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Dealing with a Shipwreck Career


Do you ever feel like your career has become a shipwreck? You aren't alone. Many of us find ourselves adrift from time to time, often with no clear idea of how we got into this predicament or how to get out of it. If any of these signs sound familiar, then your career might currently be stuck on the shoals:

  • You're taking on tasks that you don't enjoy and that don't challenge you.

  • Your work feels like an exercise in futility.

  • You've stopped learning new skills that could help in your career development.

  • You've been passed over for promotions without explanation or explanations that don't seem valid.

Whatever the cause, shipwreck careers are more common than they should be - and more insidious than most people realise. Join us as we explore the slippery slope of a shipwreck career and explain what to do when you find yourself working on one.

Shipwreck careers are common.

Whether at the bottom of your career ladder or near the top, there’s a good chance that you have experienced a shipwreck career at some point during your work. If you haven’t had one yet, it’s likely just around the corner. In fact, according to studies by The Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), shipwreck careers are common in all industries and levels of employment:

  • Shipwreck careers happen at every level of the corporate hierarchy – from entry-level employees to CEOs

  • Shipwreck careers are equally prevalent among both men and women.

People fall into them from all sides.

The reason that shipwrecks are so common is that they can happen at any point in your career. It's easy to get caught in one when you're new to the industry and don't know what you're doing, but it also happens to people who have been working for years and have come up with all sorts of ideas about what works doesn't work. And even if you've had some success, that doesn't mean it's guaranteed—sometimes we start thinking of ourselves as invincible when things are going well, only to find out later that we weren't quite as good or wise as we thought.

Shipwreck careers feature a long, slippery slope.

A shipwreck career is a long, slippery slope. It’s a gradual process that happens over time, but it seems like nothing is happening. Unlike some jobs where you may be able to look back and see how you got from point A to point B, shipwreck careers don’t have such clear signposts. This means they can feel like they aren’t going anywhere when they are steadily moving forward in the wrong direction—which is why it can take so long for someone to realise what’s happening and decide to do something about it.

Stuck in a shipwreck career

When you're stuck in a shipwreck career, you start to experience the feelings that come with being on a shipwreck.

A shipwreck career is one of those things that can be a blessing or a curse. It's a great way to learn about yourself and see what you're made of, but it can also be a painful experience.

But what does it mean to be stuck in a shipwreck career? How do you know if you're on a shipwreck path?

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Loneliness

  • Desperation (and its close cousin, anger)

  • Resentment (for yourself and others)

You may also feel self-doubt, guilt, self-loathing, fear—even despair. And if those don't seem like enough negative emotions for one job? You might even end up feeling helplessness or shame.

When you're stuck in a shipwreck career, you start to experience the feelings that come with being on a shipwreck. You feel like you're going nowhere and that there's no way out.

It can feel like everything around you is falling apart, even though nothing has happened. And that's because when you're in this place, your mind starts telling you lies about reality.

One of the biggest lies is that life is more complicated than it is — which makes sense when you think about it: The only reason we believe life is more complex than it is that we're looking at all of our problems as they come up instead of looking at them as challenges to overcome.

People often see the signs of a shipwreck career and try to sail through the rough seas.

You might be a victim of a shipwreck career if you've experienced the following:

  • Rejection and disappointment

  • Slippery slope career poles

  • Feeling stuck in your job or career, but still doing it because it's easier than looking for something new. Or maybe you're not even sure what else to do.

  • The feeling that you're not good enough, or that you'll never be good enough—and that being mediocre is preferable to failing at something new and challenging yourself?

But the signs are there if you look for them.

There are a few signs that can help you identify a shipwreck career:

  • You feel like you're in a dead-end job. If your career has been going on for more than two years and it's not getting better, things may be out of whack.

  • Your family or friends tell you to quit the job. They may say things like, "you don't seem happy" or "you should do something else."

  • You constantly dream of quitting your job and doing something else with your life.

See the signs

A good skipper recognises that sometimes it's time to step off the deck, get back ashore and figure out what's next.

You're not a failure if you abandon ship. On the contrary, it is often a sign of strength and maturity that you recognise this need to leave behind the career path which has brought you to your current position. A successful skipper knows when it is appropriate to abandon ship or change course—and so should you!

Abandon ship

Once you've decided to abandon ship, there are ways to avoid getting stranded on land.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Get back to the basics. – ‘Don't be afraid of failure,’ You may feel like a failure now because you're not happy with what's going on in your career, but if you learn from those experiences and then find another job or start your own business, it won't feel like a failure—it'll feel like progress.

  • Do some soul-searching. Start thinking about yourself, what makes you happy, and what kind of job would be best suited for that lifestyle: ‘Are there any skills that come naturally to me? What am I good at?’ ‘What are my passions? What activities give me energy? What do I love doing each day?’

Get moving

Don't stay on board a sinking ship - find your way to dry land and get back into your career groove again.

  • Don’t stay on board a sinking ship.

  • Don't try to figure out how to fix it.

  • Don't try to fix it yourself.

  • Don't try to get back where you were before.


We hope we have given you the tools to identify a shipwreck career and get your job back on track. There are many different paths to a shipwreck career, so once you've decided that it's time to abandon ship, you should start exploring those options. For instance, if you're searching for a rewarding new job or want to keep your options open for future opportunities, getting certified in a new skill is always an excellent way for professionals looking for change or advancement. Of course, there are other steps you can take, like networking with other professionals or freelancing, but whatever path you choose will hopefully lead you toward more apparent horizons than where your shipwreck career left off.

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