Have you ever gotten up in the morning simply dreading the idea of getting out of bed and going to a workplace that made you feel like a hamster on a wheel? Well, it happened to me, and I am sure I'm not the only 30-something professional that has an acute sense of being lost on their career path.
As a mid-management executive, I believe in numbers and facts, so I did a little digging. It turned out that, according to research by Gallup, there are millions of people out there who feel completely dissatisfied with their jobs, while only 13 percent of respondents said they were truly and wholeheartedly engaged in their careers. So I was a small dot in a huge statistical cloud, feeling unmotivated, less productive, less purposely driven, and less passionate about my job as I once was.
Don't get me wrong; I wasn't the type of woman who didn't know what she wanted or who chose a profession out of lack of better opportunities. I wanted my mid-management position. I chose a college major that would send me right to this position because I just loved finances. I went up the promotion ladder over the years, and I was hell-bent on getting this exact job in this exact company. So, in my first three years, I was a rock star, impressing everybody with my skills, wits, and expertise. Because, of course, the next big dream was to end up on a high-management chair, in an office one floor above.
But somehow, I got lost. There was no more joy in juggling with decisions, tasks, people, top managers and low managers, projects, budgets, and challenges. Sitting there at my desk, working for a company that essentially was good to me, I was torn. That fight was between my loyalty to an entity that offered me everything I wanted and the inescapable feeling that leaving the company would drop a huge burden on my ménage's ability to smoothly swing through bills. It also included matters such as hobbies and parents to take care of. And all of that was under the enormous dark cloud of unhappiness that hung over my head and turned me into a not-so-efficient employee.
The easiest and most logical choice was to get unstuck and find something else to do. Change the job, though? Go on a completely different career path? At 34? Let's get our facts straight: You don't leave a mid-management position that pays for vacations abroad when you expect to be promoted to top management just because you feel bored with your daily routines. Not if you are a woman. Not in this economy. Not if you still love the finance field.
So, I decided to devise a plan to get back on track. My theory was the following: since I can't change the job (yes, I am an opportunist who loves the industry, the company, and its people), I will change the way I do the job. This idea was given to me after reading an article on professional burnout and means to regain your energy and motivation levels.
After listening to professionals in psychology and human resources, I understood that people aren't robots that don't need maintenance. We do need to get out of our own heads and take a step back to take a breather no matter how busy we are. Besides plunging into some pretty cool workplace relaxation techniques, this is what I did big:
- I fully redecorated my office.
Out with the neutral tones of gray, mahogany, pale neutrals, and stainless steel; in with whimsical patterns, brightly colored accessories, some potted plants, cute framed pictures, and a vintage armchair for my personal use only. It may sound like a no-brainer, but changing the physical look of your working environment can lift up your spirit, put a smile on your face, and make you feel less stressed, less pressured, and quite cool.
- I took plenty of breaks during the day.
Well, it wasn't easy, caught by the torrent of work, but I stood my ground. Research shows that taking a break every 90 minutes improves focus by 30 percent and the feeling of well-being by 46 percent. So a few times a day I would sit in my retro armchair and watch some Steve Harvey sketches and shows. I simply love the man and always found inspiration in him and his story. After learning that he is a college drop-out and putting this information together with how much he's worth, it makes you feel like there is no limit to anything — not even boosting your own passion for work out of the grave. It took a month, but I felt the benefits of these breaks. I felt my brain disengaged, rested, and up for new challenges.
- I changed the way I worked with my team.
I moved our weekly department meetings in the park in spring and summer, and downstairs at the cafe in the cold season. I let one of my team members work from home, by rotation, one day a week, and I also offered myself the same privilege. I gave up on certain bureaucratic ways of getting things done and used some money from my department's budget to invest in cloud storage and a few time/task management tools. I organized two team-building events in the wilderness to spice up some teamwork and communication. It took me half a year, but when you see people loving to work with you, you also start to love working with them. And the job suddenly doesn't seem so boring, repetitive, or useless.
- I made sure there was a clear separation between church and state.
Once I opened the door to my apartment, the job was left outside. No emails, no phones, no repetitive and mind-grinding useless browsing of social media, no distractions. I cooked, watched movies, and did my manicure, spent time with my partner and our friends. You know, things that make you laugh, and things that remind you that you are a silly human who needs to unwind and have some fun.
- I got a new lifestyle routine.
It includes exercising, getting more sleep, and learning a new language (I was always good at it and it landed me a new work project involving a foreign partner, which comes with cultural challenges and some work travel I can't wait to experience).
Sometimes it's not the job that makes you miserable. At least, this is what I've learned. It is your own perspective of the job that makes you miserable. The tasks are the same, and the routine will probably become the enemy over and over again. That is a given. But you can change a few things here and there and push some fun, a laidback attitude, and some personal discipline into it. Change the job when absolutely nothing works, but in the words of Jean-Luc Picard, "There is a way out of every box, a solution to every puzzle." Don't be afraid to try them all and invent some of your own as well.