There have been a couple times over the course of my career when I’ve found myself feeling stuck and miserable. After all these years, I don’t remember exactly what it was about that first job that wasn’t quite working for me. I remember that it sounded perfect on paper, that I was beyond excited to land the position, that the organization underwent MAJOR leadership restructuring shortly after I started, and that I was bitter and negative by the end.
A couple colleagues and I would often sneak away for “naughty lunches” (what we called ditching our brought-from-home meals in favor of going off site to a restaurant), and I complained. A lot. Which isn’t really like me. On top of feeling stuck, I felt frustrated and stifled, unsupported by leadership. I had a hard time finding things in my day to look forward to. I didn’t realize until after I was out of that situation just what a toll it was taking on my mindset. I did what people do when people they feel stuck.
Fortunately, I was untethered at that time in my life and had another opportunity. All I needed to do was get the courage to make a leap…to a new position in a new city. And I’m grateful I did.
While I had a lot of psychology knowledge back then (I had just finished earning my PhD), I really didn’t know jack. I didn’t really understand thriving. I’d never heard of life design. I just knew my situation wasn’t working, and completely overhauling my life seemed like the only option. I certainly don’t regret it now, but I also know that leaving everything isn’t always a viable solution.
Don’t Burn It Down
If you found yourself saying “SAME!” as I described my stuck experience, keep reading. If your job (inside or outside of the home) feels like it’s weighing you down, filling you with dread, and curtailing your growth rather than fostering it, you have options.
Think of your job as your house. If it’s not working for you anymore, or if you truly hate your house, it might be tempting to burn it down, but don’t. That’ll create a bigger mess for everyone involved. Instead, you always have the option to leave. Of course, there are a ton of legitimate reasons why that may not actually be an option for you, which is what can make you feel especially stuck. You’re not, though. You can lean on psychology and life design to help you out. Instead of burning it down or leaving it all behind, try reframing and remodeling instead.
The stories our minds tell us are powerful. They color our view of the world, often without us even realizing it. And they become self-sustaining, self-fueling (ever heard of the self-fulfilling prophecy?). If your mind’s story about your job is that “It’s too much” or “I’m under appreciated” or “Leadership doesn’t care about me” or “My clients/customers/patients/coworkers are _______ (fill in the blank with something negative),” what must it be like to live that every day?
But what if that isn’t reality?
Or, more aptly, what if that is just one version of reality but others exist? Here’s what I mean that. What letter is this?
Did you say M or W? It depends on which way you tilt your head, which angle you look at it from.
What if there isn’t a definitive right? I can’t tell you that it’s absolutely an M or a W. It just depends.
Our stories about work are an awful lot like that. Pay attention to what your mind has to say about your work, especially the stories that seem to pull you down. Is there a way to tilt your perspective and see it from a fresh angle? One that might not hinder you quite as much.
“It’s too much” might become “There’s a lot, but it’s worth it because…”
“I’m under appreciated” might become “My boss isn’t great about handing out praise, so I’ll focus on the end user – my students/clients/customers/etc. I know they value my work.”
“Leadership doesn’t care about me” might become “Leadership sucks, but my coworkers are so supportive.“
Notice with all of these, the reframe tries to up the “worth it” factor. When you feel stuck, finding a new why, a new reason for doing what you do, for engaging in what you’re doing rather than dialing it in, can help you.
Remodeling is another strategy for changing your work experience. This means looking at your day-to-day, your role responsibilities, the friction points that are a struggle, and the bright spots that seem to go smoothly. You could make some cosmetic changes by trying to do more of the things you like or experimenting with ways to adjust tasks to make them more enjoyable (e.g., finding ways to increase interaction if that fills your tank or finding ways to block off uninterrupted time to dedicate to important projects while protecting your focus and mental energy).
Sometimes a fresh coat of paint isn’t enough, so you may need to remodel in a deeper way by making structural changes (think knocking down a wall). This translates to talking with your boss about how you might redesign your current role and responsibilities. There may be ways for you to delegate tasks that bog you down, utilize your strengths in a new way, take on new responsibilities, or learn new skills. How might you rewrite your job description in a way that works for both you and your company so you can avoid feeling stuck? Don’t be afraid to suggest a limited trial run. Testing out changes on a short-term basis may be more palatable to everyone.
Given that an average person will spend 80 – 100 THOUSAND hours working over their lifetime, it seems beyond important to me to take steps to ensure that those hours are engaging and meaningful. These strategies are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to curating your work experience. If you want to learn even more about why work can feel draining and what you can do to create a better experience WITHOUT changing anything about your actual job, join us Tuesday for our next live Quarterly Psych Strength workshop. We’ll be talking about completely different things, like role engulfment and the hedonic treadmill (aren’t you intrigued?), and designing ways to ensure your work needs are being met. It’ll be an impactful session! Don’t worry, though, if you can’t make it to the live workshop. Your ticket gets you 30 day access to the Peak Mind Platform where you’ll find the replay, the digital workbook, and some other bonus resources.