Switch Gears

Beat job boredom and burnout with reinvention

by Russell T. Westcott

Is your job fulfilling, bearable or dragging you down? Do you hate, tolerate or love your job? If you’re unemployed or underemployed, what are you doing about it?

Take a moment to ponder these questions. If you chuckled, remembered the good old days or shrugged and groaned, that’s OK. Now, take a deep breath, get up and get productive.

Disdainfully unemployed

People who fall into the unemployed category may feel like their age makes them undesirable candidates or that potential employers see them as expensive or obsolete. There will always be a place for mature talent in the workforce because it is the most experienced segment.

Some in the unemployed category may feel like they haven’t found the right opportunity or that available jobs don’t compare to the one that they left. Move on. It’s unrealistic to try and win an old job back or to find a job that is an exact match to individual requirements.

With diligent introspection and using a few proven approaches, you can learn how to leverage your talent, skills and knowledge. I know a man in his 60s who did just that when he was laid off from a sales job. Instead of vacationing or waiting for the phone to ring, he established himself as a craftsman of one-of-a-kind knives that sell for hundreds of dollars. Even though his income is somewhat lower than it used to be, so are his expenses. Not bad for someone who is doing work he enjoys immensely.

New skills can give you an edge. I know a former auto dealership parts supervisor who bounced from job to job during the auto manufacturing crisis. Rather than return to the field he loved, he surveyed the occupational landscape. After he learned that healthcare was hiring in droves, he focused on a career in that field and dipped into his family’s limited savings to pay for the necessary training and certification. He secured the job of his choice and recently received a second promotion. He still repairs vehicles in his spare time to sustain his love of cars.

You have many years of experience, skills and considerable knowledge. Over the years, you may have forgotten things here and there, but you can always unearth your experience and turn it into a marketable skill. Find work that can get you back on your feet, literally and financially, and bring some enjoyment to your new self.

Unfulfilled but paying the bills

You have a job that pays the bills, but you’re not thrilled with it. You’re not alone. Many American workers are in the same situation, but that doesn’t make it OK. Being unhappy about your work situation drains your energy, affects your personal life and could endanger your present employment. It’s time to assess your assets. What do you have to sell to employers and what are they likely to buy? What kind of work would be more fulfilling for you?

But before you make a career change, examine the risks. When a highly talented employee in his 40s at a technology-threatened organization realized he needed a change, he explored his knowledge, experience, skills, aptitude and attitude. In addition to his day job, he wrote music, played three instruments, organized and managed a band and was an accomplished photographer and writer. Because he was a happily married father of two young children, he thought it would be risky to pursue a full-time career in the arts. Instead, he explored opportunities that wouldn’t interfere with his family obligations. Within a year, he took on a high-paying corporate managerial position that enabled him to balance a fulfilling work life and family life.

Happily employed … for now

If you love your job, you’ve either made smart choices or are extremely lucky. You can lean back and savor your good fortune, right? Not quite. Those familiar with the Kano model of customer satisfaction know that what delights eventually becomes a must-have. What is fulfilling today may be mundane, predictable and boring tomorrow.

You should continually assess your current work situation and scan the future to avoid becoming a fruit withering on the vine. For example, is fast-changing technology causing you anxiety or threatening your job? Are your skills becoming obsolete? Is what you produce at work not going to be needed in the future? Is your physical capability going to prevent you from doing the same fulfilling work in a year or so? Do you have a plan B or C?

If you’ve been in the workforce many years, be mindful that complete retirement is not always fulfilling. Sure, there are a lot of fun things to do given money, time and health—but how long will they be fulfilling, fun or feasible? Taking an occasional vacation instead of fully retiring could be the right strategy for you.

I’ve personally changed careers (not just jobs) six times so far. I’m just eager to have work that is fulfilling and pays the rent with some left over. The secret to career success is to continually reinvent yourself. If you’ve been fired, or feel tired or mired in your career, it’s time to get inspired.

Russell T. Westcott, based in Old Saybrook, CT, consults on strategic planning, project management, quality management systems, work life planning and career coaching. He is an ASQ fellow and an ASQ-certified manager of quality/organizational excellence (CMQ/OE) and quality auditor. Westcott is editor of the CMQ/OE Handbook, third edition, co-editor of the Quality Improvement Handbook, and author of many other books and articles. He serves on the Quality Management Division Advisory Committee and Thames Valley Section executive board.

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