Ask the Coach: I’ve Hit a Career Plateau—What Now?

UPDATED: November 30, 2022
PUBLISHED: July 20, 2021

I have plateaued. I’ve been in my chosen profession long enough to know I’m as good at it as I’m going to be. I also make as much money as I’m likely to make (give or take) without just working a ton more hours. I still love it, and I don’t want to find something completely new. I suppose I could venture “outside of my lane” and see what that’s like. But that makes me nervous.

Any advice? 

I totally understand where you’re coming from.

Remember, it is not what you do for a living that should make you fulfilled, but the reasons why you do it. Does the work match up with your own story about who you are? Does it match up with what you really believe is yours to do? When what we do lines up with why we do it, we feel fulfilled, energized, and generally speaking, we make more money. You will know you’re in that sweet spot because your work will speak to your heart and soul.

You might need to take a deep look at these questions: What do you want from life? What do you want for your life? What do you want to do with your life? What do you want?

Take that last one, make it first-person, and ask it four times, moving the emphasis each time. WHAT do I want? What DO I want? What do I want? What do I WANT?      

Write down what comes out with each question. Your answers might surprise you. You started in your profession a long time ago and have had success. The fact is that being good is the enemy of being great. Are you stuck on really good? Is your profession still big enough to contain you? You might discover you’re starting to grow out of it—or already have completely grown out of it.

The question then becomes: Is security more important to you than adventure or possibility? I’m not saying you should go off on some wild excursion and disappear into the Himalayas. But I am saying something outside of what you’re currently doing may be your best bet. You say venturing outside your lane makes you nervous. You don’t want to start over. But you’ve actually started over many times in your life, maybe without realizing it or thinking of it that way. All of us have.

I like to use the example of middle school. In sixth grade you were the new kid, scared, unsure of yourself. By the time you reached eighth grade, you were the oldest and most experienced kid in the school.

Then you got to high school, and you started over. You were a freshman. No matter how well connected, how popular, how cool you were in middle school, now you were the lowest of the low again. You built, learned and grew. By the time you were a senior, you ruled the hallways. You had friends and relationships and status. Then you graduated, maybe moved on to college, and started all over again.

Viewed that way, all of life can be seen as repeatedly taking the next step. That might be exactly what needs to happen for you right now. You just need to look at it as starting another year of school, if you will. It won’t be long before you’re the big man or woman on campus again.

Check your risk tolerance, especially if you are going to start something new. Maybe you should take a small entrepreneurial step with a side hustle. That side hustle could be something you love to do, or something you used to do that you gave up in pursuit of a “real job.”

Perhaps you need to think bigger than a side hustle. For that you need somebody who will bring an outside perspective, a view you can’t see. We’ve all got a blind side, if not many. Even the most successful people in the world have their blind sides. Right now, yours might be your next steps.

To figure out your next step, you might have to ask for help. Sometimes that can come from a mentor. Sometimes it can come from a coach. In this case, a coach would probably be better because a mentor might be too kind, too loving. They might be too close to you to tell you hard truths.

A coach won’t have that burden. A coach will be able to take a fresh look at your talents, your skills, your personality, and what you were really built for. He or she will either help you figure out how to get to the next level with those talents and skills—or how to get out of what you’re doing and use them to become a giant in a different space. 

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Feature Image by © Noel Del Pilar