Rachelle J. Canter, Ph.D.
The 2lst century is the era of doing more with less. Virtually every
employee and employer must contend with more work and less time, support,
and resources to do it. Working smarter not harder is a common motto, but
much harder to put into practice. For many people the result is burnout:
exhaustion, irritation, despair, powerlessness. The widespread experience
of feeling burned out and trapped in demanding and unrewarding work seems
to have no answer.
For most people who feel burned out and trapped, the future looks grim
because they see nothing but job search obstacles all around them: the
outsourcing of jobs to other countries, the decline of certain industries,
a poor economy, a personal network that has shrunk due to the time demands
of work and family.
What is the solution to this seemingly-unsolvable problem? The answer lies
in getting rid of the primary obstacles that block us from achieving our
dreams by blocking our dreams in the first place: the stories we tell
about our careers and our career options. The solution? Change your
beliefs about what is possible in your career to change your future.
The stories we tell are varied but their common theme is that there's a
good reason why we ended up where we are, why we are stuck there, and why
satisfying work is beyond our reach. For example, Kendra's story is that
without an advanced degree, the really interesting jobs are closed to her,
so she's stuck in a dead-end job. Jason's story is that he needs to work
twice as hard as everyone else because he's not as smart or well-trained
as his colleagues, an extra effort that has burned him out and left him no
time to seek more interesting work. And Linda's story is that the demands
of her job and her small children mean that interesting work won't be
possible until the kids are out of high school.
None of these stories have been tested by a job search but they exert a
powerful influence on Kendra, Jason, Linda, and the millions of employees
like them, keeping them from looking beyond their burned out jobs and
perceptions of their limited career options. They are stuck in their
stories, not looking beyond to consider or identify more satisfying work,
and certainly not pursuing alternatives.
How does a burned out employee with limited time and energy do this? Here
are some simple questions to ask to help you find career inspiration and
get you into action, pursuing personally fulfilling work:
What are your greatest and most enjoyable skills?
What work interests you most and makes best use of your skills?
What kinds of results/rewards are most meaningful to you?
What roles do you enjoy most?
Let's take them one by one to help you identify important components of
your dream job:
Skills - Looking back over your jobs and extracurricular activities, what
are your greatest and most enjoyable skills? Managing projects? Managing
leadership teams? Debugging software? Negotiating deals? Hiring staff?
Proofreading manuscripts? Developing and monitoring budgets? Solving
customer problems? Think carefully about each job to determine the things
you did best and enjoyed most. These skills are critical to identifying
personally inspiring work.
Work - What activities or projects have been the greatest source of
satisfaction? When was the last time you worked on something that lit you
up, energized you, gave you a sense of satisfaction and achievement? Even
if it was several years ago or just a small project, look for these
examples of satisfying work. They will help you define an inspiring job to
motivate you out of burnout and into action.
Rewards - Think back over the rewards you have received from work and
extracurricular activities. Don't think only of compensation: research
shows that the greatest sources of satisfaction are not financial for most
of us. Which rewards have been meant most to you? Creating something from
scratch, like a new system or program or strategy? Being recognized as an
expert in your field? Helping someone in need? Mentoring junior employees
into new roles? Adding to knowledge in a substantial way? Attaining
executive perks? What matters most to you?
Roles - What roles have you enjoyed most? Leader? Team member? Project
manager? People manager? Independent contributor? Consultant? Outside
expert? Consider the different roles you have played and those you found
most satisfying; these roles are also part of determining your ideal job.
Taking the time to answer these important questions for yourself helps you
take an important step away from the trap of burnout and onto a path to
find work you love. This vision of personally satisfying work can help you
rediscover a source of joy and excitement in your work. The vision
motivates the steps you can then take to reach fulfilling work. At every
step of the way, when work pressures and old stories about the past and
the hopelessness of the future threaten to overwhelm you, you can return
to this source of inspiration and then look for small, but meaningful
steps to make progress toward your goal of work you love. Take the first
steps toward your exciting new career.