How To Get Out Of A Career Rut

APW's life coach shares five baby steps to start figuring out what you really want

We are really excited to partner with Squarespace on this piece from our very own executive coach, Jay Pryor. Often when we’re in a career rut and trying to take the next step, one of the things that hangs us up is turning that want into an action. But when that action involves creating a new website, Squarespace is the easiest way to make it happen. (And we know from experience. Both The Compact and live on Squarespace.) Squarespace provides an all-in-one hub—including everything from custom URLs to beautiful templates, analytics, and now even built-in email marketing—that makes it easy to build your online home beautifully, even if you’ve never made a website before and have no idea where to start. Click here to get your website started today with a free 14-day trial from Squarespace.

I’ve been coaching executive women for the past ten years, but back before I became a coach, I worked in the furniture industry. At the time, I liked my job in a number of ways. I liked the money, I liked the people, I liked the time, I liked a lot of things—but I didn’t like working with furniture. I wanted make a difference in people’s lives, not deal with the scratch on their desk. During this time I had a lot of great things going for me: I was married to the love of my life; I was living in Washington, D.C.; I loved my friends; I loved where I lived; I was making good money. I had all good things in my life. The only thing that wasn’t working for me was my career.

For those of you who know my story, you’ll know that I was assigned female at birth, then transitioned to male after thirty-five years of living life as a woman, and I now identify as a gender nonconforming person. So I have always had a particular interest in empowering women. I believe that as humans we get trained out of knowing what we want pretty early on in life. But women especially are trained to serve others, and they are trained out of feeling deserving of the things they want. Which means that it can be really difficult to figure out what those things are that you want in the first place.

So today, I’ve partnered up with APW and Squarespace to share some of the things I’ve learned about how to give up the idea that you don’t know what you want and start working toward what you do what. And once you’ve figured out what that thing is that you want, Squarespace is a great first step in putting it out into the world. You can set up a simple landing page when you only have an inkling of the thing you’re working toward, or create your future career with Squarespace’s designer templates and the multitude of tools that come with them (including online stores, email marketing, even a logo maker). Plus, they give you a free 14-day trial to test it all out. Because what comes next after figuring out what you want is getting up the courage to say it out loud.

Stop Staying “I Don’t Know What I Want”

One day I was walking along with my coach, and I was complaining about my job. And she said these words to me that I’ll never forget: “Jay Pryor, for as powerful a person as you are, it is ridiculous that you have that complaint.” I was shocked. I said, “What do you mean? If I knew what I wanted to do, I would do it.” Immediately she said back to me, “You need to give that idea up.” Now, I’m a pretty arrogant, mouthy person, so I responded facetiously, “Well, okay fine. I’ll give up the idea I don’t know what I want to do and I’m going to start saying what I want is on its way.”

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And right when I said that, it was like a light bulb turned on in my head. What if I could give up the idea that I don’t know what I want? It had become such a habit for me to say, “I don’t know what I want,” that it would come out of my mouth all the time. I had to get über conscious of my thoughts and my words. I stopped saying the phrase, “I don’t know what I want,” and I started saying, “What I want is on its way.”

Knowing What You Want Is A Muscle

The reason it is so important to know what we want is because we as human beings have a tendency to focus on what we don’t want. When we’re stirred up about something, we give a lot of thought to that thing. There’s a fascinating line of research on this thing called your reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS is the part of the brain that takes your knowing from the conscious to the subconscious. So whatever you feed your conscious mind ultimately seeps down into your subconscious, and then it becomes a loop, amplifying your focus. In practical terms, it means that when we’re putting a lot of focus and momentum on what we don’t want, guess what you keep getting? What you don’t want.

Getting clear about your desires is a muscle you have to flex. And I mean that physically. I hold the perspective that everything is energy and that we all have a mind-body connection. There is power there. You get to say how the energy goes; you are in control, which is important because I don’t ever want anyone coming from a place of being a victim or martyr. One of the ways you can flex that muscle and direct the energy is to simply stop saying, “I don’t know.” Another way is to relearn what it feels like in your body when you have a clear “Yes.”

Start with Small Wants

Practice noticing what it feels like when you a hundred percent know you want something. Find things in your life you know you want for sure, like, for example, chocolate ice cream. You know how that feels to want chocolate ice cream. So start practicing with something small that doesn’t have a consequence, like what you want for dinner. It’s no big deal what you want for dinner. Practice getting clear about what it feels like just to know you want that thing, and practice being okay with that (if you can give up judging what you want, that’s important too).

If you’re one of those people who hits a major roadblock when it comes time to make, say, a business card or a website, this can be a great place to get some practice. With Squarespace you can switch out your template and color scheme on a whim (and always for free), so you can give yourself the freedom to make choices based purely on what you like and want.


The next step is to start getting really rigorous with yourself about turning what you don’t want into what you do want. In my case, I knew I didn’t want to work for somebody else. I had been working for other people since I was eleven years old. I wanted to work for myself. I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to set my own hours. I wanted to be able to work from anywhere with a phone and computer. So I started making lists and focusing on the things that I wanted. Your lists don’t have to be specific, like, “I want to work in the fashion industry.” They can be as generic as, “I want a flexible schedule,” or, “I want to work for a company that values me as an employee.” Write those things down and start thinking about them every single day.

Once you do this, new ideas start to become possible. Then it becomes your job to take an action around those ideas and start taking baby steps toward the things that you want.

Pro-tip: If, like me, your dreams involve running your own business, one baby step you can take is to go secure a domain name. You don’t have to do anything with it, but when you’re ready to hit the ground running, it’ll be there for you.


Sometimes we know what we want, and we still don’t go after it. One thing that stops us the most is we’re afraid of our own power. There’s a quote from Marianne Williamson that reads, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” When we are stressed to the nines or we’re in a drama situation or when our cortisol is high, it gets us into martyrdom and victimhood and all this stuff becomes familiar and addictive.

Some of us are so afraid of our own power and so afraid of our own success that we’ll get in our way, we’ll sabotage ourselves, we’ll create drama because it has become ordinary to not know what you want and to spin around in that swirl of not knowing. It’s more comfortable to keep things that way because when we try to rise above those responses and step into our power, that’s scary. So how do you avoid self-sabotage?

Getting it Done

Keep following the formula. It looks like this:

  1. Stop saying that you don’t know what you want. Any momentum you have around that conversation—you have to stop it. Start a new conversation that says, “I know what I want, and I’m going to go get it.”
  2. Start to notice the small things you do want and how they feel in your body.
  3. Start reminding yourself of things you do want. Write down things that you want, focus on things that you want. And then when you’re called into action, get in action.

What I want to challenge you around today is being willing to say to yourself, “I’m going to start saying that what I want is on the way, and I’m going to make it happen,” even if you’re not a hundred percent sure what it is yet. Otherwise the rest of the world gets to dictate your life, and you’re just responding and reacting to things around you. Get in the driver’s seat. You say how your life is going to go. But you have to decide to stop rolling around in the “I can’t do it” and “I don’t know what I want” stuff first.

Then, when you get clear about tiny things you want, I promise you, you’re going to have new ideas. After that the trick is, when you have new ideas, you’ve got to take action. If you don’t take action, you’re going to start swirling around in the not knowing again. And I am telling you, the thing that stops you from taking action is the fear of success. The fear that asks, Whoa, am I big enough to handle that? But that’s okay when the fear rears up, because it’s about practicing progress not perfection. It’s about taking baby steps until they lead you to what you want for your life.

How Knowing What I want Changed My Life

That’s what happened for me: I stopped saying I didn’t know what I wanted, and I started saying what I wanted was on its way, I’m going to figure it out. I started working as a coach for a program where people needed to be held very rigorously to certain measures. The people I was coaching were thriving in their lives—falling in love, getting new jobs—but based on the metrics for what I was coaching them on, well, they were doing poorly. And I was tanking.

Another coach come up to me after a meeting one day and say, “You know Jay, you make a much better life coach than you do a coach for this program.” And I said, “Life coach?” I didn’t know that existed. But as soon as I heard that—BAM—I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life. I went home and got online and I found schools. Now I’ve been a coach for over twelve years. Yet if I had kept on saying, “I don’t know what I want,” and hadn’t stopped to really look at what I do want and start drawing that toward me, I don’t think that I’d have ever found this path.

APW readers get 10% off your first Squarespace purchase when you use the code APW18 at checkout. And stay tuned next month as we help APW’s friend Joanna build her very own Squarespace website, and share tips and tricks on the baby steps you can take to get your website out of your brain and into the world.

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