My Latest Work Slump – And How I Got Out Of It

By Erin Ewart

In 2021, I thought my days as a business owner might be numbered. Careers for Social Impact was thriving, but I wasn’t. 

I was in a work slump.

Luckily I was able to work my way out of it, and today I want to share what that process looked like, what I learned, and how that impacts the work we do with our clients. 

I’m sharing this because I want you to know that I’ve been where you are, and that everyone goes through times of career stagnation, frustration, or uncertainty.

Yes, even career coaches. Even me. 

1. The Slump

For all of us, there are times when work is going great, times when it’s really hard, and times where it’s just “meh”.

This is all a normal part of the career cycle, and it’s important to pay attention to how you’re feeling about work so that when you start noticing frustration or unhappiness you can do something about it – ideally before it gets to a critical stage. 

The good thing is there ARE things we can do when work isn’t working for us. I needed that reminder a few years ago, when I realized I’d lost the spark and motivation I used to have for my work. 

Careers for Social Impact was born in 2014 out of another period of uncertainty in my career. And while there were definitely some difficult moments in those early years, for the most part I felt really energized by my work and lucky to be building a business that fit my strengths and allowed me to partner with clients who were doing important and impactful work. 

But in 2021, I noticed a sense of stagnation and unhappiness creeping in. 

Something felt off, and I wasn’t energized by my work in the same way. My inner voice was telling me something needed to change, but I wasn’t sure what it was – and I was too busy to listen closely to it. 

Ironically, in many ways that was our most “successful” year to date. We hosted our biggest event ever, had expanded the size of our programs, and had grown from just me to a team of nine. 

But despite all of this, I felt like something was off – and that inner voice kept getting louder and louder. 

I interpreted this to mean that I didn’t want to run a business anymore, and that it was time to go back and get a “real” job.

2. Coaching and Insights

Luckily I decided to seek out partnership and support as I thought about this big transition, before taking any drastic actions. I started working with a coach to help me explore what I was feeling and what to do about it. 

Working with my coach led me to a few important realizations:

  • A big reason I was unhappy was that I was focusing on other people’s measures of success, instead of my own. I had decided that I needed to grow our programs and team because that’s what I thought successful businesses did – not because it was what I really wanted.  
  • Another thing that inner voice was trying to tell me was that I was hungry to learn new things. I realized that it had been years since I had invested in my own development, and that I was craving learning, growth, and new challenges. 
  • Finally, I realized that while going back to working for someone else seemed to be an obvious answer to my feeling of stagnation, it wasn’t the only answer. I could experiment with making other changes in my work and life that could help me feel happier and more fulfilled, before making that kind of shift. 

I don’t think I would have come to these realizations – and they certainly wouldn’t have stuck – if I hadn’t sought out coaching. 

3. Taking Imperfect Action

Working with a coach also helped me feel empowered to take action to realign my work with what was most important and energizing for me. 

It made sense that after more than seven years as a business owner I was ready for something new, but I had to be willing to take some risks and try new things to figure out what that was. 

So I took actions that felt both exciting and scary (more scary to be honest), including: 

  • Taking a ten week sabbatical in 2022. This gave me space to think and reflect, and to recover from some pandemic-induced burnout. Transparently, when I took this break I wasn’t sure if I would come back to the business. But with some distance and perspective, I realized there was a lot I still loved about this work and that I could reinvigorate my energy around it – IF I made some changes. 
  • Making shifts in my work. One of the biggest benefits of the sabbatical was that it forced me to STOP doing everything and then intentionally choose what to continue. I have a hard time saying no and stopping things, especially when they may work well for others but aren’t working for me. This pause gave me the permission I needed to take everything off my plate, decide what I wanted to put back on, and let go of the things that were most draining for me. 
  • Testing new ideas. I brought a spirit of experimentation into my work and life, trying things in small doses to see what happened. At work, this meant piloting new programs, delegating more, and taking the first step toward getting my coaching certification, something I had considered for years but never prioritized. I started with just the first class as a test to decide if I wanted to continue (I did!). I also made changes outside of work, like taking improv classes and shifting my schedule to create more space for personal and family priorities. 

While in hindsight it seems clear that these actions helped me work through my slump, this aspect of the process felt much less clear as I was going through it. 

I didn’t know how things would go or where they would lead, and navigating through that uncertainty felt scary and risky. But I kept reminding myself that it was necessary if I really wanted things to change.  

4. Lessons I Learned

I hope it’s clear by this point that career growth and exploration is a process we all need to navigate throughout our lives – including me! 

Here are some of the top lessons I took away from my experience, which also guide our work with clients seeking greater career clarity and alignment. 

1. Small moves can make a big difference. Sometimes when we’re unhappy at work, making a big change like leaving a job is the right decision. But as I learned, it’s not the only path, and often smaller changes can have a big impact on our satisfaction. We encourage our clients to design “career experiments”: small tests that help them try out new career ideas or interests. Experimentation can both improve your current work situation and help you learn about other career paths you may want to explore.

2. Look at your whole life, not just your work. I realized that in addition to making changes in my work, there were also changes I could make in other parts of my life that could boost my happiness. For example, one of the best things I did for myself was starting to take improv classes. Carving out this time to do something new and challenging has been a big source of fun, community, and personal growth. Be sure to look at your life holistically as you go through this process, to see if you can identify opportunities for more growth or fulfillment outside of work too.    

3. Keep trusting yourself. This has been one of the biggest challenges and areas of growth for me. Deep down we each know so much about what’s right for us, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. But it can be hard to stay focused on what you really want amid external pressure and internal self-doubt. Find ways to stay tuned in to your inner wisdom and to trust what it’s telling you, even when that feels uncomfortable, inconvenient, or scary. For me, journaling and talking with my coach and trusted friends were key ways to do this.

Finally, I was also reminded that change takes time, and that we all need support along the way. I’m two years into this process, and I’m still making changes! It’s important to remember that making a career shift isn’t an overnight process, and that even if it sometimes feels like you’re taking small steps, you’re still moving forward. 

And navigating change and uncertainty can feel uncomfortable, so getting partnership and accountability can make all the difference in sticking with your goal, even when it’s hard. That’s why I’ve been working with my own coaches consistently for the last two years, and why I believe so strongly in the work we do with our clients at Careers for Social Impact. 

5. What’s Next

Going through this process helped me confirm that coaching is the right work for me. 

It also helped me see that nearly 10 years into doing this work, I am most fulfilled by coaching people in deeper and more holistic ways, so they can design careers that are meaningful, fulfilling, and integrated with all the other aspects of their lives.

I’m excited to incorporate what I’ve learned from my own experience and my coaching certification into our programs this year and beyond, and to work with our clients in some new ways as they make changes in their work and lives. 

While the past few years have had their challenges, I’m happy to say that I’m now as energized by my work as I’ve ever been. I know this won’t be the last time I need to realign aspects of my work and life, and that with insight, support, and commitment I can continue to design my career to fit who I am and what I want most. 

If you’re in a work slump or wondering what’s next in your career, we’d love to help you reconnect with what energizes you! Learn more about our coaching programs and contact us to discuss how we can work together. 

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