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Why Your Career Is Going Nowhere (and What to Do About It)

Subhajit Banerjee

May 16, 2020

career going nowhere

Another year passes by with no progress on your career goals.

No remarkable assignments, no recognitions, no promotion.

Nil. Nada.

You feel unnoticed and invisible at work.

You wander about the cubicle bays like a mouse scurrying amongst the nooks and crannies in a maze – hoping, praying even, for someone from “those cubicles” to take notice.

The seats of action – where strategies are discussed, decisions are taken, and deals are made.

You long to be a part of those elites…to have a slice of that pie, a part of that sweet sweet bustle.

You know you deserve to be there. You work hard and always give it your best; you have earned your keep.

But that never happens…

You have started to grow disillusioned and dissatisfied.

The up and coming talent has no problems landing the juicy deals though. You look at them with awe, mixed with an unhealthy dose of jealousy. Resentment has started to creep in.

You feel deprived. You struggle to convince yourself that your work is still valuable enough to take up half of your waking hours.

Unfortunately, even if you’re working your butt off, there’s still a good chance that your career is going nowhere.


You take a deep, hard look at yourself and do some pivots. You are not powerless to change the situation.

To Thine own Self be True

Shakespeare was right on point. You can blame all your woes on the cruel world; It even makes you feel good and righteous.

But it takes you nowhere.

Instead, I implore you to turn your focus inward. Here’s what you need to do…

Create your Impact Inventory

list your impact

Start with what you’re good at.

Every day, you are shaping up your organization and leaving your imprints in the process. Even if your grind feels inconsequential at times.

So acknowledge your expertise and contribution. Create your impact map.

But how do you do that?

Dr. Dawn Graham suggests to create a list of everything that you do:

  • the projects you oversee
  • the applications you build or maintain
  • clients you manage
  • meetings you attend
  • reports you produce
  • knowledge bases you create
  • presentations you give
  • training and mentoring you impart
  • problems you resolve
  • ideas you contribute.

Make it as exhaustive as possible. Do not leave anything out as inconsequential or irrelevant.

Now follow the impact trail of these activities. How do they provide value to your organization?

Next, take it a step even further and find out what makes you unique:

  • Where do you excel?
  • What kind of work makes you feel alive?
  • When do you work best?
  • What causes stress and frustration?

This handy impact inventory will remind you of what you want to remind others.

Get in Sync with Other’s Perceptions

Now that you have your impact inventory mapped, get some feedback – from your peers as well as your bosses.

Do they see you in the same light as you see yourself?

Have they pigeonholed you in your current role, and can’t imagine you doing anything else? Maybe they think you are not capable enough? Do they know about your ambitions?

Do they think you need a different degree of work/life balance than you actually do? Maybe they still see you as the same person you were a few years ago?

These confirmation biases, once placed, are very hard to remove. They cause a vicious cycle. They nudge people to seek out evidence that only reinforces their view – thus keeping you forever sidelined.

Root them out early. Squash ‘em with fresh new evidence that contradicts the bias.

Are you Shooting Yourself in the Foot?

am I to blame?

And now the hardest part.

As Jane Benston advises, find out how you are contributing to your rut. Are you way too focused on the grunt work?

Are you seen as difficult or unapproachable? Do you get defensive when you receive constructive feedback?

Are you assertive enough? Do you know when to say “No”? Or do you overcommit and then fail to deliver?

Are you always whining or playing the victim? Or worse yet, are you the one gossiping about your team, your management, or your company? Gossip always comes back to bite you.

Or maybe you are just not as good as you thought? Maybe you’ve never played in the big leagues until now and had an inflated sense of your ability?

I can almost hear you thinking:

‘Stop bombarding me with these uncomfortable questions!’

And I agree with you. These are hard, uncomfortable questions.

But what would you prefer? The momentary discomfit of facing them, or the agony of a dead-end career?

Thought so.

The good news: the preflight rundown is over, so let’s get you flying.

But why me’, you say? ‘Why can’t the world be fairer and notice the efforts I’m putting forth?

Like it or Not, You are at the Helm

Because it matters more to you than anyone else. As May Busch argues, no one else has nearly the incentive; no one gives as much a damn.

They are unaware, preoccupied, and distracted. They have their own career to build, and their own path to follow. Better jump in their trajectory, and grow along with them.

You can take the easy way out and try a fresh start at a different organization. But if you haven’t learned and grown, then your problems will follow you.

You can leave your company, but you can’t leave yourself behind.

What can you do about it?

Here’s what you need to do…

Set the Trajectory in Motion

Susan Ritchie suggests figuring out a key influencer or a decision-maker, who doesn’t understand you but needs to. That person is your key; aim to change their perception so that they see you in a different light.


Look for opportunities to raise your visibility and profile around them. Understand what their priorities are and help them achieve them.

This would be the centerpiece of your strategy.

Show up in a Fluorescent Vest

stand out in a crowd

But that’s only one part of the solution. Do you want to stop being overlooked? Then no more blending in.

Putting your head down and working hard hasn’t helped you reach your goal. Now it’s time to get out and have some fun.

How do you do that?

Become visible. Disrupt the status quo. Stand out.

Make time for some coffee. Connect in person. That’s where most of the strategic relationships are built anyway.

And don’t forget the company events. They are a goldmine for making meaningful connections.

Rile up Your Vocal Cords

Do not treat your career aspirations like your favorite Spongebob boxers (rock’em man, don’t let anyone judge you). They are not to be kept hushed up so that only a trusted few know they even exist.

Voice them out. Your manager can’t read your mind. He will assume that you’re content where you are.

Take it a step further and ask yourself: “What skills should I develop to take myself to the next level?” Ask your manager for feedback, then listen and absorb it.

Go plant these seeds today. Don’t wait until your annual review to share your ideas. Your manager has a much broader view of opportunities than you have.

Ask and you will be surprised at what doors open up.

Get out of that Comfy Chair

out of comfort zone

I get it – you’re good at what you do. But if you stick only to that, you remain confined.

Here’s the big secret…the way to growth lies just outside of your comfort zone.

So take on that challenging project. Scrap that old approach and try something new. Speak up and share your ideas during your next meeting.

Raise your hand for the difficult assignments, instead of losing eye contact and feigning interest in your notes. You’ll find less competition here because 9 out of 10 people won’t do that. Become the “go-to person” for things that matter.

Look out for projects and opportunities that are plumb in the middle of the organization’s strategic interests. When these present themselves, pounce on them as Timon pounces on a grub.

Remember that key influencer you identified? Find out their favorite watering hole, and crash that party. Show up with an idea, and make that a habit.

Feels too scary? Think about what’s on the line. A lifetime worth of resentment and frustration at the same work desk.

Does any momentary fear hold up against that?

And do you know the best part?

People want to be disrupted; to be presented with a fresh angle with boldness. They like to work with, do business with, and spend time with individuals they find interesting, interested, and upbeat.

Go be that person.

Find Diplomatic Ways to Toot Your Own Horn.

toot your horn

Demonstrating your skills is not enough – you need to declare yourself.

Let people know what is important to you, what you aspire to, and what you are working on.

Learn how to articulate your strengths with confidence. Are you that guy who is always self-deprecating, deflecting even valid praise? Cut that crap out now.

Don’t get me wrong – humility is a good thing. But you are here to prove your strength and authority – so be concise and compelling while you do that.

Develop the mindset and the skills for assertive communication. Don’t come off either as an aggressive jerk or a complete pushover.

If your above-par efforts are still going unsung, go talk to your boss. Take that impact inventory along with you (get to working on it first if you still have not). Share your accomplishments and results.

That feels too sleazy and sales-y?

But it doesn’t have to be blatant self-promotion. Present it as something informational – a status report with a list of your and your team’s recent achievements – just to keep your department updated on what’s happening.

Be creative, and to quote Rebecca Knight, never be ashamed to toot your own horn. You owe it to yourself.

Be the Phil Jackson for Your Team

professional mentor

The easiest way to get respect and get noticed is to give respect and to praise and appreciate others. But sadly, very few people realize that.

But that’s what makes it so amazing, right?

You can easily set yourself apart by praising your co-workers publicly.

Promote your team. Make sure to spread, not hoard, credit when it’s due. But don’t be afraid to tout your leadership.

As Amanda Berlin suggests, nurture those around you to bring out the best in them. Loop a less-experienced colleague in on a project that’ll enhance his or her skill set.

These small moments send a powerful message about your confidence level.

Be the person who notices a job well done, and you can be the “agent of change” in your organization’s culture.

Know When it’s Time to Cut Yourself Loose

But even if you do everything I said, the outcome is not always as expected.

You’ll still need to know when your efforts are not worth it and you need to let go.

How do you evaluate that?

If you have given it your best shot, but continue to feel that your career is going nowhere, it’s not the right place for you.

Do You Want a Career That’s Thriving or Just Barely Surviving?

thriving career

Being unnoticed and invisible at work feels terrible. It eats away at your soul, undermining your self-worth.

Remember, hard work is necessary for your career growth, but it’s not enough. You must understand that only you can do something about it.

Set some strategies in place, become visible and vocal, and stretch out of your comfort zone. Be assertive while promoting yourself and your team.

Stop waiting for others to take notice of you; that might take forever – if it ever happens.

Instead, imagine how amazing it’s going to feel when you see that your hard work has set the wheels in motion.

When you finally:

  • Land juicy assignments
  • Receive tons of recognition
  • Get that promotion you deserve

No more disillusion and dissatisfaction. No more feeling perplexed, deprived, or resentful. And no more wondering whether you have what it takes!

You will be in control, with the power, and confidence to come out of this rut in your career. You will feel empowered to create a roadmap towards more career satisfaction.

So if you haven’t prepared your impact inventory yet, do that right away. Don’t wait!

Get some feedback and know where you stand. Then identify an area that you need to work on and clock in the efforts.

Remember, if it feels uncomfortable, hard, or even scary then you’re on the right track.

Good luck! You got this!