Are you in Career Drift?


Imagine you are sailing a fine sailing boat towards a beautiful island. Conditions are not always perfect, but you do your best to navigate, and often have to tack back and forth to continue to get to your destination. Factors interfere, such as storms, wind and currents but you navigate your way through these and steer the path.

Now let’s imagine one day you decide to just let the boat drift a bit and see what happens. The next day you do the same. And again the next day, and so on. Before you know it you have drifted far off course and many days have passed…

Now translate this to your career

Often we are doing our best to work somewhere that brings us a sense of satisfaction and reward. Many of us will encounter turbulent times: restructures, mergers, business politics and so forth. Successfully managing our career through these can be tough but also very rewarding.

Then sometimes, for whatever reason, we stop thinking and caring about our careers and where we are heading, and we drift.

We drift sometimes for years. It’s almost like we are no longer deliberately managing our careers, we are just getting up each morning and doing a job. The more we drift, the further away we might find ourselves from what it is we enjoy, what challenges us, and what is important to us in the way that we work. Then suddenly it becomes too hard to find our bearings and navigate our way safely back on to the path to true career engagement.

Sound familiar? I am not surprised. Many senior executives we work with are either experiencing this themselves or are managing someone in their team who has started drifting.

There are many reasons why someone may start to drift.

Whatever the cause, the long term end result can be extremely uncomfortable. Take for example someone that has worked in accounting for 10 years, let’s say the last 5 years of this they have slowly become less challenged at work, and therefore finding their role less and less rewarding. The longer this continues, the more and more disengaged they are likely to become, the more disillusioned with career choice and increasingly afraid to make a change. We have had a surprisingly large number of conversations with senior people at this point in their career. Sometimes the drift has been happening for 2-3 years or more.

If you suspect this could be you, a great question to ask yourself is, when was the last time you worked on a project or piece of work that you found personally rewarding, and left you with a satisfying sense of achievement? If you are struggling to think of something, chances are you may be drifting.

Letting things continue, especially at a senior level, can have an impact on your business reputation and career brand. Particularly if you are managing a team, and part of your role involves leading and inspiring others – a little tricky to do if your own career bores you to tears.

The good news is that it’s easily remedied if identified early.

If this sounds like you, now is the perfect time to be honest and admit it’s time to think about getting yourself back on course. Start by considering where your current trajectory is taking you?

  • Where would you like to be in 5 years instead?
  • What is your definition of career success?
  • How can you get more satisfaction and sense of accomplishment at work?

Make no mistake: these are big questions, and take effort and commitment to respond to. Consider enlisting the support of a mentor, trusted colleague or career coach.

Whatever the first step is for you, do it in the next 10 days. Stephen Covey once said the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the next best time is today. The very same goes for career drift – one step today will start you back on course.

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