Happy UN Career Podcast / Episode 5

Are You Feeling Stuck in Your UN Career?

Happy UN Career Podcast / Episode 5

Episode 5 / 7 October 2020


Hello, and welcome to today’s episode which is on a topic that probably ranks among the top 3 most burning issues among my clients.

And it’s all about feeling stuck in your job.

If you recognize this, it may be because you feel your career has plateaued. Maybe your duty station is saturated when it comes to relevant positions in your area. Or maybe you can’t – or won’t – move to a different duty station due to family reasons.

There can be a feeling that you don’t have a way out. Or don’t see a way forward.

You have worked hard for many years and maybe there’s also a feeling that recognition is lacking, or that you are being overlooked for opportunities – or in recruitment processes.

When you’re stuck, there’s a feeling that you don’t have options. And that’s both frustrating and demotivating.

It can feel like you’ve lost agency over your work life. And that’s a hard place to be in.

I know the feeling of “stuckness”

I’m not really sure that’s a word, but – there it is. 🙂

I know that feeling because that was me too. I went through what felt like a long period of feeling stuck in my career.

I worked with UNDP – in Human Resources – for many years, and I was very proud to be part of the UN.

For a long time, I was very excited about my job and very motivated. But over time I started feeling a bit “tired”. Needing new experiences, new challenges.

I knew it was time to start looking for new opportunities.

But my duty station was saturated when it came to positions in my area. And truth be told, I wasn’t very mobile – which is, of course, an issue if you want a professional career in the UN.

And work was busy, so I was struggling to find the energy and time to apply for jobs.

And in that way, months and years went by and the easier thing seemed to be to stay with what I knew. And which was a good job, I have to say. With a nice boss and nice colleagues. And good pay.

So, I was losing energy and momentum in terms of looking for – and noticing – options and opportunities for myself.

I was clearly in a place where I could use some help.

But unfortunately, it took me a long time before I realized that and took steps to get that help.

In the meantime, I was lingering in a place of feeling stuck, and – honestly – a feeling that “someone” ought to help me move on in my career. That “someone” being the organisation? Or Human Resources? Or my supervisor?

The way I heard about people being promoted or recommended for development opportunities in the private sector.

And guess what? That’s just not really the way things work in the UN. And I knew that of course. I was working in Human Resources myself and regularly had conversations with staff about how to take ownership of their own career development.

But I still secretly longed for that help because I felt like I’d gotten stuck myself.

Long story short – in the end, I left and started my own business. Which is certainly an effective way of getting unstuck! But today I realise that there are many things I could have done while I was still with the UN. And I’ll share some of those with you.

Remember your Career Journey?

The exercise I shared in the previous episode?

I’d really recommend that as a helpful starting point if you’re feeling stuck. It will reinforce your pride in the challenges you’ve overcome and everything you have achieved. And maybe, more importantly, it will highlight how you’ve taken action to move forward in previous parts of your career. It will reignite your motivation and give you ideas for what to do next.

You can go back and find that episode at www.barbarakandersen.com/4.

Regain your sense of power over your own career development

Because you’re really the only one who can do it.

It would be wonderful if somebody really saw your hard work, your skills, how you provide value – and helped you go to the next step. But it rarely works like that.

You may have heard stories about people who have sponsors. Or you see other people where it seems like they get special help. And maybe they do – maybe they don’t.

But the problem is that if you hang on to that thought – that others get support that you don’t get – it will drain you and you risk losing motivation for a job and a mission that is hopefully worthwhile and important.

In the end, there is really only one person you can expect to work faithfully for your career fulfilment – and that is you.

And there’s a lot you can do!

You get unstuck by pulling yourself to a place of agency, action and taking control. Maybe just one step at a time. But one step after another will lead you out of “stuckness”.

Even if you think that you can’t do a lot at a particular moment, you can always do something.

Imagine that you’re changing the course for a ship. Even with a very small correction of the course, you will surprisingly quickly take the ship in a whole new direction.

So, sometimes you really want to take a big leap – like moving to a new job, a new organization, a new sector.

And sometimes you just need to start with a small change to open up for new motivation and inspiration in your professional life.

Start by evaluating how you have been taking action so far

What have you actively done until now to expand or get unstuck?

  • Have you been consistently applying for interesting positions?
  • Have you thought about exactly what a Happy UN Career is for you? Is it about
    • A higher grade? (Or a higher salary?)
    • More authority?
    • More autonomy?
    • More challenges?
    • A feeling of greater contribution to the mission?
    • Relationships with inspiring colleagues?
    • A good balance between work and private life?
  • Have you looked for – and asked for – developmental opportunities?
  • Have you asked for a career development discussion with your supervisor?
  • If your relationship with your supervisor isn’t conducive to such a discussion, who else could you talk to?
    • Is there a former supervisor you could reach out to?
    • An experienced colleague, that you trust?

How are you setting aside time to:

  • Look for interesting vacancies? And apply?
  • Find a mentor?
  • Expand and interact with your network? Make people aware of the work you do?

Write down what you’ve been doing. Acknowledge yourself for all you have done.

Think about where could you up your game? Not that you should do everything at once, but consider which one thing could potentially have the biggest impact for you?

And if you started working consistently on this now (dedicating a bit of time – maybe every week), what impact could it have in 6 or 12 months?

Make a Plan and Take action

What could be the first one or two things you could take action on to start moving you forward? Could you:

  • Do the Career Journey Exercise?
  • Update and polish off your CV?
  • Find a mentor?
  • Activate your network to learn about opportunities and get inspiration?
  • Find allies – and make sure that you find allies where you can inspire each other. That you lean on people who look for options and take action themselves and who make you feel boosted with energy and motivation when you speak with them. Make a “get-unstuck-support group”!
  • Make a budget? This may sound strange, but in my experience, a lot of fear and worries around feeling stuck is connected with concerns about money. Jobs in the UN are well paid, and maybe you fear that if you leave the UN you won’t be able to keep up your current living standards. Or look after your family.But know that there are a large number of people outside the UN that do well for themselves. Also people who once worked in the UN and now work in the public or private sector. Or NGO’s.

    This is a podcast about Happy UN Careers – but if you think that the best option right now to get the kind of experience and exposure you need is outside the UN, maybe it’s time to start planning and budgeting for how you could do that?

If you’re wondering where to start, I have a suggestion for you: Actively seek out a mentor!

Having an experienced person to discuss your career and work issues with, can be a major support and game-changer. And I’m not talking sponsorship here. I’m talking about the effect of getting moral and mental support from somebody who’s further down the road and who has your best interest at heart.

It’s my impression that men are often better at initiating mentorship relations, but studies show that a mentor relationship can be incredibly important especially for women in their careers. In fact, I’ll be talking more about this on a later episode.

Get Help

If you’re really feeling stuck it’s very important that you get support, because “stuckness” is a place that drains your energy and motivation from a job that should feel important and relevant for you. After all, we only have this one short life and you absolutely deserve to feel happy with the work you’re in.

As I’ve said before, we often can’t see the trees for the wood when we’re sitting in the middle of it. So go and find somebody who’ll help you tackle this. Maybe you have a good friend or a close colleague who’d like to look at the exercises with you – and who can inspire you to take action.

And if you have a sense that people around you feel stuck too – or that there isn’t really anybody who can give you the support you need, then consider getting professional support. For example, this is exactly what I work with my clients on in my 5-month VIP programme.

But whatever you do – find someone who will be firmly on your side. But who will still help you ask the critical questions you need to consider to get unstuck.

Remember, it pays off to be happy in your job!

I wish you lots of luck with getting unstuck. It feels powerful and liberating to take action!

What’s Next?

In the next episode, I’ll talk about how a happy career inevitably hangs together with the rest of our life.

Often when we think of our career we focus on promotions, ambitions and climbing the hierarchical ladder. But your job has to hang together with the rest of your life. And your family. And a UN career often means living away from your family and your country. How does all this play out?

And I’ll have a small tool for you to try out of course.