Sindhu Shivaprasad
Lead Content Strategist and Copywriter

There's a world of difference between being present and being engaged, doing well and just... doing. In the workplace, thriving means a lot more than just hitting targets; it means feeling that your values and career are aligned, you never lack motivation, you're consistently productive and performing well. Thriving also means doing all of this without burning yourself out or making too many harsh compromises.

It can be hard to spot the difference when you're doing the daily grind — scary, too. But stepping back to look at your career as a whole can give you the perspective you need to make the right changes and move in a direction you genuinely enjoy.

To get you started on that journey, here are some signs your career isn't thriving but surviving.

1. You're putting in the bare minimum, but not much more.

When your career is just about surviving, you'll probably find yourself putting in the bare minimum needed to get something done. It's not always that you can't do it — this can also happen if you don't want to do it. It might also be because you aren't receiving helpful

feedback or external motivation when you go the extra mile.

2. You sense that your life isn't all it could be.

When your bank account and list of successes are growing impressively, you still might not get a sense of fulfillment. It happened to The Huffington Post's Ariana Huffington, who seemed to be succeeding outwardly but wasn't thriving in the real sense of the term. She realized that the world's definition of success focused on money and power — but not on wisdom, empathy, wonder and well-being. And if you find that your life lacks these, it's a sign that your career might be in auto-pilot mode.

3. Much of your potential remains untapped.

Agency and choice can shift the game from surviving to thriving. If you feel like you have the capacity and potential to do much more, but aren't getting the chance or the choice, your career might be surviving. When you're given a voice in your organization and the room to contribute to changes, you're can invest in your ideal future workplace and career.

4. You don't feel great, physically or mentally.

Dissatisfaction or complacency in your career can manifest as physical or mental symptoms. You might be feeling detached, irritable, tired or unmotivated. You might be filling your work hours with busy work instead of deep work; you might also be losing sleep (or sleeping too much). All of these symptoms spell "surviving", not thriving.

5. Despite successes, you feel unhappy.

Sure, your career path might seem to have all the stereotypical trappings of success. But all the money and star-studded titles in the world can't make up for a career that appears tedious, causes burnout or clashes with your values. If you’re feeling unhappy with how things are going, it might be time for a change. 

How to break free from just surviving in your career.

Let's just get this out there: breaking free of anything takes work. You'll need to be ready to put in the hours and ask some tough questions of yourself to move forward. It's not easy, but it's so worth it.

Forget about the sunk costs.

When you're in the middle of your surviving career, it can be tempting to continue as you are because of the work, time and resources you've already put in. This is the sunk cost effect. If you're able to, don't let it stop you from pivoting your career if you need to.

Consider how you feel about your career at the moment.

Use the traffic light system as an analogy to diagnose your career or current job situation. Here's how that works:

Red: You feel like you've hit a wall in your career. Perhaps you feel stuck in a job you don't enjoy or working with a boss you don't appreciate.

Yellow: You're experiencing some signs of discontent, possibly stress, lack of motivation, or you’re taking things for granted.

Green: You feel like you're on track both in your current job and in your long-term career.

These questions can help you understand what's missing in your career and what you might need to change the game.

Identify the help you might need to break free.

When you're working on your future career growth, you might need help from an extended network, especially if you decide to jump into a new industry. This network could consist of career coaches, professional groups individual mentors, even family and friends. It's best to be strategic and organized in the way you find and use these resources, such that they form stepping stones and support systems as you transition.

Develop short-term and long-term strategies.

You don't want to plot out your entire career at a go, sure. But it always helps to have a loose plan that serves as a baseline to adapt, flex and take opportunities as they come. To start with, you can map out what you want to achieve in the next 12 to 24 months. This will give you room to experiment and set the direction for the rest of your career. Be as clear as you can and pay extra attention to how you might fulfil your goals.

When entire years of our lives are dedicated to careers, it only makes sense that the said career is what you want it to be. Playwright George Bernard Shaw puts it nicely:

"The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and, if they can’t find them, make them."

This is your sign to get in the driver's seat, take the wheel, and take your career in the direction you want to go.

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for thriving in your career? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!


This article was written by a Fairygodboss contributor.

Sindhu Shivaprasad heads all things content strategy, ideation and execution for Pause, a time-off management tool by award-winning product consultancy Obvious. As a third-culture individual, she’s working to make copy and content more inclusive, diverse and respectful of individual nuances.

In the long term, she hopes to write an anthology of essays on topics that connect people through time and space. For now, she’s taking the first step through her newsletter, Kindred Spirits. You can reach out to her on Twitter and LinkedIn