I’m currently an executive recruiter—haven’t always been and might not always be. For the last decade or so, however, it’s what I’ve done every day.

In 2004, after spending the previous seventeen years as an Information Technology and Management Consultant, I opened an executive recruitment firm called milewalk. The important thing to note, for purposes of this article, is that prior to the first day of milewalk’s existence, I’d never recruited a single day in my life. Why, for the love of all that is holy, would I do something like that?The Secret to Avoid Career Stagnation

People feeling a little stuck in their careers certainly don’t need to pitch it all, open a business, and take on a bunch of risk to spice up their existence. I would, however, like to offer the techniques I used to illustrate how my experience might help you.

Before we dive into the big “S,” let’s take a step back. In order to avoid, fix, or eradicate any problem, it’s helpful to understand what it is and how it came to be. For starters, “career stagnation” is not a thing. It’s a feeling, which often resembles boredom or frustration.

How is it that a “lifer technologist” could still love being a code-jockey after thirty years, but a rising star who blitzed through the promotional ranks during the last ten years feels stagnant? The answer is simple. The “lifer” processes his feelings and the enjoyment of what he does differently than the “blitzer” does. This is usually a result of his outlook or, more likely, that his “happiness needs” are being met.

Why do others get bored in their careers? It usually isn’t because they’re continually doing the same things. Monotony typically only leads to boredom if you don’t truly love what you’re doing. It has much more to do with the way they choose and view their careers (or jobs).

Most people choose their careers (or even jobs) backwards. When they approach career evaluation or job changing, they consider available opportunities in the market and then determine whether it matches what they can and want to do. During that assessment, they’re determining whether the intersection between “available” and “can/want” will provide enough compensation so they can manage to live the remaining 128 hours of the week. That is, many people work in order to live the rest of their lives, so they look at work first and the rest of their lives second.

The this-is-what-I’m-good-at or this-is-what-I’m-qualified-to-do syndrome perpetuates an ongoing chain of doing the same type of job year after year. Many are afraid they won’t be able to support themselves by making a switch—even if the switch is minor. Sometimes, they hop companies thinking the change of scenery will cure their boredom.

This ongoing chain remains firmly in tact regardless of the how many new shades of wallpaper they stare at because people generally view their lives in two separate and distinct components—work and personal. (Do I hear a “work-life-balance” echo?) Most people actually live their lives this way. I’m okay with that, as long as they don’t view their lives this way.

How can you put yourself in a position to enjoy yourself and progress everyday?

Realize your life actually means your entire life. Your career is only one portion. Your life means all of your life. There is no such thing as “work life” or “personal life.” There is definitely no such thing as work-life-balance. (There are work and life choices.) People love to compartmentalize things, but technically it’s all your life. It’s not this or that. It’s this and that. You need to get it all working in harmony to make you a happy you.

Identify what makes you happy. The most effective way to become happy is to recognize that happiness comes from within and change your thoughts. The next best way is to build your life to ensure your needs are being met. Your career might satisfy many needs, but it won’t satisfy all of them.

I work with some job candidates that think their job, company, or next company needs to satisfy all their needs. I challenge them to make a very complete list of happiness requirements (need to haves, nice to haves, and really nice to haves) and then make sure they can meet those needs in their life. If the job satisfies most, that’s fantastic. If the job doesn’t satisfy some, make sure to satiate these needs during the remaining 128 hours in the week. For example, you might want to work for a company that is philanthropic because charitable contributions are important to you. As long as you have a job that allows the flexibility to do these types of benevolent acts during or outside of work hours, you’re covered.

Be open. There are many ways to earn a living. Your visibility to what those are is probably quite limited. Most people only know what they’re familiar with. When considering alternate options, be more open-minded, do more research, and seek insight from others who know more!

Choose your career. Don’t let your career choose you. If you’re now viewing your life in its entirety and there is no “work first and the rest of my life second,” you can determine which career or job satisfies you in terms of becoming whole. Use your happiness criteria to drive your thinking regarding options within your profession or outside of it. The most important element of remaining fresh and progressing is to be happy and interested in what you’re doing. If you’re happy, you’ll perform your job better. If you perform your job better, more opportunities will naturally arise. The position and/or company that satisfies the most or all of your needs is going to put you in a position to remain happy, learn the most, and likely increase your chances of success.

I’d like to “show my work” so to speak. When I was an IT executive, as I mentioned earlier, I was feeling mentally stuck after almost two decades in that profession. Keep in mind, I had held several positions that ranged from developing software, managing projects, selling projects, managing accounts, running business units and a host of other activities. I share that to help you understand that no one is exempt from feeling stuck, even when you’ve had variety throughout your career.

I took a few hours and thought about everything I wanted in my life—not just in my work. I dug up the list of 22 requirements I created in 2004—with no edits (please forgive me). These were the, uh, thoughts that told me I should become a recruiter. Before I created this list, I had never (and I mean absolutely never) considered becoming a recruiter to be a professional option for me.

  1. Need to help people—it’s what I love doing the most. The more I can help, the better I’ll feel.
  2. Need to help companies—I love consulting.
  3. Need to market, sell, and deliver some type of service or product.
  4. Need a high degree of psychology to be successful.
  5. Need variety.
  6. Need freedom.
  7. Need flexibility to say “no” to whomever I want.
  8. Need to be able to take any day off any time of year.
  9. Need to write.
  10. Need to build something—preferably my own company, but would also be happy building a unit inside the company.
  11. Want a low barrier to entry with a high barrier to success; that means I can get into the business quickly even though survival will be difficult; competition should be irrelevant.
  12. Need to speak; need a high degree of communication.
  13. Requires thinking versus rote acts.
  14. Don’t want a boss; my customers can be my bosses, but I maintain the right to say NO.
  15. Need to be able to grow with my career.
  16. Want to never lose touch with reality and always be in tune with what’s happening in the market.
  17. Find a way to leverage statistics to make critical business decisions.
  18. Get rid of the commute or at least be able to choose the office location.
  19. I want work and play to look like the same thing.
  20. Create more time for family and friends and other recreational activities such as exercising and so forth.
  21. Be able to do business from anywhere with anyone (house, office, restaurant, coffee shop, golf course, etc.).
  22. Needs to be a profession where I can offer charitable services.

Did you notice the common thread? Not one of these happiness factors included anything related to what I’d done in the past. Your career choices should be about your future. Of course you want to consider what you’re capable of doing, but your capabilities—the ones you enjoy—will be buried deep inside these items.