In any progression, be it learning a new skill, training for physical activity, or, yes, your advancing in your career, there will undoubtedly come a time where your progress seems to dwindle to nothing. It is a terrible sensation to suddenly feel like you are not getting anywhere, especially if you have been going from strength to strength up until that point.

Hitting a plateau in your professional life is not uncommon, however, and you should not see it as the end of the road, but rather a new hurdle to overcome. It may feel like an insurmountable hurdle, but with a bit of professionalism and self development, it is most certainly a hurdle you can clear.

Signs That You Have Hit a Plateau

Patience is a virtue, especially when you are dealing with your career. Unfortunately, this can make it a little tricky to tell when you have hit a plateau-how can you be sure the current period in your career doesn’t just require a little more patience?

The truth is, there is no definitive way of knowing, short of hunkering down and seeing if you are still in the same situation in ten years time. Not exactly an ideal solution. There are additional signs to look out for, however. Such as your boss being very clearly rooted in place. If your progression is linear, and your boss doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere any time soon, they are essentially a roadblock to your progress.

Similarly, if your company is downsizing, or you have reached as high as you can go within that company, it may be time to start looking for a way off that plateau. So, let’s get into how you can do just that.

Don’t Be Afraid of Lateral Movement

There is a common misconception that you should always be moving forward in your career, that your next step should take you to bigger and better things. Not only is this not true, but it can even be damaging in the long run. Barreling ahead like a bullet train without proper forethought to where you are heading can lead you down dead ends, as far as your career is concerned.

There are times when the right move is one that does not advance your career at all. Sometimes, the right move could even be a step backwards! Try not to think of your career trajectory as a single ladder, but as an entire climbing wall.

Moving away from analogies, one example of this might be taking a lower position at a larger company, where there is more opportunity to progress than with your current employer.

Expand Your Horizons

Plateaus can happen for a variety of reasons, and not all of them can be blamed on the limitations of your employment situation. Consider expanding your interests, skills, and competencies. This will not only make you a more rounded character, but it will also help with your personal development. The more you try, the more you learn about yourself, and you may find career paths that you had previously written off become more appealing as you try new things. It may even make you more valuable to your employer.

There are many ways to achieve this, from volunteer work, to involved hobbies, and even going back to school (literally or figuratively) to learn new skills.

Make a Detailed Map to the Future

As we mentioned above, the path to achieving your goals might involve the occasionally sidestep, or even step backwards. Taking that step once you are aware of it is easy, but identifying where those steps are, and when they need to be taken, is not quite as simple.

The trick here is to start big and work down. It is no good looking at your immediate situation-your department, for example-and planning your way to the top of your company if that company shuts the department down before you get there. On a larger scale, masterminding your path to the top of a company that is heading towards difficult times is less than ideal.

Try to gauge the future of your industry, then your company, then your department. If the signs aren’t good, at any step of the way, you can take measures to avoid those hardships, thus removing one potential cause of a career plateau entirely.


DJ Jeffries EditorAuthor

DJ Jeffries is the founder and editor of

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