Search
Advice » Job Hunt Strategy» Career Assessment » Why Smart Guys Get Stuck in R ...
Why Smart Guys Get Stuck in Ruts -- and What to Do About It

Why Smart Guys Get Stuck in Ruts -- and What to Do About It

By Michael Kimmel, Courtesy of Just for Men

You’ve been working at the same job for seven years. It’s a good job, but not a great job. The pay is OK, and there is room at the top to aspire to promotion. Your colleagues aren’t bad either. But you just don’t feel the same energy when you get ready for work in the morning or the same drive to excel. Some days, you even feel like you’re phoning it in.

Economic uncertainty getting you down? Seven-year itch? Midlife crisis? Or maybe you’re just stuck in a rut. You don’t feel ambitious enough to climb out of it, and it’s too scary to leave a secure job in such insecure times.

Why Do We Feel Stuck?

There are several reasons why you may feel stuck -- some that have to do with you, and others with the way we work in America. Maybe you’ve been doing the same thing over and over for too long. Maybe top management encourages you to live in fear of losing your job, so you scurry around looking busy to make sure they think you are working hard.

The number one reason guys feel stuck is fear. This is the fear that agitating for change will get you fired or noticed as a troublemaker. It’s the fear that making waves of any kind will be seen as too disruptive and make you look bad. Many guys keep their heads down, hoping to simply do their jobs and escape unscathed -- and unnoticed -- so they live to work another day. After a decade of keeping your head down, it’s hard to look up and keep your eyes on the prize.

Close behind fear is boredom. You can’t help but be bored when you’ve been doing the same job for years, with no new challenges or opportunities.

Fear and boredom often combine to produce individual inertia, a chronic aversion to taking new challenges for fear of failure, of standing out in a bad way. Part of this is because of our mistaken belief in The Peter Principle -- that people in organizations tend to rise to their levels of incompetence. Turns out the Peter Principle is wrong, and most people are quite competent in their positions.

What we often assume is that fear and boredom are psychological states of individual experience. That they are, but they are also the result of how we organize our corporations.

In a classic study in organizational behavior, Harvard University professor Chris Agyris found that male midlevel managers rarely, if ever, talked about the big picture in corporate meetings. Rather, they focused almost exclusively on small details. They felt, rightly it turned out, that top management was too frightened to raise the big questions, like: What, exactly are we doing here? What do we want to be doing, and how are we going to organize ourselves to do it?

No one ever posed the big questions. Asking them puts everything up for grabs, jeopardizes their position and makes them too uncertain about their role in the company. Better, they felt, to sweat the small stuff. At least that way, everyone seems to be needed.

But only sweating the small stuff turns out to be a recipe for what social scientists call anomie -- that feeling of not really knowing where you are, what your larger vision is and what the whole point is. That sense of anomie is what underlies sometimes feeling bored in your job. It’s not that you are bored; it’s that the circumstances are boring. Any rational person would be bored.

How to Get Out of Your Rut

Just because boredom and fear are cultivated by our corporate environments doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. You can change it.

We live by metaphors, and many of the metaphors we use to describe our working lives are of transportation. We’re "stuck in a rut" or "spinning our wheels." We’re not "on track." Here are three strategies to help you get out of your career rut, taken from what you do if your car is stuck in a real rut:

  • Rock Gently Back and Forth: If you’ve ever been stuck in a real rut, you know that moving your car back and forth, just a little, can get you some momentum. Add small, easily doable chunks of work and responsibility. Not too much -- just enough to get your juices flowing again. 
     
  • Back Up a Little to Get Enough Traction to Get Out: Help out a colleague below you, become a mentor and remember what it is like to be doing the work that reports to you. Often, remembering how you got to where you are is a good way to remember why you are where you are. 
     
  • Don’t Gun It and Hope to Blast Your Way Out: You may be tempted to shake things up by trying to force sudden, dramatic change. Don’t. Not only will you spin your wheels, you’ll risk damaging important relationships. Instead, try new tactics. Instead of emailing people, drop by their office. Instead of trying to force things to go your way, ask yourself, “What new possibilities emerge from where I am right now?” You may find the real answer isn’t about moving in the direction you originally thought after all.

Feeling like you are in a rut also comes from putting too much weight on your work -- often at the expense of the counterbalancing pull of your family and marriage. Sometimes, retreating back home and reconnecting with the wife and kids may be just the sort of revitalization you need to return to work ready to give it your best.

Remember, in the world of your career, you are the engine that propels the vehicle.

[Professor Michael Kimmel is a sociologist who is among the leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity in the world today and the author or editor of more than 20 volumes, including his latest, Guyland.]

Articles in This Feature:

Latest Jobs

Arctic Catering
Posted: 10/23/2014
Anaktuvuk, 99721
Alaska CHARR
Posted: 10/23/2014
Anchorage, 99515
GeoNorth, LLC & The Tatitlek
Posted: 10/23/2014
Anchorage, 99515
BV Veterinary Service
Posted: 10/23/2014
Princeton, IL, 61356
Posted: 10/23/2014
Mchenry, IL, 60050

Want more personalized results?  Update Your Profile

 
 
 

Monster Communities

Teaching Community
Where teachers meet and learn.
ArtBistro
Create and connect.
Excelle
Networking for the career-minded woman.
Nursing Link
Where nurses call the shots.
More Monster Communities

Monster Partners

Scholarships
Scholarships, financial aid and more ways to pay for school.
Education.org
Find top campus and online degree programs.
Military.com
Military portal for the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
Financial Aid
Scholarships & financial aid.
Staffing for Government Jobs
Staffing and hiring solutions for federal government agency jobs.
More Monster Partners

Job Hunt Strategy

Six Ways to Make a Recruiter Hate You
If you want to blow your chances with recruiters -- and, by extension, with the companies they work for -- here are six perfect ways to do so.

Resumes & Cover Letters

Rev Up Your Resume to Relocate
Hoping to relocate? Get the ball rolling on landing the right job in the right location with these expert resume and cover letter tips.

Interviewing

100 Potential Interview Questions
Interview questions can run the gamut. You probably won't face all 100 of these, but you should still be prepared to answer at least some of them.

Salary & Benefits

10 Questions to Ask When Negotiating Salary
Most of us aren't natural negotiators, but asking these 10 questions during salary negotiations can help you get everything you deserve.

Employee Sourcing

Alt text
November Monster Employment Index Grows 13% Year-Over-Year, Tenth Consecutive Month of Positive Annual Growth.

For Seekers

Campus and Online Degrees
Advance your career and earn more with an online degree.
Free Salary Wizard
What are you worth? Find out and negotiate a better salary.
Research Careers
Get information on jobs and career paths to help guide your choices
Questions & Answers
Find answers to all your career related questions -- powered by Yahoo! Answers
Resume Distribution Service
Our distribution service puts your resume right in the hands of recruiters.
Resume Writing Services
Our experts will craft a keyword-rich resume that stands out in the crowd.
More Career Resources

For Employers

Career Ad Network
Target your job posting to more candidates on thousands of websites.
Hire Right Background Checks
Explore our background check packages to improve the quality of your hires.
Hiring Home Page
Find the best candidates for your business with Monster hiring solutions.
Job Postings
Find the right solution for your hiring needs. Starting at $99.
Power Resume Search
Monster's new search technology precisely matches people with your jobs.
Resource Center
Find staffing insights, labor trends, HR best practices and more.
Target Post
Connect with skilled, hourly and administrative candidates for only $99.

Social Media

Jobs on Twitter
Find jobs in your area and industry.
Monster Careers
Tune into our career advice and discussions tackling a wide range of topics and industries.
Monster Corporate & PR
Stay up-to-date on the latest news. Get the 'Who', 'What', 'When', and 'Why' on all things Monster related.
Monster Customer Service
Got a Monster question? We've got the answer. Whether you're a job seeker or employer, we can help you find the answers you need.
Monster for Employers
Find advice on hiring.
Follow Us
Check out our many pages and stay connected with the latest industry news, events, career advice and job openings.

Other Links

Monster Company Profiles
Explore companies and get information to guide your career decisions.
Compare Salaries
See how your pay stacks up to others in your field.
iPhone Application
Download the Monster app for iPhone and iPod touch.
Monster Job Seeker Blog
Monster Job Seeker Blog.
Monster Thinking Blog
Monster's Recruitment Trends Blog.
Jobs & Career Resources
Search Jobs:
For Employers: Post Jobs | Search Resumes | Advertise
About Monster | Work for Monster | Advertise with Us | AdChoices | Partner with Us | Investor Relations | Social Media
Terms of Use | Privacy Center | Accessibility Center | Help | Security | Contact Us | Sitemap | Mobile
©2014 Monster - All Rights Reserved U.S. Patents No. 5,832,497; 7,599,930 B1; 7,827,125 and 7,836,060 MWW - Looking for Monster Cable? - V: 2014.4.65.72-220
eTrustLogo