No matter who you are and no matter what you have or will accomplish, there will be times in your career when your professional development simply comes to a standstill.
After a steady climb, and perhaps after some additional duties or even a few promotions, you unexpectedly become rutted. Perhap.....
After a steady climb, and perhaps after some additional duties or even a few promotions, you unexpectedly become rutted. Perhaps you begin to feel as if you have plateaued. What once was so easy now seems confusingly complicated. Your work suffers. You begin to doubt yourself. Frustration sets in. That feeling of satisfaction that you once had felt seems like forever ago. Worse, you are not sure how or if you can get it back.
It’s all perfectly normal, and frankly, a natural part of work life. And, what you’ve experienced — or are experiencing — if you’ve reached this point has happened to countless professionals in all professions.
It’s saturation. Like a sponge, you have absorbed as much as you possibly can take on at the moment, and wringing out yourself — which, previously, you had probably accomplished with little effort, or even subconsciously — has become temporarily outside your control because you’ve never experienced this sensation before. At times, it can become paralyzing.
Consider: When we begin our careers or move into a new sector of an existing business, our minds are like that new sponge that’s just been removed from the wrapper. We soak up a ton of information about how to do our job, in addition to the techniques and approaches that are required to do it well.
Our enthusiasm for the thrill of achievement may naturally wring out our frustrations. But as we take on more and more, we’re able to wring out less and less. We wear down, and eventually, we begin to feel like a sponge that is ready for the bin.
The good news, of course, is that we are not made out of sponge and we don’t need to throw ourselves away when we’ve become saturated and feel as if we cannot — or do not — want to absorb any more. But fighting through this state can be difficult.
Each of us is capable of coping with this oversaturated feeling through a few steps that allow us to recapture our “absorbency,” and to slowly regain the satisfaction that we knew while we were learning and excelling in our job. If you believe that you are soaked, or on your way to becoming supersaturated, give these techniques a try:
Take Inventory: First, begin with an inventory of the work for which you are now responsible. Literally write it out on a pad at the end of the day. Don’t focus so much on the tasks that need to be accomplished, but the actual work that your team and your supervisor(s) are counting on you to deliver. Write them down. Look at them. Challenge yourself to see what is important or essential and what doesn’t measure but consumes your time.
Extract the Data: From that list of responsibilities, determine which are those that come to you easily, which are challenging but do-able and which are impediments to your satisfaction. In almost all cases, the things that come easiest to us are those that we enjoy performing and those that are challenging are newer to us, but also offer some level of positive stimulation or satisfaction. Our impediments, we’ll find, often are composed of an array of issues that we find frustrating. They may be new tasks for which we haven’t been properly trained, time-consuming responsibilities or — and this often is the case — duties that we may believe are below our level of competency. Some of it may simply seem like work that might challenge others. Regardless, all of it is on our plate and serves as the body of work by which performance will be judged.
Wring Clean: After completing your inventory and conclusively determining that you are untracked, pause. Treat yourself to a nice meal or a cocktail — an activity that takes you as far away from your work mindset as is possible — and then a good night of sleep (or whatever combination of personal remedy that you know will set you up for success on the day to come). Regardless of what it might be that you are about to attempt to accomplish, entering the next day with a sense of calm from a satisfying night of relaxation, recuperation and restoration will set you up to succeed.
Start Anew: If all of our work is laid out in front of us and we have the freedom to choose where we begin, there is value in attacking the tough stuff first in our day. We are in more control of this than many of us believe, and job one is to make a plan to make it through the day. This allows us to prioritize our work and take on the very challenging work when we are fresh — perhaps before our coworkers and supervisors are still beginning their respective workday. The beginning of a work shift also is typically when we have the greatest combination of enthusiasm and energy, which is a powerful combination when trying to break through and learn new skills or to perfect our approach to tasks that slow us down.
Focus on it, Own it: Human beings are incredibly resilient and capable of great things when they separate what must be done from what should or could be done. Each of us has priorities, though some of them are clearer than others. If you are uncertain which of your priorities matters most to your success at work, you have every right — and frankly, it is your responsibility — to confer with your supervisor. If he or she can’t tell you, then you have a different problem. But in most cases, the next level up knows what you’re doing and why it is important for the company that the matter at hand is handled appropriately. Understanding how your work connects to the success of your department, or the company, allows you to better establish that hierarchy of priorities that will guide you. Moreover, understanding that your work is valuable — and valued — is critical to regaining your missing sense of satisfaction. Thus, after you have clarity on what’s truly important, go right after it. Make it yours. Take ownership.
Wring it Clean — Again and Again: Inevitably, no matter how many new skills we develop and how high we climb in our careers, we all are confronted with blockades to satisfaction. Sometimes the lack of satisfaction devolves into dissatisfaction. When that’s the case, each of us begins to look for satisfaction elsewhere — oftentimes believing that a new environment will be the gateway to a refreshed outlook on their career. The reality is, work is work no matter where you plug in a laptop. Trading a new cubicle and a slightly adjusted paystub for the privilege of proving yourself all over again doesn’t always lead to a better life. And there you may find that you don’t have the same level of support that you may have where you presently invest your time. There are no certainties in an uncertain situation.
The key to finding satisfaction is from conquering new tasks. The challenge, of course, is that they become more difficult as your career progresses.
Always remember that there are people around you that can and will help. Sometimes that is as simple as working up the confidence to ask.
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As always, stay classy.
Chris Krug is president of the progressive media communications firm No Limit Agency in Chicago. No Limit is a full-service agency whose practice focuses on strategy, brand management, creative marketing campaigns and delivering unparalleled placement in the media. No Limit Agency works with some of the best-known brands in North America, and that’s not a coincidence. Contact Krug by calling 312-526-3996 or via email at [email protected].