People are ‘sleepwalking’ through their careers

Don’t fall asleep behind the wheel of your career.

More than a third (37 percent) of professionals admit that they don’t have a good sense of where their career is going, according to a LinkedIn survey of 2,000 US workers released on Wednesday.

The report found many employees are idling on a professional plateau — and most of these “career sleepwalkers,” as LinkedIn calls them, are older millennials and younger Gen Xers aged 35 to 44. Almost half of this group said that they were staying in the same job for a long time with no defined direction. (Americans stay in the same job for 9.88 years on average, LinkedIn noted, rising to 13.91 years for workers over 55.)

But job coach and Call to Career founder Cheryl Palmer noted that workers in their mid-30s and 40s are often raising children, too, which can give some professionals pause. “You’ve got all of these things that you are juggling — just trying to pay the bills and get the kids off to school — that it’s easy to just let life happen,” she told Moneyish. “If you’re not about to get fired, there’s no reason to upset the apple cart. It’s easy to put things on cruise control.”

The problem arises when you let that run on for so long that you lose all control of your career. “For a lot of people it’s just, ‘Life is OK. Even if I don’t particularly like my job, it’s a steady paycheck.’ But my question is, what could you achieve if you were really passionate about your career?” said Palmer. “If you’re just going with the flow, you could be missing out on a great career.”

A Harris Poll/University of Phoenix survey released last year found that most workers are interested in changing careers, but they don’t make any moves because it’s too risky. While 58 percent of working adults expressed interest in switching jobs, 81 percent admitted they probably won’t do anything. That’s because 26 percent can’t afford to start over again, 24 percent don’t know which career to change to and 24 percent think they lack the education or experience to move onward and upward.

In fact, there are plenty of steps you can take to get your upward mobility back on track. Here’s a few tips from the pros:

Know the signs that you’re career sleepwalking
If you’ve worked hard for years with the intent to relax in a comfortable position for the time being, then more power to you. But experts warn that if you’re restless, you’re avoiding your work to-do list, or you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, then you could be stuck. “I’m not talking about being bored one day; you’ve been bored for while,” said Palmer. Or maybe you’re getting pigeonholed: Say you work in IT, but you’ve been kept on the help desk for two years because you’re great at troubleshooting. “If you’ve asked yourself, ‘Is there more than this?’ — there definitely is,” said Palmer.

Ask yourself what you want
Palmer suggests doing a career “check-up” once a year, perhaps around the new year in December or January, to set short and long-term goals. If you’re stuck on what those goals should be, as many in the survey were, think about what is and isn’t working about your position. “If you are in a role where you’re not learning anymore, but you’re in a field that still interests you … then maybe it’s time to move up the chain, or to find a new role within your current field,” said Decembrele.

Research which directions you can go in
What is the next rung on the ladder, or a new industry where you could apply your current skills in an exciting new way? Palmer suggests going to HR. “Find out if there are career paths that HR has laid out for different fields within your organization,” she said, or search online with professional associations and job sites. “This can give you an idea of some of the job titles you could aspire to, what it would entail to get there and how much money you’re looking at if you go up the ladder,” said Palmer. And LinkedIn is rolling out a couple of classes available for free this month to help you get started, including Figuring Out Your Next Move and Taking Charge of Your Career.

Get a couple of mentors
Palmer recommends finding someone within your organization and someone outside. “That person within your organization can help steer you in the right direction and even open doors for you,” said Palmer. “And an outside mentor is going to have a broader perspective of your field and opportunities outside of your organization.” You can find some outside mentors by signing up for professional organizations, which also allow you to stay current on what’s happening in your industry and to make connections.

Give your side hustle some love
Perhaps that hobby or gig you’ve been toying with in your spare time has the potential to be a sustainable business, book or other project. “If you have a passion or a pet project…test the waters. Try it out on your nights and weekends and see if this is something want to double down on,” suggested Decembrele. “A previous study we did found one-third of professionals find success in pursuing their passions or side projects.”

“Professionals spend 90,000 hours of their adult lives working — that’s half your waking hours as an adult being spent in your career,” she added. “So you want to make it count.”

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