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Career stalled? What to do next

I met Laura at a recent career workshop. After five years in her role as a sales representative, she was starting to feel like her career was stuck in a rut. She loved her company and her coworkers, but lately had begun to feel like she was just going through the motions at work. She wasn’t sure if she needed a new challenge, a new career or something in between.

I meet with clients like Laura all the time — individuals who no longer feel satisfied by their work but aren’t really sure what to do about it. If you feel like your career has stalled, here are three steps to take stock and move forward.

1. Reassess

Think about what’s really at the root of your dissatisfaction. What is it that you want? What’s missing from your current role that would make it better? Perhaps you have specific needs in mind, such as a different schedule, higher salary or a new environment. Maybe it’s something less concrete, like a new challenge or renewed inspiration.

As you reassess, be honest with yourself about how you are doing. If you’re struggling personally or are stressed by a project at work, your professional discontent may be temporary. On the other hand, if you’ve been feeling bored, restless or unhappy at your job for awhile, it may be time to take action.

2. Gather information

If you think you might want to stay in your current job, find out if there are opportunities to take on new projects or responsibilities. If it’s a new job you’re after, or you are thinking of changing careers, research the roles and responsibilities that go along with that position. Talk to those who are currently in the role through an informational interview or do a job shadow to find out if it’s something you’d enjoy.

3. Try something new

Use the information you gathered to develop a plan and act. You don’t need to make a dramatic change to get your career momentum back in full swing. Maybe you take on a volunteer or freelance job to explore a new interest or environment. Perhaps you join a personal or professional organization to grow into your career. Maybe you take a class to master a new skill — even if it’s just for fun. If you are still struggling with next steps, meet with a career professional for additional assistance.

A stalled career doesn’t necessarily mean you need a new job. Sometimes all it takes is a new project, class or organization to rekindle your interest and renew your sense of professional purpose. If you are feeling like a more drastic change is needed, trust your instincts and follow the suggestions above.

April McHugh is a career and education counselor at UW–Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies. She can be reached at This article first appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on March 8, 2020.