Falling into a career rut is a rite of passage in your 20s and 30s (just like overcoming a quarter-life crisis at 25 and moving on from that relationship you swore you’d never get over). You’re not alone if you’re feeling bored, confused, frustrated, burnt out, or a mix of all of the above. I’ve been there a few times since graduating college—trust me. Whenever I’m getting whiplash from checking the clock during my work day, I know it’s time to do a little soul-searching. My favorite way to get out of the monotonous day-to-day besides chugging coffee and hoping for the best? Surprisingly, journal prompts.
Getting my thoughts onto paper helped me work through other big life decisions like packing up my bags and moving to the city, and turning inward has proven equally successful whenever I’ve found myself feeling bogged down at work. I’m not about gatekeeping, so here are some of the journal prompts I’ve leaned on to get clarity on my next career move (and pull me out of my deepest, darkest ruts):
1. If I could achieve financial freedom, how would I spend my time?
Potential career pivoters and questioners, this prompt is for you. If we lived in a dream world where money mysteriously popped into your bank account every day without you lifting a finger, how would you fill up your day? Would you spend it redecorating your home? Tending to your backyard garden? Maybe working on that art piece you haven’t had the chance to finish?
Look at each hobby and activity individually and then as a whole. Are there any common themes? Are you in current alignment with your true passions or are you too far removed from what brings you joy? Can you combine any of these interests into a role? Get creative with your answers until you can map out a career path (or two). Revisit these desired career paths and map out the skills, knowledge, and tools you’d need to help you get there.
2. Are there untapped opportunities that could reinspire me at work?
I’ll let you in on a little hack: Finding opportunities where you’re currently at is the quickest way to moving through a career rut. Before you job hop hoping it’ll provide you the relief you’re desperately searching for, you want to make sure you’re 100% confident in your decision to move on. There’s nothing worse than experiencing buyer’s remorse in a career setting. Unfortunately, returning to your previous employer isn’t as easy as showing up at Nordstrom with your receipt in hand. This journal prompt will subtly uncover whether or not you’ve outgrown your current role, company, or maybe even the industry as a whole.
Ask yourself: Have you ever wondered what your boss’ boss does on the day-to-day? Is there a project that would let you flex your creativity? Or better yet, is there a project you can lead yourself? Open your eyes to projects and shadowing opportunities you’d like to try in your current role and jot them down to bring them to your next 1:1 with your manager. You never know what possibilities there are until you ask!
3. What three ways can I incorporate more self-care into my routine?
Sometimes it’s not just the 9-to-5 job itself, but also the lifestyle you’ve set in place during your 5-to-9 life. Write down a few approachable swaps you could build into your morning and night routines then transfer them over to your planner so you’re motivated to cross them off your to-do list each day. The catch here is to make sure each self-care activity is something you truly enjoy or you won’t prioritize it. All’s to say that if you’re not a die-hard runner or a morning person, don’t add a 4 am sprint to your calendar even if that’s what your favorite influencer on TikTok swears improves her day.
I recommend incorporating one mental, one physical, and one emotional self-care item into your routine. For example: meditating for mental release, a daily yoga practice for physical well-being, and journaling for emotional regulation. If you’re at a loss for what to write, look back on your response to the first prompt: If you could achieve financial freedom, how would you spend your time? You may find a few ideas hidden within your answer.
4. Who do I look up to as a career role model and why?
If you could pick three to five people in your previous company, your current company, or within your industry to sit down to dinner with for an hour, who would you choose? Create a bulleted list of your VIP dinner party guests and what you would pick their brains about over vodka pasta and Aperol spritzes. Get descriptive with which questions you’d ask, which strengths each one brings to the table, and what you’d like to learn from each of them.
If they’re someone you know or could know in real life, set up a coffee chat or after-work happy hour to get to know them better, and who knows, you may have found your next mentor. If they’re more of a public figure or celebrity, research their career timelines on your own or learn from them through a class, article, video, or podcast. Either way, you can take a peek at their career paths and gain inspiration for one, the direction you could take yours, and two, what career would suit you better if you’re looking for a pivot.
5. What do I really want?
Not your parents’ expectations of you or what you want to brag about to your friends during girl’s night but what do you really want? Are you ready to negotiate for that shiny new title and pay bump? Do you feel like your career choice has already run its course? Dive a little deeper into the goals you want to prioritize on your career bucket list and what lifestyle you want. Because at the end of the day, you’re the one clocking in and out of your job and living the life you’ve set out for yourself so you want to make sure it’s something that is filling your cup—not draining it.