Why You’re In Career No Man’s Land, And How To Escape It

Without knowing it, you’re probably living in career no man’s land. You’re probably not really happy at work but you’re not unhappy enough to do anything about it. This is the worst place you can be. It’s holding you back from reaching your full potential. But before we can escape it, we need to understand how our brains work.

Think about any decision you have made in your life. You made the decision based on your desire to either obtain some form of pleasure or avoid some form of pain. This is what Freudian thinkers like to call the pain-pleasure principle. And I’ll go onto explain that by recognising it, not only can we kiss goodbye to career no man’s land, we can control the direction of our lives as well.

Now think about the pain-pleasure principle in the context of your career.

After a bad day those of us in career no man’s land tend to soften the pain by saying, “I suppose this job’s not that bad” or “things will get better eventually”. We rationalise by finding false positives such as, “the pay’s not terrible”, “things will change when I get that promotion” or, worse still, by comparing our lives to others, “at least my job is better than Frank’s”. Poor Frank. But softening the blow does you no good at all. It numbs you to reality and it’s keeping you from the job satisfaction you deserve.

Getting leverage

Think of a change in your life that was really hard to make. It probably took ages to follow through until one day you said, “That’s it”, “no more”, “I’ve had it”, “never again”, “it’s over”. That’s leverage. You don’t want to wait for life (or redundancy) to do that for you, you want to be conscious of that. Change always happens in an instant. It’s getting ready to change that takes time.


Redundancy is painful. And lot’s of successful people switch careers into something they love after being made redundant. Redundancy is leverage, because it forces you to re-evaluate and make new decisions. All the people I know who have changed careers after redundancy say they wish they’d had the courage to make the change before waiting to be made redundant. Don’t wait.

The key to getting leverage is controlling the things we associate pain and pleasure to. Not just intellectually, but in our hearts, our stomachs and our little fingers. These “gut” feelings span what we’ve felt in the past, what we’re feeling in the present and what we predict we’ll feel in the future. In order to create lasting change we need to associate consistent feelings across all 3 areas.

Think of that change you made in your life and I guarantee it was because you said that “this hurt me in the past, it’s hurting me right now and I’m certain it’s going to hurt me in the future”.

Saying that you hate your job right now won’t lead you to change; it’s only when you associate enough pain with the past, present and the future that will give you the leverage required to change. And this is why so many people live in career no man’s land. It’s career unhappiness without enough leverage to change. It’s full of people sabotaging their own efforts to change by rationalising that some day in the future things may get better. Unfortunately, some day never comes.

Imagine a brighter future

It’s not just pain that will get us to change. Being certain that making a change will bring pleasure or at least will be less painful is also required. Moving jobs feels scary and that the future is uncertain, but here’s the really fun thing… we make decisions based on what we THINK things will feel like in the future, not based on reality. It’s all about our PERCEPTION of reality.

This quick exercise demonstrates this:

You have been invited to a job interview. You’re still deciding whether or not you will go.

First imagine sitting awkwardly in an interview room. The office around you is dark, cold and quiet. You meet the interviewer and she starts by asking you tough question after tough question, all of which you struggle to answer. She doesn’t seem impressed with your accomplishments. The job is above your pay grade and you start to doubt your ability, after 20 minutes she looks at her watch and says she needs to leave and that she’ll be in touch.

How much do you want to go to the interview, on a scale from 1 to 10?

Now instead imagine sitting comfortably in a bright, light meeting room. The office around you is buzzing and your favourite song comes on in the office speakers at just the right volume. You instantly click with the interviewer, sharing a joke or two and you are easily able to list off your impressive career achievements and she seems really engaged in what you’re saying. The job is a little above your pay grade but you feel like you can really step up to the plate and offer them lots of value in return.

How much do you want to go to the interview now?

Did you feel a difference there?

Some handy tools to escape career no man’s land

career no man's land

With these psychological tools you can completely change how you feel about past, present and even future events. In other words, you can create motivation.

Think about moving jobs right now. Do you perceive it to be a threat to the way of life you currently have or is it an opportunity to take your life to the next level?


Advice and guidance from others cannot replace your own internal voice. So the next time you catch yourself in career no man’s land why not try a more empowering approach. Take some action and browse jobs with companies that might be a better fit, enrol in some courses to do that would skill you up in certain areas or set up relevant job alerts from the companies you love.

Magnify in your mind the pain you will experience if you fail to act. Likewise, magnify in your mind the pleasure you will experience if you take the action that you know will ultimately be in your best interest. By assigning the levels of pain and pleasure to the actions we are considering we gain control of our subconscious and make better decisions.