14 signs you’re stuck in a career rut (and what to do about it)

Are you stuck in a rut in your career?

Here’s how to tell if you are…

And what to do about it.

14 signs you’re stuck in a career rut (and what to do about it)

1) Every day at work is a major drag

One of the strongest signs you’re stuck in a career rut is that every day at work is a major drag.

Even when your coworkers are pleasant and your boss treats you well, something just feels very “off.”

You have the strong impression you’re in the wrong place, like you’ve been cast for a movie role you never should have tried out for.

A movie role you barely even remember trying out for.

Yet here you are. Going through the motions and doing what it takes to earn a living.

You know you should be grateful for having any job at all. And thinking of the work you’ve put into your career brings a certain sense of pride.

But that basic feeling that you’re stuck in a rut won’t go away, and haunts you even on weekends.

As Ideapod co-founder Justin Brown talks about here, this is a really hard place to be in, one he’s experienced himself in the past.

2) You have no autonomy or independence in your job

One of the keys to getting out of a career rut is understanding how to gain some autonomy, which Justin discusses in his video.

Many people try their best to pretend things are going fine when they’re really not.

They essentially gaslight themselves and try to fake it until they make it.

Except that even when they “make it” outwardly in their career, they’ve lost their inner moral compass and sense of fulfillment.

One of the core reasons is often a loss of autonomy.

Even if you’re in a field you excel at and a job you sometimes find inspiring and useful, a lack of autonomy can ruin everything good about it.

Autonomy means the ability to have your voice heard and contribute to decisions and actions at work.

Lack of autonomy is when you feel like nothing more than a cog in the machine, whose experiences and input aren’t valued.

3) You spend days visualizing a better future but it doesn’t work

In addition to having a lack of autonomy and input, another of the worst signs you’re stuck in a career rut is that you’re lost in daydreams.

You spend the day thinking of a better future, and maybe you’ve even signed up for some self-help courses and gurus who tell you to imagine a better future and visualize it into reality.

So you sit there in a lotus pose thinking of the day you’re financially independent and your career is amazing.

But that day never comes! Or it certainly seems to take its sweet time…

For many of us, the more we try to improve ourselves the worse we feel.

And in most cases it’s because you’re not living your life aligned with a deeper sense of purpose.

The consequences of not finding your purpose in life include a general sense of frustration, listlessness, dissatisfaction and a sense of not being connected with your inner self.

It’s difficult to get out of a career rut when you’re not feeling in sync overall.

I learned a new way to discover my purpose after watching Ideapod co-founder Justin Brown’s video on the hidden trap of improving yourself. He explains that most people misunderstand how to find their purpose, using visualization and other self-help techniques that backfire and leave them stranded.

However, visualization isn’t the best way to find your purpose. Instead, there’s a new way to do it which Justin Brown learned from spending time with a shaman in Brazil.

After watching the video, I discovered my purpose in life and it dissolved my feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction that I’d been having.

Justin’s advice really helped me to get out of the career rut I was in.

4) Your career doesn’t align with your talents

One of the biggest signs you’re stuck in a career rut is that your career doesn’t align with your talents.

Many of us end up in careers for reasons of money, pragmatism or simply timing.

You may have gotten a decent-paying job when you were desperate for anything. Now you’ve worked your way up the ladder and can’t afford to quit even though every day is crushing your soul.

That leaves your talents and potential largely unused, adding to the creeping sense of career FOMO (fear of missing out).

You know you have so much more you could be contributing and doing.

You know that your talents would be so much better served in a different profession.

Yet you stay on month after month out of a fear of financial insecurity and fear of the unknown.

It’s a very common – and very devastating – problem.

5) You haven’t had a raise in way too long

Speaking of finances, money does matter and if you haven’t had a raise in forever it is also one of the troubling signs you’re stuck in a career rut.

There are certainly situations where your job is fairly fulfilling and you find it above-tolerable but the money’s just not there.

This has various negative effects, including:

  • Making you feel undervalued and overlooked
  • Making you worried if the people you work for are financially in trouble
  • Making you feel guilty for being unhappy about your career due to the money shortage
  • Making your life more difficult in every way as you try to make ends meet

Some companies may simply not be in a position to give you a raise.

But it can’t hurt to ask.

What’s more is that if you’ve gone too long without adequate financial compensation you may reach a point where you decide to continue or not based on what’s best for you.

Finding new positions and merging into new careers for financial reasons is understandable and sometimes necessary.

6) You’re stuck in a box in your life and career

pexels tiger lily 7108188 14 signs you're stuck in a career rut (and what to do about it)

Dedicating yourself to your career can be rewarding and yield real results in your personal and professional life.

It can help you become a person you’re proud to be who contributes enormously to the lives of those you love and interact with.

But far too many of us end up in a career rut because we’re already in a life rut.

We’ve been conditioned so stringently by society and values that aren’t our own that we become a walking husk of ourselves.

But what if you could change the conditioning that’s trapping you and see your way through to a more rewarding career?

The truth is, most of us never realize how much power and potential lies within us.

We become bogged down by continuous conditioning from society, the media, our education system and more.

The result?

The reality we create becomes detached from the reality that lives within our consciousness.

I learned this (and much more) from the world-renowned shaman Rudá Iandé. In this excellent free video, Rudá explains how you can lift the mental chains and get back to the core of your being.

A word of caution – Rudá isn’t your typical shaman.

He doesn’t paint a pretty picture or spout toxic positivity like so many other gurus do, and he doesn’t promise that you’ll make a million bucks next year just because you decide to.

Instead, he’s going to force you to look inwards and confront the demons within. It’s a powerful approach, but one that works to truly power a quantum shift in your life.

So if you’re ready to take this first step and align your dreams with your reality, there’s no better place to start than with Rudá’s unique technique

Here’s a link to the free video again.

7) You get zero recognition for anything you do

Needing a pat on the back all the time is the trait of a child.

But wanting recognition now and then is perfectly healthy, and nobody can fault you for that.

If you’re finding that you get zero recognition in your career, it can lead to feeling really deflated and overlooked.

You have the consistent feeling that you’re basically pedaling uphill with no reward and nobody even noticing everything you’re doing.

Even your own superiors at work don’t seem to care what you do and you feel like a paycheck monkey who just goes through the motions.

It’s disempowering to never get a pat on the back or a nod of recognition.

You start to feel like you might as well quit.

And you begin to feel like you’re in a real rut that’s devaluing you and the work that you do.

8) You consider your career unethical or even harmful

Another one of the top signs you’re stuck in a career rut is that you consider your career to be immoral or even harmful to other people.

The work you do is not only not your cup of tea, it shouldn’t be anyone’s.

It may be destroying the environment, spreading misinformation, profiting off poverty or exploiting Third World labor in an especially egregious way.

It could also be that you feel your career is stuck in the past and is not moving the world forward to a better future in any way.

You may be in the construction industry, for example, building homes and renovating with non-sustainable and environmentally harmful products.

The homes you build are cookie cutter designs that don’t excite your passion.

You want so badly to strike out on your own and start using different materials to build and try new and more innovative designs, but it’s such a big financial risk…

You’re stuck in a rut!

9) Your superiors are exploitative and unfair

If you want to escape the 9 to 5 rat race, you need to be honest about the challenges you’re facing.

Forcing yourself to be positive won’t get you anywhere.

And for most of us who’ve had poor career experiences, it’s often related to having superiors who mistreat or manipulate us.

Let me be clear:

I do not mean complaining about taking orders or doing things the way leadership wants: that’s what a career generally entails.

Even if you’re a sole proprietor, you’re bound by market demand and many other factors in the majority of industries.

An exploitative and manipulative boss is different.

It’s someone who plays mind games, who overworks you without pay, who makes it personal.

It’s a person or group of people who see you as a replaceable cog and have no respect for your humanity.

They may play any number of twisted and strange games to play you off against coworkers, get you to work more for less, dangle promotions in front of you and numerous other tricks…

And the more you play along the worse it gets.

Whereas refusing altogether to play their games can lead to a huge backlash and claims that you aren’t a “team player.”

We’ve all heard it before, but it’s vital to stand up for yourself in a work context, otherwise you can end up in a subservient rut that feels almost impossible to get out of.

Also, you should never forget that you do have rights as an employee and that if employer’s cross certain red lines they can be legally liable, including unpaid wages, sexual harassment, fraud and breach of contract.

10) Your career is the worst part of your life

Nobody has a perfect career, and even celebrities get very depressed and frustrated with their glamorous lives.

Don’t jump ship if you have a few bad weeks or months in your career.

At the same time, if the identical counterproductive patterns keep happening and you’re trapped in a cycle of disempowering frustration, you may need to take steps to change that.

Your career should be a natural part of you and something that has meaning in your life.

Even if you work in a stone quarry or help people file their taxes as an accountant, the experience of your work should leave you with a feeling of accomplishment and being useful in the world.

It should also grant you the feeling of being useful to yourself and those who love you and who you love.

Your work may be hard or sometimes awful, but you still love it: that’s not a career rut.

A career rut is when your job is the worst part of your life and when you feel like you’re in a nightmare because of the career you’ve ended up in.

You may also find yourself embracing the victim mentality and seeing yourself as a giant victim of life’s injustices and indifference.

This is not a good place to be, and it’s necessary to turn it around.

Keep in mind:

  • You can identify what’s wrong with your career and how it makes you feel victimized without actually embracing a belief that you truly are a victim.

You can also focus on the negative parts of it without complaining indulgently. It’s perfectly healthy to see what’s wrong and admit it: it’s not healthy to obsess on it or seek sympathy everywhere you go (been there, done that).

  • Finding your purpose is all about the process that Justin describes here in this video. Once you become clear on what you’re here to do, it clarifies many things and increases your determination.

However, finding your purpose isn’t like suddenly everything is a greenlight: you still need to grind hard and work to make your dreams happen, and there will still be struggles. The difference is you’ll see a reason for them this time.

  • The highs and lows of work happen for everyone. But when a job is truly sucking away your soul, there can come a time when you simply have to make a change.

If that time has come for you, embrace it. Put your whole heart and soul into the change and make it happen.

If that time hasn’t come, do your best to focus on the parts of your life that are working at the moment. Avoid complaining or venting too much if you don’t plan to quit, as it can intensify the problem.

As spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says:

“Change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it.

“All else is madness.”

11) Your career was chosen for you, not by you

pexels mart production 7679678 14 signs you're stuck in a career rut (and what to do about it)

One of the most toxic things when it comes to career is a lack of choice.

To be sure, too much choice can also be a hassle and leave us unsure which direction to go and floundering in privilege.

But no choice can also be severely limiting and leave us stuck in a rut.

In medieval Europe, roles were already pre-decided by family lineage, but these days many modern societies have more opportunity.

Career still has many gatekeepers and hurdles to jump through, but we are always inspired by rags to riches stories and the tales of geniuses who go from modest backgrounds to reinventing the world.

But when somebody else chooses your career for you, such as your parents, peers or culture, it can leave you feeling trapped.

The secret here is to get out of the box as much as possible. Try to move on to a career that moves you.

If that’s not possible, do your best to reinvent your current job and infuse your own personality and interests into it.

12) You live constantly in the past or future

Another one of the upsetting signs you’re stuck in a career rut is that you live constantly in the past or future.

You may be visualizing a better future or lamenting or missing the past.

If the past was amazing, you think back to better days…

If the past was horrible, you’re still feeling traumatized by it and blaming it for your current career rut.

And maybe the past truly is to blame. But the issue is that fixating on this won’t get you anywhere.

And neither will trying to force yourself to “improve” or to see the bright side.

In fact, what you need to do is stop trying to improve yourself.

That, ironically, can be the start of a journey of immense improvement of your situation, clarity and future career.

If that sounds strange or counterintuitive, click here to watch the free video where Justin explains what it means to stop trying to visualize a better future and improve yourself.

13) Your career has robbed you of your creativity

Another of the more worrying signs you’re stuck in a career rut is when your former creativity is now gone.

You follow instructions like a robot and think inside the box.

You no longer feel capable of creating, innovating and letting your imagination run wild.

The ideas which used to inspire you now prompt a response like: what do I get? Or, “well, this isn’t related to my job, whatever.”

It’s a sad state to be in, and it’s what happens when your career has gone from one part of your life to defining your life (and not in a good way).

If this is happening to you, it’s vital to follow the steps listed earlier and begin isolating exactly what the problem is with your career, what you can do more independently and what your purpose can do to help you resolve on a new or improved career.

It’s not always possible to have the job we dream of or quit our current job, but it’s often more within reach than we think to make solid changes that will improve our vocational situation.

14) Your career is leaving you no time for the rest of your life

One of the worst signs you’re stuck in a career rut is simply that you have no time for your life.

Even if your job itself is something you enjoy or find fulfilling, it’s eating up all your free time and leaving you no space for a personal existence.

Romantic relationships, friendships, family ties and personal hobbies are out the window.

You begin feeling like you’re some kind of robot just designed to accomplish a specific task.

It’s dehumanizing, to say the least.

And it makes you want to do just about anything to get out.


If you’re stuck in a career rut, remember not to let it destroy your self-confidence and future plans.

You still have enormous potential and better times ahead.

By identifying what’s going wrong, finding your purpose and discovering ways to become more independent at work, you can begin to find your way out of the maze.

Your career isn’t over yet, and there are better days to come if you don’t give up and keep seeking out opportunities.

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.