There’s a wistful line from an old John Denver song, ‘Looking for Space,’ that perfectly captures the uncertainty of a self-made career. It goes: ‘When I think that I’m moving, suddenly things stand still. I’m afraid ‘cause I think they always will.’ 

Stalling can be terrifying. And it always feels so personal, and so mortifyingly eternal. That is, right up until things change again, and we realise that nothing as fatalistic as the end of our life-story has actually occurred. 

In my first book on expert-positioning, Own Your Industry, I wrote about the danger zone of ‘Good Enough.’ I made the point that when we reach a certain level of success and comfort, it’s easy to become complacent and begin to coast. Generally, that also initiates the beginning of a death-spiral (or at least an attention-getting dip in earnings) in any expert’s career. The universe seems to permit growth or shrinkage, but rarely stasis. Stalling is often a result of a ‘good enough’ career, left to coast unattended for a while. It can also reflect a poor economy, or just plain bad luck. 

Whichever way, let’s say it’s happened. You’ve stalled. It’s all dried up and you’re feeling terrified. Now what?

Firstly, let’s be absolutely clear: This is not the end for you. Not by a long shot. I contend that a good flatline generally happens several times in any professional life, even in the lives of those who end up as lasting luminaries in their field. Perhaps especially in such lives. Stalling forces you to change your perspective. It spurs new thought, new action, new struggle and new commitment, and it can ultimately lead to greater spurts of growth. A little fear and prodding can be highly motivating. 

My plan for rebooting your career as an expert does not include any astonishing revelations, nor genius esoteric formulas heretofore withheld from you. It’s very simple and very practical. And that’s largely why it works. 

So here goes. Start with a mental clean slate. Your opening premise for this exercise is: ‘I have no career.’ No past, no momentum, no clients, no income. Also, no baggage. It’s all gone, so take a deep breath and let it go. 

Now, starting from zero, write down your ideas for ‘how to start and build a career in this industry.’ Do it as though you were instructing an enthusiastic newcomer. 

Here’s why it’s effective: This exercise helps you to step outside of yourself and of any current mess of emotional static. It’s a way of stripping away all the emotion, the excuses, the negative ideas and bad inertia trailing behind you. In essence, it’s a way to drown that little voice of doubt, let go and see things afresh. 

Now write out your ideas as though you are advising a newcomer to the industry who is keen to get started. As you detail your plan, you will begin to realise just how many of these ideas, which you would recommend for others, you are not currently practicing yourself. 

For instance, you might jot down: ‘Go to the association events and offer to present.’ That’s good advice. And you know it’s part of building a career like yours. So, why aren’t you still doing it? Because you no longer need to? Really? If that were the case, you wouldn’t have stalled. So perhaps you do need to. Start doing it, and do it with the enthusiasm of a newcomer beginning to build a career. 

Or you might jot down: ‘Find a newspaper and offer them regular contributions on your topic.’ Perhaps you used to do that religiously, but now you do it intermittently, if at all. Again, start doing it as though you were a newcomer to the industry, beginning to build a brand and a career from scratch. That would require a vastly different energy and focus. 

Or you might create a list of key people to contact with a direct sales offer. Has it been a while since you’ve done that? Did it work at the time? Well, do it again, as though you were just starting out and needed the business. 

And how aggressive is your marketing? Is it as strong and focused as that which a newcomer to the industry might create? If you were starting from zero, your marketing would be pretty aggressive indeed. 

As veterans of an industry, it’s tempting to look at these introductory steps and scoff: ‘I’m too high-level for that,’ or ‘I’ve been around too long.’ But a stalled career might suggest otherwise. And so, the best way to undertake this exercise is the hard way. By this, I mean: don’t take short cuts or gloss over anything by convincing yourself that ‘that’s too obvious,’ or ‘that’s for beginners.’ Write down the ‘obvious’ and ‘entry-level’ ideas and ask yourself whether you are genuinely still doing those obvious things and doing them with convincing levels of clout. 

In short, you should write out a complete plan for how someone might launch a career in your field, and then you subject yourself to following that plan as though this were Day One. 

Could you do it? Are you brave enough? I bet you could! Because I think you are. 

Turn your stall into a mere stutter. Restart that engine. I bet it’s formidable once you get it going. Reclaim your story… …and one day you just might end up as the greatest in your game. 

Deep breath. Go get ‘em!


Douglas Kruger, CSP, is a global professional speaker, who focuses on brand, culture and innovation. He is the author of six business books with Penguin and has won the national championships for Public Speaking, through Toastmasters, a record 5 times.

In 2016, in honour of excellence in his craft, Douglas was inducted into the Speakers Hall of Fame by the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa. In 2018, the National Speakers Association granted him the accreditation of Certified Speaking Professional, a designation held by only 12 per cent of motivational speakers globally.

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