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How to Deal With Plateauing?
Plateauing is a concept that says when a major aspect of life has stabilized, as it ultimately must, we may feel significantly dissatisfied. The essential source of the dissatisfaction is that the present is not engrossing and the future is not clear. There is not yet an answer to the question "What will I do next?" People who are plateauing are at a level—they are neither rising nor falling.

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Most individuals and organizations don't recognize that kind of plateauing as a problem, at least not for them. It hasn't commanded much attention until now, and the concepts and the facts are not widely known, so it's hard for people to begin to talk about it. Instead of being a clear problem, it tends to manifest itself as a vague but pervasive feeling that things are not okay. In itself, this vagueness makes it harder for people to identify the problem, much less deal with it. But as soon as the words, ideas, and facts are on the table, there is a near-universal response of aha! People say, "Yes, that's what's been going on. I didn't want to talk about it before but since you brought the subject up, I can begin to think about dealing with it." Transforming a vague anxiety into a specific problem is always the first step to solving the problem.

The vagueness also stems from peoples' reaction to the word itself; they say that it makes them uncomfortable. But plateauing is a neutral word; it describes a status. There is nothing intrinsically bad about that. Plateauing is one phase of the process of change that characterizes everyone's life. In one form or another, everyone plateaus, and over the course of a lifetime, almost every¬one plateaus more than once. When you recognize that you are plateaued, that awareness can make being plateaued the platform upon which to build the next phase of life.

Plateauing is thus an essentially simple phenomenon, but it becomes complicated when organizations and individuals find their most central values challenged by its occurrence. When people are plateaued, their growth ambitions, which formed the central themes of their being, are no longer assets because they cannot be achieved. Then the frustrations spill out over everything that is most important—peoples' identity, their sense of self-esteem, their relationships, their performance, and their future . . . in short, everything that counts.

Three Kinds of Plateauing
We gain a necessary perspective on what we can do to solve the problems created by plateauing when we look at the different forms that it takes. There are three kinds: structural, content, and life plateauing. While they are different from one another, they are interrelated.

Structural plateauing refers to the end of promotions. It is caused by an organization's hierarchy or structure. All of us know that as we climb up the familiar pyramid shape of organizations, the number of positions decreases dramatically and the opportunities to move upward decrease proportionately. But even though we know that, we hope we'll beat the odds and be one of those few who get the brass ring.

Structural plateauing is not new. What is new is that today and into the future, people will be structurally plateaued much earlier in their careers than they are prepared for. The phenomenon of structural plateauing is going to generate enormous problems in organizations for the next 15 to 25 years.

Managers, executives, and professionals who work in complex organizations are stimulated to climb the mountain because it is there and because of the intense competition among them. The visibility of the hierarchy and of the competition makes the failure to be promoted painfully obvious. Some people have great difficulty in coming to terms with structural plateauing and getting on with the rest of their lives.

People are content plateaued when they know their jobs too well. There's not enough to learn. They have become expert in their work, and they are likely to feel profoundly bored. Most of us need to feel the challenge of having something unfamiliar in the task and the satisfaction that we are learning something new. We need at least a small amount of risk, which is the essence of what we call challenge.

People who are structurally plateaued frequently become con¬tent plateaued. In large organizations, structural plateauing is essentially inescapable, but content plateauing is not. The sheer size of the organization creates the possibility for job changes that do not involve promotion, but do involve new tasks and new challenges. In contrast, promotion may be insignificant to people who work in small organizations, those who are self-employed, and professionals who don't want to become managers. For them, structural plateauing is irrelevant, but content plateauing is an ever-constant danger.

People are particularly vulnerable to plateauing in life when work becomes the most significant sector in their lives. Work becomes the basis of their identity and self-esteem—which is fine as long as they continue to be successful. But promotions do eventually end, sometimes provoking a terrible sense of failure, and frequently mastery of the work brings feelings of tedium. When that happens, there is a good chance that they will feel plateaued in life.

Being plateaued in life is more profound, more total, and consequently more serious than the other forms of plateauing. From middle age on, many of us are plateaued in life. It takes courage to break out of this most difficult plateau. But unless we do, our lives will remain a faint approximation of what they might have been.

People who feel plateaued in life usually feel trapped; they don't know how to break out of the cycle of despair, and they are afraid to try. If they can accept the fact that they are plateaued and at the end of a phase, they are in a position to begin. They have the opportunity to do what they have never done, to experience what they have never felt, to become people they have not yet been. What they stand to gain is the rest of their lives.

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Escaping the Trap
The fact is that everyone plateaus. The only difference among people is in how they handle it. The first task is always the same; it is true for individuals and it is true for organizations: The phenomenon of plateauing must be acknowledged and the problems that it causes must be addressed.

In itself, plateauing is not necessarily bad. In fact, since plateauing in certain aspects of our lives is inevitable, being satisfied with life while being plateaued in some parts of it is necessary for our mental well-being. But plateauing is emotionally depleting when the plateau results in the sense that work or relationships or life has no momentum. People cope and act responsibly, but there is no vitality in what they do.

While being plateaued is a fact, feeling plateaued is a psycho¬logical state. Obviously, people who feel plateaued want to experience their work and their lives differently. But how? The first step in creating psychological change is to gain insight. Thus the first purpose of this book is to explain the phenomenon of plateauing.

When we think about plateauing, we usually focus on structural plateauing, the end of promotions. The reality that promotions will end, and that they will end earlier in our careers, is a wedge that will force us to change our definition of success. Of course we will continue to esteem those who are so exceptional that they rise to the highest levels of responsibility and leadership. But the definition of success has to be broadened to include those who continue to learn and be productive at work and those who continue to mature and change in their lives. Our ideas about success have to alter so that people can feel "successful" during the whole of their lives.

But insight about a problem is only the first step. There has to be real change in how people live and in how organizations respond. Those changes can take place only when the phenomenon of plateauing is addressed and success is redefined.

The organization must change its culture so that people who are structurally plateaued can continue to earn respect and experience success through mastering new challenges. The manager must be honest and supportive so that plateaued employees know where they stand and can continue to feel motivated and valued. The individual must face the issues, give up frustrating old ambitions, and take the initiative in creating new ones.

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People who are plateaued have to create new opportunities by which they can gain self-esteem. Since people feel plateaued when a major commitment no longer provides satisfaction and excitement, they have to redefine what they want from the commitment, or they must take on new commitments. People need to create that feeling of movement in their inner lives, which is the only way to have a sense of future.

Source :
Judith Bardwick, The Plateauing Trap: How to Avoid It in Your Career...and Your Life, Amacom Press. You can obtain this fine book here