Here’s the situation. You’ve been doing the same thing, probably at the same job, for a while now. You’re pretty good at it, but sometimes it’s a pain. It’s become easy; it’s not really challenging. The challenge is keeping yourself motivated, because it’s too familiar.
And you’ve begun to yearn for something new.
If this is you, you have three possible ways forward: the rut, the wilderness, or the secret path. I know, I’ve been there.
That job you’re stuck in? It’s the rut. You know you’re in the rut if you haven’t seen or learned anything new in a while. And you go home dead tired at the end of every day, even though you haven’t had to do anything that hard.
The psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi describes how we get a feeling of pleasure in work from “flow” — working steadily and effectively on a task with just enough resistance. Flow is not tiring, it’s exhilarating. But remove the resistance, and it becomes tedious.
If you have a family to support or student loans to pay off, perhaps you feel you cannot leave. Perhaps you feel there is a long-awaited promotion in your future. But ask yourself if moving up in your organization is really what you want. Is it just more of the same?
Jobs end. Job security no longer exists.
Give yourself a deadline to find out about alternatives. Because if you don’t, then a year or two you’ll be in the same place, except tireder. Unless they lay you off, that is.
Some people in the rut like to dream. They are customer service reps dreaming of making furniture. They are admins dreaming of social work, or consultants yearning to be landscapers or flight attendants who want to start a web design shop.
“Take risks!” they hear. “Follow your passion!” These are good words for dreamers. But are they good plans?
If you have these dreams, assess what skills you have for survival in the wilderness. Do you have contacts that can help you? Money to get yourself started? Do you know how to run a small business, use CAD software, bury a plant deep enough in the soil, or whatever it takes to do what you are dreaming about? Does your family have the fortitude and resources to support you as you pursue your dream?
Dreams have a way of turning into drudgery. What you’re hoping to do will be work, just like what you’re doing now.
If you stay in the rut and don’t act on your dream, it will corrode your soul. If you chase it, it could destroy your prospects and ruin your hopes. Talk to people who do what you hope to do — a lot of them. Learn what you need to know to determine if your dream is a mirage, or an actual career plan.
Or, you could take the third way.
The secret path
There is a way out of your rut that is not a mirage.
What can you do that is different, with the skills that you already have?
A while ago, once managed the production department at a publishing company. It was challenging work, but had ceased to be rewarding. My company started a new venture: CD-ROM learning (it was a long time ago). I persuaded my boss to let me join the new venture. I had to learn how to produce in a new medium, but not how to write or how to manage projects — I already knew that.
Ten years ago, I was determined to be an author. I knew my writing skills were up to it, and I had the contacts to make a go of it. I was prepared to leave my job to do it (fortunately for me, my company found a way to enable me to be an author without leaving.) I had to learn how to produce something as big as a book, but not how to write about business strategy — I already knew that.
Ten months ago, I left my job. With three books written while I was at Forrester, I knew I could make a go of it on my own. I had to learn what it took to be my own company, but not how to write books — I already knew that.
Adjust your dream. Pivot to a new space that leverages your existing skills. Yearn intelligently. You find the secret path. And that could take you anywhere.