In my career coaching work, I hear from hundreds of burnt out, depleted and demoralized professionals every month. They desperately want to run away, escape to a shiny new career that they believe will heal all their suffering. I know what this feels like, as this was me after a brutal corporate layoff in the days following 9/11.
I’ve found, however, that the only way to cure burnout is not to run, but to stop in your tracks, breathe into the situation, and figure out new ways to improve your current situation now (before you leap). Most of my clients don’t want to hear this, and resist it vehemently, but the reality is that if you don’t address what’s “broken down” in your current situation, your problems will follow you in the next job/role/career. I call this the “Pendulum Effect”– swinging to the opposite side of the professional world, praying that a dramatic career change will improve everything. But it can’t. Only you can.
Along these lines, I was intrigued to learn about Ben Fanning’s new book The Quit Alternative. Ben was burnt out with his job, frustrated and cynical from years of unfulfilled expectations and disillusionment. But he finally decided to stop thinking and behaving like a passive “employee” and act more like someone that actually owned the place and showed up at work on his own terms. And he was able to reignite his career. After this transformational experience, he noticed so many others were showing up to work burnt out, sleep walking through their day, and often scared every day about losing their job (but too stuck and worn out to do anything about it).
He decided to experiment around what lights a fire under people and helps them build more fulfilling, engaged careers. In his research, he discovered that some of the top career help available today shares a number of key messages:
– You don’t have to throw away your current career to have one that’s inspired (and most professionals are relieved by this).
– Your path to reigniting your career starts by learning something new.
– You can have an inspired career, but you have to get around to understanding yourself first (not after the fact).
– You can do much, much more than you realize in your work.
– There is almost always a better way to do what you’re doing.
He also discovered that there are two primary reasons that people want to quit their jobs:
They don’t see possibilities for themselves at work and feel severely limited by their job descriptions.
Embedded in this reasoning are two common yet damaging myths:
Myth #1 – “My job is just to do my work and nothing else.”
In many companies, this kind of statement will lead to very poor reviews and perhaps even get you fired or laid off. In Ben’s 16 years of work, he didn’t see one single individual who actually did only the tasks in his/her job description.
Myth #2 – “Even if I made a proposal to change my job to something I’m really excited about, no one would listen. It’s hopeless.”
Ben found that if you provide concrete examples of how this desired change will generate a return for the manager, organization, and you (in that order), you’ll gain an audience. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the proposal will immediately move forward. But if the idea is compelling enough, you can get someone to listen to you, and consider your proposal.
They believe life will be better somewhere else – that the grass will always be greener on the other side.
I asked Ben to share his “model for change” – how he helps burnt out professionals change their careers and become more engaged and satisfied, without leaving their job.
Ben’s shares 5 concrete steps people can take to become more engaged in where they are:
1. Challenge the belief that you can’t create the job you love in your organization.
This belief is based on a very finite view of job positions and career progression. Pull out the job description from your hiring interview (most people can’t even find it). Does this describe the job you do? In most cases, you’ll probably recognize that it doesn’t. You’ve been performing a slightly (or very) different job the entire time.
The real job is probably a dynamic mix that reflects the needs of your boss, organization, and customers— and perhaps some of you in there too. Your job is far more fluid than you assume. Job descriptions are like “clay on the wheel” that we each can mold to our own capabilities and the organization’s needs. This means you have much more latitude than you realize to start incorporating work you love into your current job.
If your job description is just a starting point for your role, not the end point, what does that mean about the possibilities for creating something new where you are?
2. Understand the work that motivates you and depletes you.
The next step is to establish a foundation for creating the job you love by understanding which tasks and activities motivate you and which leave you drained. When your day consists of work that you are motivated to do, it doesn’t feel like work.
Keep a list of each work activity you perform and how it impacts your motivation and engagement level. Make a separate list for the daily activities that energize and excite you vs. those that leave you feeling depleted, drained and disengaged.
Use this list for your next step.
3. Look for the small motivating tweak.
Sometimes you can flip an activity from draining to motivating simply by reshaping the intentions and goals behind it. For example, using Excel or PowerPoint all day completely exhausts me, but using them to illustrate a teaching point engages me. I just change the intention, and the desired outcome.
Even when the day is full of required activities, and I finish exhausted, I feel better knowing why. I understand what happened and know what to modify tomorrow.
4. Campaign for the work that inspires you.
Once you’ve completed step 3, it’s time to start highlighting those activities to your boss and coworkers that motivate and energize you. Give the most attention (and real estate) on your Linkedin profile, internal company skill profile, annual review, and conversations with your boss and colleagues to the work activities you want more of in the future. Consider formally requesting more work activities that you’re motivated to do.
5. Collaborate for more motivating work.
The good news is that your personal list of motivating and exhausting activities will differ from your coworkers’. Seek to delegate or collaborate on activities that leave you exhausted. Create a win-win strategy by offering to do work that motivates you in exchange for a coworker doing your required work. You and your colleagues will find your workday much more motivating and feel more engaged on the job.
The most powerful piece of advice Ben shares for professionals who are exhausted, burned out and miserable in their work life and desperately wanting to quit is this:
Instead of struggling to find that “dream” job out there…stop the search, take control, and create the job you love right where you are. Believe in the possibility.
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I like Ben’s advice very much, and agree wholeheartedly that making a change today in your current situation is what will pave the way for more fulfilling work. That said, I believe that for many, there is a far more exciting and rewarding job or career out there for you, and it’s often quite different from what you’re doing now. (I found mine, and I help others craft theirs). If you know a completely new career is what you want, build an effective transition plan that will get you there. But the first step should always be about empowering yourself to make positive change, today.
For more information, visit Ben Fanning and his book The QUIT Alternative at benfanning.com/quit.
To create a happier career, check out my video How To Create Your Own Breakthrough.