Work is not fun every day. At least for me it is not. Not even after I left the world of financial services for a cooler tech-company, with a better mission. The other day, however, these feelings were exacerbated as I experienced some serious professional fatigue.
What is professional fatigue?
Professional fatigue is that name I attribute to a feeling that you have hit your peak of your accomplishments at work. I require a lot to feel professionally (and personally) stimulated. I need to feel busy. I need to be solving problems. I need to be revolutionizing the way that things work. When those things are not happening, I feel professionally fatigued. When this last happened, I immediately began to plot a way out. I acted like a quintessential Gen Y’er, wanting immediate gratification…and wanting it now.
I called up someone close and basically said that I needed help, serious help, thinking through my exit strategy from the job.
Thankfully, that someone helped me internalize the few things that I want to share with you:
- Revert to my opening line. It is completely unrealistic that you will be as excited every day as in the first month – first year of a job in an industry that you have no background in. Having such expectations are pretty much guaranteed to make you miserable. I’ll even take it a step further. Staying challenged at work is YOUR responsibility. It is not something that will passively come to you, especially as time goes on. However, you can let your manager know that you are hungry. Bring ideas to the table. Show some initiative. And when you do come to him/her, show up with concrete ways to improve operations, cash flow, net revenue, or whatever other metrics you know are important to the organization.
- Start/Keep a Brag Book. You might be asking, “What is a Brag Book?” Exactly what it sounds like. A Brag Book is a self-created portfolio of your work product and positive feedback that you receive on this work. This should include any emails where folks have complimented your work, any positive feedback from outside clients or stakeholders, and any nice thoughts that your manager(s) have shared with you. If the thoughts were shared verbally, don’t be shy about drafting an email with those thoughts to yourself, or to the individual who complimented you, thanking him/her, so that the spoken words become written. A Brag Book serves a dual purpose – use in good times and use in bad times. By good times, I mean this: occasionally looking through my work accomplishments helps me feel reinvigorated about the bigger picture and my purpose in it. Knowing that something I worked on has made someone’s day to day life easier at work keeps me going. A Brag Book is a powerful remedy for professional fatigue. As for use in bad times – should someone question whether you are deserving of the next step or a big opportunity at work, you can always refer to accomplishments in the Brag Book. This brings me to my last point: where should the Brag Book live? Copying and pasting emails from work to a Google Drive, or another system outside of work, makes sense. Should something ever happen at work and you were to lose access to your work systems, you do not want to find yourself in a helpless position. Printing a physical copy of the correspondence and storing in a manila folder at home also works well.
- Sit still. I can’t say it any better so I will say it exactly how someone close said it to me: “Sometimes there is a lot of value in JUST SITTING STILL.” This notion is useful in both your personal and professional sphere. Instead of looking for a way out at the first sight of professional fatigue, it makes sense to slow down, assess the direction of the company, and see where the cards appear to be falling. I will give you an example from my own life. I had the aforementioned conversation about trying to leave literally one month before my company was sold for $215M. Though it is impossible to rewrite history, I may have acted on impulse and left the upside of the buyout on the table without proper guidance. It is important to know when restlessness, youth, and a thirst for something better should be acted on and when it should not. Having the self-awareness to know the difference can, at times, be challenging. As such, it is important to put forth the energy to find quality mentors that can help you discern the difference (see my post on networking). Oh and by the way, I am not implying that you NEVER leave a situation if you don’t like it. I would, however, argue that in most industries, staying for 2-3 years shows commitment, continuity, and gives you enough information to make a solid decision rather than hastily jumping ship after a year and a half.