Stuck and Frustrated at Work? How to Break the Cycle and Find Excitement Again

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  • This episode explores the recurring cycle of excitement, learning, overwhelm, and frustration that many people experience in their careers. Lindsay Lyman, the host, sheds light on how to identify these phases and offers tips to break free from the stuck and frustrated stage.

    Key Points:

    • The Career Life Cycle:
      • New and Exciting: Learning a lot, enthusiastic about new challenges.
      • Learning and Growing: Facing challenges, but still making progress.
      • Overwhelm: Feeling overloaded with work and problems.
      • Frustrated and Stuck: Demotivated, unchallenged, and unsure of the next step.
    • Escaping the Stuck Phase:
      • Recognize where you are in the cycle.
      • Identify what excites and interests you.
      • Seek new challenges:
        • Change the scope or complexity of your current work.
        • Learn a new skill.
        • Change jobs, industries, or fields entirely.
        • Pursue a passion project outside of work.

    Next Step

     

    Additional resources:

Hey, I’m Lindsay Lyman. I worked almost 12 years at Amazon and saw so many brilliant and successful overachievers burn themselves out and leave their jobs because they’re so stressed and anxious. But guess what? Having a successful career does not have to be at the expense of your mental sanity and personal time. There’s an easier way, and I can show you how. Let’s do this!

 

One of the things I love is that I get to work with people in so many different phases of their career. I’m actually giving a workshop soon to a group of interns, people that are just beginning, just starting to. I also have clients that only have a couple more years, and they’re trying to figure out how they enjoy their career before retirement. But there’s something I’ve noticed: these life cycles that we all go through, no matter what phase in our career we’re at, that I want to talk to you about today.

 

The thing is, most people come to me because they’re feeling frustrated and stuck for some reason. Bad managers, they’re burned out, they’re not sure where to go next, they want to make more money, they want to get promoted. Lots of different reasons, but it’s some flavor of being just stuck and not knowing where to go. So, I want to talk to you today about what this life cycle is and how to figure out what to do when you are at that place where you’re stuck, frustrated, and burned out, and you know something’s got to change, but you’re just not sure what and you’re not sure how.

 

I want to tell you what this life cycle is, and then we’re going to dive into a little bit more of how you get out of that funk. So, the first part, if we think of this life cycle as a virtuous cycle, like a circle that we keep going through over and over and over in different phases of our lives. The first part of the career life cycle is what I call the new and exciting phase. This is where you’re learning a lot of things you don’t know. You’re not jaded by past bumps and bruises and problems and things. Usually, this happens when you start a new job, maybe it happens when you’re fresh out of college entering the workforce, or you’re working at a new company, or you started a new team, or you’re working on launching a big new project. It’s the beginning, new and exciting part. This is the fun part. It’s like the honeymoon. It’s amazing, you love it all, and it’s all great and wonderful. We’re super optimistic and cheery. Awesome! I love this phase.

 

From there, we go into the second part of this career life cycle, which is what I think of as the learning phase. This is where there’s some growing pains, but they’re good. Think of it like when you work out and you’re sore the next day, but it’s this good sore because you know your body is getting stronger. It’s the same thing. It’s like your brain hurts at the end of the day, but it’s because you’re figuring it out and you’re doing hard things. You’re coming up with new ideas, you’re noticing gaps, and you’re finding solutions. You’re making some progress, and in this learning phase, you’re delivering, and you’re starting to see some results. So, we’re kind of out of the honeymoon phase, and we’re into this learning and delivery phase.

 

What happens then is usually we go into the third phase, which tends to be some flavor of the overwhelm phase. Because now, you see all the gaps and problems. As you’re diving in and delivering things and finding solutions, you’re identifying more problems than you have time to solve. Or in this phase, it’s like the repeat problems, they come back, and we’re like, “Ah, we have to deal with this again. It didn’t work last time,” and we’re just kind of overwhelmed because we’re not sure what to do. In this phase, this is where we tend to work nights and weekends and not have the greatest balance between life and work because we’re trying to hustle our way to get through the to-do list, to get through all the things we need to do, and then we’re going to be able to rest. But this is just this overwhelmed phase. In this phase, we tend to lose our cool and freak out when timelines change, when scope changes, when anything changes.

 

I think of it as, like, I’m a very visual person. I see myself when I’m in this phase as holding all this stuff. My arms are full of all these things, and I can hold it all. It’s hard for me to move around, but I can hold it all. But if one thing shifts, it all just falls apart. This is what I think of as the overwhelm phase.

 

From there, the fourth phase we tend to go into is the frustration and stuck phase. This is where we start to just not really care. We show up, and we’re kind of dialing it in. We’re going through the motions. You just feel stuck. You want out, you know you’re not in a good place, you know you need to figure something out, but you have no idea how or even where to go or what to do.

 

I’ll give you an example of what this cycle looked like for me on one of the first teams I worked on at Amazon. I worked on a retail team, and when I first joined, it was super exciting. Amazon had recruited me to come and work for them, and it was kind of a shift in my career. I had worked in advertising for about 12 years before then, and this was a little bit of a pivot. I was learning so much. I liked Amazon as a customer, I was getting to know my team, who are some incredible, smart people that I’m still friends with to this day. It was so exciting and fun. Then, I hit that growing and learning phase. I was past the honeymoon, “Oh, this is awesome,” and it was still fun. I saw areas where I could add some improvement, and I started implementing changes, and it was helping. I started delivering and doing my job. I was helping the team hit our KPIs, and I was adding some strategic insight to the team. I was growing and learning and working hard, but it was still fun.

 

Again, it’s not the honeymoon, all new and exciting, but I’m still learning and delivering, and it was fun. This whole cycle took me, I don’t know, three-ish plus years. So, it’s not just day-to-day; this can be over a span of time. Then, I moved into the overwhelm phase because, again, I could see all the problems and all the challenges, and I understood the complexity and the challenges we were up against. They would hire someone new on the team, and they would be in that honeymoon, excited phase. They’d be like, “Oh, we could do this, we could do this,” and immediately my brain notices why it won’t work, why it’s going to be hard, why that’s a terrible idea. I’m like Eeyore when I’m in this overwhelmed phase. I was working ridiculous amounts of time, crazy, crazy hours when I was in this phase.

 

My manager, whom I like and respect and still keep in contact with to this day, started dangling a promo in front of me. I had delivered, I had proven myself, and they were like, “Yeah, just keep going, keep doing the work, and we’re going to give you this promotion.” So, I was trying to stay in it, but getting promoted didn’t sound easy or fun because I was already working a lot. I was pretty maxed out, and the thought of having to go above and beyond to move the needle, one, didn’t feel like I had the time, and two, didn’t feel like it was going to be easy that I could win and be successful at it.

 

I did actually get promoted, but it was after that promotion that I went into this frustrated, stuck phase. This is where the holiday peak season would come around, and it was such a heavy lift, and I dreaded it before it even began. I was so jaded and just kind of going through the motions. I wanted out, but I also knew the grass is not greener on the other side. I didn’t know what was out there. I did know Amazon reorganizes every six months, so I wasn’t sure what I was really jumping into. I wasn’t sure what to do. It all looked unknown and had some red flags, no matter what I found. I didn’t have the time and energy to figure it out.

 

Then something new came along, and I rotated teams to where I was helping launch a new category at Amazon. I went back to that same cycle where it was exciting and new and fun, and I went through the motions again. So, this career life cycle that so many of us go through multiple times in our career is the new and exciting, then the learning and growing pains, then the overwhelm, then the frustrated and stuck.

 

How do you get from frustrated and stuck back into that exciting phase again? For a lot of us, we spend way more time than we should in the frustrated and stuck phase because we’re already frustrated, it feels hard, and we’re just uncertain, and everything looks not great, doom or gloom, and we’re not sure where to go. This is where, when people get in this place, I’ve seen a lot of people kind of forced out of this phase, whether that’s through a performance improvement plan and they get fired, and they’re forced to find something new. I’ve seen this happen a lot. Not every performance improvement plan means a person is in that phase, but I’ve seen this a lot with people that are very successful and very good at what they do. They’re stuck in this frustrated phase, and they’re not able to get themselves out, and their performance starts to be impacted by it.

 

Caring leaders can identify this in people and lovingly push you out to go and find a new job, a new team, a new

 

 challenge, whatever it is. What you need to get out of this phase is something new and exciting for your brain to learn. I’ve also seen people who are stuck in this frustrated phase. They’re desperate to get out, so they just take anything they can find. Some people ride the coattails of someone they trust and follow them. This is what I did most of the time in my career at Amazon. I had worked with enough different leaders, I knew who I liked and trusted, and I would see what team they went to and try to rotate with them. Good leaders have good people that follow them. Leaders that would rotate into my team, I noticed good people would follow them. I knew this was a good sign.

 

So, when you’re in this frustrated, stuck phase, and you don’t have a performance improvement plan, and you don’t have a caring leader pushing you out, and you’re like, “I don’t know what to do, Lindsay, how do I get out of this phase?” Let me tell you how you can do that on your own.

 

One of the most important things is recognizing where you are. The cycle isn’t good or bad. It’s just a cycle. It just is. So many times, we start thinking, “I shouldn’t be here. What’s wrong with me? I need to fix it. This isn’t good,” and we start resisting and fighting it, and that actually just makes it harder. Instead, we just want to recognize, “Okay, I can see where I’m at.” This is what it is. I’ve been through this cycle multiple times before. I will get through this again. There’s nothing wrong with me. This is just part of it.

 

So, recognizing where you’re at is one of the most important things. If you don’t know where you are, it’s hard to figure out what to do next. Then, we want to start thinking about what makes you excited, what makes you curious, and what makes you want to learn more. The new and exciting phase is all about new challenges, learning new things, being curious. If we can start thinking about what makes you excited, what makes you curious, and what makes you want to learn, it can help give us clues about where to go next.

 

When I was in this frustrated phase at Amazon, and I wasn’t sure what to do, I started looking at other roles within the company that were completely different from what I had been doing. I had been in retail, I had been on that side of the business, and I was curious about what other teams were doing. I ended up finding an opportunity to go work in a completely different part of the company, in a different business unit, and it was a big leap for me, but it was something new and exciting and it got me out of that funk.

 

So, you don’t have to stay stuck in this frustrated phase. Recognize where you are. Figure out what makes you excited and curious, and be willing to take some leaps and try something new. This will help you move through this career life cycle and get back to that exciting phase again.

 

For a lot of us, we spend way more time than we should in the frustrated and stuck phase because, again, we’re already frustrated, and it feels hard, and we’re just uncertain. Everything kind of looks not great and doom or gloom, and we’re not sure where to go. This is where, when people get in this place, I’ve seen a lot of people kind of forced out of this phase, whether that’s through a performance improvement plan and they get fired and they’re forced to go find something new. I see that happen a lot. Not every performance improvement plan means a person’s in that phase, but I’ve seen this a lot with people who are very successful and very good at what they do. They’re stuck in this frustrated phase and they’re not able to get themselves out, and their performance starts to be impacted by it.

 

Caring leaders can identify this in people and lovingly push you out to go and find a new job, to find a new team, to find a new challenge. What you need to get out of this phase is something new and exciting for your brain to learn. I’ve also seen people that are stuck in this frustrated, stuck stage, just desperate to get out and take anything that they can. I’ve also seen people ride the coattails of someone else they trust and go follow them. This is what I did most of the time in my career at Amazon. I had worked with enough different leaders, I knew who I liked and who I trusted, and I would see what team they would go to and try to rotate with them. Right, because I also believe good leaders have good people that follow them. Leaders that would rotate into my team that didn’t have anyone that wanted to come work with them was a big red flag to me, but that’s another conversation for another day.

 

So, personally, when I get in this stuck, frustrated phase, I love to look at where people I like and know are working. I want to go work there. Again, there’s no guarantees. The grass is not greener on the other side. Things will change, but it was just a safe way for me to go find something new and exciting. I don’t think there’s a wrong way to get out of this phase, and I don’t think you should judge yourself. What’s important is to note you’re not learning; you’re just stuck. Your learning curve is so slow based on where you’re at. You got to go, and you got to up your game.

 

Sometimes this means you may need to take a break and rest, and then you got to go hit go. But the reality is, you’re not going to be motivated in that same space. You got to move forward because if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards. What does that look like to move, to go find something new? It could be a new job, it could be a new company, it could be a change in scope. Maybe you’re going to move from being an individual contributor, what I call an IC, to a manager. You’re going to take on managing. That’s a whole new thing you got to go and learn. Maybe you’re going to stay an IC, but your scope is significantly going to increase. Okay, okay, that’s something new and challenging. You got to give your brain a new challenge to go and solve.

 

So, one way you can get out of this funk and into this excitement is to look at how to change the scope of the work you’re doing. Another way you can look at it is how to change the complexity. Again, moving to a manager becomes a lot more complex, or maybe you want to move to being a manager of a manager. Or if you’re an IC, how do I work on more complex, challenging problems that people in the world haven’t solved, that there aren’t examples I can go and look at, that I got to go and make up?

 

Another way you can get out of this funk and into this new and exciting phase is to really focus on what sort of a new skill you want to learn. Maybe you want to go try an opportunity with the purpose of learning some new technology. A lot of the people I’m working with right now, they’re very brilliant, very smart, very successful people, and a lot of them want to get into or in deeper into the AI space. I’m like, awesome, go learn some new technology. There’s so much out there. I think with AI, we are at this amazing crux of huge amounts of exciting new knowledge and information to be had and to be learned. It’s exciting, it’s fun. Go give your brain that challenge.

 

Maybe one of the ways you want to get out of this funk and go get something new and exciting is you’re going to totally change job fields. That’s one of the things I loved about working at these large companies like Amazon, is they allowed for it and they encouraged it because they know it keeps you excited and motivated and driven and coming up with these good ideas. One of the directors I worked for on a couple different teams, he started out in finance and ended up leading these organizations that were hundreds of people. Maybe you want to change industries. Maybe you’re an SD, and you’ve been in the health care industry, and you want to change to the retail industry or vice versa. You can go and apply your skills but in a new way that’s going to force you to learn some new things.

 

Maybe you’re going to go and try to do something entirely new that no one has ever done. Like when I rotated from that first retail team at Amazon, it was exciting because it was a brand new category Amazon had never done or launched before. So there was so much learning and things we had to go and make up. Maybe you want to get into more of the philanthropy side of things and figure out how to take what you know and what you have and give back. Awesome, these are fun new challenges. A way to get out of the funk and into the excitement is to look at what’s a new skill you can do. That can be done through scope and complexity as well, but like what’s a new skill.

 

The last way I offer to you to think about this is, okay, so you’re in this funk, we know your brain needs a challenge, it needs something new to learn and be excited about. Go find that thing outside of work. You may be at a phase where you’re like, I make good money, I like the team, on paper my job’s great, I’m just frustrated and stuck and not motivated anymore. Okay, go find a new thing outside of work. Get a hobby, try a sport, join an interest group, start your own group. There are so many different ways you could do this, but go find a new thing. If you feel stuck and frustrated, your brain is not challenged and learning in a way that’s keeping you excited. You got to go find the thing. The key is to make sure you’re learning and always have that new and exciting thing, and you want to make sure you’re learning at a big enough pace that it’s keeping you in the game.

 

When you get to that overwhelm phase, usually it’s because you’ve learned a lot and you’ve also learned what all the challenges and problems are. It feels very big and hard to solve based on the tools you’ve been given to solve it. The frustration phase happens when now you’re just stuck in the mud. Your brain loves a challenge, give it one on purpose that sounds fun.

 

Alright, y’all, you’re amazing, you got this. We’ll talk soon. If what you’re learning from this podcast is helping, this is just the beginning. Each week, I offer a limited number of coffee chats so that you and I can connect one-on-one and talk specifically about what’s going on for you. You’ll leave this call feeling more hopeful and motivated, but I’m also going to teach you a few things to try right away to get unstuck. Space is very limited and these are free, so grab your spot before they’re gone. Click the link in the show notes or go to LindsayLymanCoaching.com/chat and sign up today. You got this.

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Hey, I’m Lindsay Lyman

I spent the last ~12 years growing my career at Amazon. I’ve built teams, launched new products, and created my own jobs. As a certified coach, I teach people how to manage the noise in their head to feel motivated and valued at work again.

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