How to help a friend in a career rut

Casey Onder, PhD
3 min readJan 15, 2023
Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

Most of us want basic ingredients of fulfilling and stimulating work, if we see them as possible:

  • To learn and grow personally
  • To enjoy what we do
  • To add felt value, i.e. personally moving/meaningful/pride-building
  • To be respected and treated fairly
  • To avoid negative juju like fear, jealousy and hatred (AKA drama)

In short we want to be motivated, well rewarded for our contributions, to enjoy healthy, positive relationships and to get stronger/smarter/upskilled in things we like and care about.

Some of us want to take this further to be fully expressed, fulfilled and actualized through our work — IOW the hero(ine’s) journey.

But the basics are simple, if not always easy. Not being fulfilled in our work is a huge drag and drain of energy. I’ve been there, it can be downright dehumanizing.

If you’re there now, I invite you to STOP reading this and to take one action to move the needle — including taking inventory of your present predicament. You can take a free one here I use with clients, you’ll receive a copy of your answers for your reference.

If you’re relatively content, and you have close friends, colleagues or family who are NOT, e.g. they’re overworked, underutilized or it’s just not a great fit, some ways you can make a difference:

  1. Be with them. This goes without saying, but love and accept them as they are and exactly where they’re at. Stay in touch with them, check in periodically. This alone can work wonders.
  2. Build them up by leaning in. Take 5% more interest than you normally do in anything about them, their thoughts, their experiences. Treat them extra well, as you would want to be in their position, and avoid doing anything that will feed into negative self beliefs. This will give them more confidence and energy.
  3. Similarly to #2, express genuine appreciation for natural strengths and overlooked accomplishments. We forget when they go unappreciated, underutilized or hidden.
  4. Connect them and/or create awareness of opportunities. Scan through your connections and organizations that may be simpatico, if they want to work for others.
  5. If they suffer in silence, ask how it’s going. If they complain or find ways to numb (distractions, addictions, compulsive behavior), be a positive role model and invite them into more positive thinking and activities. That being said, start with empathy, spoken or unspoken. You’re standing for possibility, not denying their discomfort.
  6. Mention positive experiences with career coaches, rather than positioning professional support as a must/need to. Support is empowering and self-affirming — because their potential, well-being and life experiences are important — versus “I have problems and need fixing.”
  7. Even if they’re looking languid or super stressed, even if you’ve never seen them empowered or fulfilled, never forget they’re powerful and resourceful people. You can help them without a savior complex. Live your life, follow your passions, share the love and never stop believing in them.

It’s been years since I had my own career rut, and mine was more like an identity and spiritual crisis, a real whopper. It’s a tough spot to be and I have a lot of compassion for people experiencing something similar.

The good news is you have the power to create a big impact by sole virtue of being a friend.

Spread the love and everyone wins. Thank you for doing it.

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Casey Onder, PhD

Executive Coach | Psychologist | PhD. Follow me on LinkedIn or sign up for my newsletter @ caseyonder.com.