Plateau?

Many of my clients at Blueprintgreen that are experiencing career plateaus feel fear in some form. Sometimes the fear of failure stops them from trying new things or going after new opportunities. Other times, they fear being seen as an imposter, and so they stick closely to areas in which they are abundantly comfortable. Perhaps they’ve recently received professional criticism, and worry everyone thinks they’re bad at their job. For others, work stress consumes them to the point that they don’t know how to handle it.

In these cases, I’ve learned fearing negative outcomes alters your mindset, and you start to assume all future professional outcomes will be negative. When this happens, you tend to stop taking risks, become resistant to change, or avoid situations that could challenge you. In other words, you get stuck.

While fear and lack of confidence might be internal factors that cause a career plateau there are other career plateau types. For example, you might experience a plateau from external forces, such as a lack of higher positions or senior management that has been in place for so long without likelihood of turnover. Whatever the cause, when mobility seems challenging and obstacle-ridden, it’s important to find ways to get unstuck.

The Most Frequent Cause of Career Plateaus and How to Prevent It

If you’re currently feeling stuck in your career or see yourself headed toward a career plateau, you can fix it in a way that best aligns with your goals. The following tips will help you re-engage in career growth on your terms.

1. Professional Development

Assess the skills you have and determine if you need to acquire additional expertise to advance. Use this time to enroll in trainings offered by your industry’s professional organizations or your company. Consider certifications in new or changing areas to show you’re committed to staying relevant and informed. Attend seminars and conferences—your organization might even subsidize the cost of these programs. Strive to build the breadth and depth of your knowledge to become an expert in a particular area.

2. Move Laterally & Take on More Responsibility

Create new opportunities and positions for yourself. Just because your company has a defined career path doesn’t mean you have to follow it. If you see an opportunity to add value that is missing, fill that need. Maximize your contribution by creating goals for yourself within this new role. Taking initiative and stepping in to solve problems goes a long way. You can also consider taking your skills outside your company by taking on leadership in your professional association, teaching classes in your field, or volunteering your skills at a volunteer organization.

3. Build Your Network

Attend networking events to grow your professional connections. Use LinkedIn to connect and communicate with like-minded individuals. Once you’ve added these people to your network, nurture and maintain the relationships—it could be as simple as thoughtfully commenting on  their posts or sending them a congratulatory email when they achieve something big. Also reach out to individuals you admire and explore how they’ve progressed along their path. Chances are, it wasn’t exactly linear. Their input can help you determine your next steps.

4. Move On

If you feel like you’ve exhausted your possibilities for career growth and movement at your current organization, look elsewhere. This is a great time to refresh your resume, evaluate your skills, and tap your network. If you don’t think you can feel satisfied by staying, find (or create) someplace new that will help you fulfill your goals.

5. Meet With a Career Coach

Consider consulting a career coach or other qualified professional to get an unbiased perspective as well as assistance reorienting your attitude and creating an action plan for your career. Noticing you've drifted into a fear-based or fixed mindset is a key first step to overcoming a career plateau. The next step is is exploring and breaking the pattern of fear-based actions when the opportunity to do so strikes. Eventually, you can shift to a growth-focused mindset and get back to performing well and tackling new challenges with confidence.

If you’re in or moving toward a career plateau, schedule a free 45-minute consultation so we can talk about your situation and determine the best course of action.