“Somedays I want to move to Idaho and raise goats.” Of all the ways clients have explained how unhappy they are at work, that is by far my favorite. I use the story often, as a metaphor. We can get so unhappy at work that something as far-fetched as moving to a distant location and doing work that doesn’t require taxing our brain or our social skills sounds like a dream. The goats require tending only to their immediate needs: Food. Water. Shelter. There’s little stress – until a wolf gets into the barn.
The desire to leave all the corporate stress behind – the project mapping, the KPI indicators, the audit reviews – can be greatly appealing.
When the stress mounts, you may have “Calgon Take Me Away” thoughts. Remember back in the day when Calgon, the bubble bath, promised us that a steamy bath with excessive amounts of bubbles would drown away our stress and make life great again? A hot bath at the end of a day really does help – but the next day, we have to go to work again.
So how do we begin to understand what’s broken? And more importantly, how do we fix it?
With all of my job search clients, I start by figuring out this key: Where’s the break? We separate a role into its component parts to examine the Industry apart from the Company apart from the Job Duties apart from the Boss. Let’s break this down together.
- Industry: Does your industry no longer inspire you? Maybe you fell into it and, in all honesty, it never inspired you. Has it changed and, as much as you found value in it before or possibly loved it, it doesn’t offer the opportunities it once did? When I first started my coaching business, I’d hear from a lot of folks looking to get out of telecommunications. Nokia, Nortel, Motorola, Avaya, Mitel – they were no longer hiring like they once were. Smartphones were changing the game and computer companies like Apple and Samsung were taking over our phone experiences. Could I migrate to cloud storage, to Microsoft, to cellular? my clients wondered. Answering this question was at the heart of our work together. Reporters have been struggling with this conundrum for years as cities continue to shut down newspapers and more and more talent finds themselves on the street. Of my husband’s four best friends from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, only two are still working for newspapers; the others have had to pivot to corporate communications. Blockbuster didn’t adapt, it went bankrupt. If your industry is no longer hot, how can you take those good skills you have amassed to someone who can value them?
- Company: Companies are not stagnant entities: they get bought, they get bigger, the culture shifts – sometimes for the better, sometimes not. It’s hard to think of leaving when we have friends we’ve worked with for years. I have some clients who’ve been in the same company for 9, 12, 18 years and more. We’ll stick it out bad companies because we can’t imagine leaving our friends to handle things on their own. There’s a sense of we’re in it together. Even though what we’re “in” is often toxic and lacks the opportunity for growth.
- Job Duties: You’re bored. You’ve grown and the job can’t keep up. When we’ve mastered a role, it’s hard to keep the excitement and enthusiasm going. We’re happiest when we’re learning new things
- Boss: Sometimes the problem is the boss. He micromanages. She’s insecure. He’s unreasonable with expectations. She doesn’t have your back. He’s threatened by you. She abuses drugs or alcohol. People aren’t perfect – sometimes they’re downright abusive – yet somehow they got put in charge of other people.
Often these matters go hand in hand. You’re bored with your role but your company lacks other roles for you to grow into. You don’t want to leave but you have to because staying is hindering your opportunities for professional development and a chance to make more money.
By examining the component parts – the Industry, Company, Job Duties, and Boss – we can begin to discharge the emotions and understand what’s needed to find job satisfaction and get us back to a happy place. When we run for that proverbial goat farm – or maybe it’s real! – we sometimes toss out the good along with the bad. Take a moment to do a check-in. Are each of these components in your life running at optimal performance? If not, is it time to address the broken piece?