Globe & Mail, June 23, 2010
Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.
For the past month, my husband and I have debated the status of a tree in our garden. My husband insists it's dead. I recognize its obvious signs of distress, but I'm not yet ready to pull the plug.
Many of us have the same difficulty with our careers. Despite all the signs that point to trouble, we would rather not acknowledge them. Moving on is painful and a lot of work. But repressing the harsh realities will not change them. And while your entire career may feel dead, it may actually only be this chapter that's on the way out.
How do you know if your career, in its present incarnation with your current employer, is heading for its demise? Here are some of the signs, and ways to revive it.
You are unhappy with the nature of your work
The content no longer engages you intellectually, or the work feels meaningless or doesn't connect with your values. You no longer take interest in any aspect of it and will seize every opportunity to distract yourself. The thought of going into work each day fills you with dread and you are depleted by the end of the day.
You aren't growing
The nature of your work isn't changing. You haven't learned or done anything new or challenging. You haven't added any new skills to your repertoire, nor stretched yourself in any way. You don't feel stimulated by the projects you are working on nor the people around you. You are bored.
You feel overshadowed
You are being crowded out by star employees getting all the plum assignments. You feel self-conscious about your status relative to that of others.
You are treated like deadwood
You are not invited to important meetings or assigned to significant projects. You're not offered training and development opportunities. You find people either ignoring your comments and suggestions or even seeming to be irritated by them. You may feel invisible or that others wonder if you're just being carried along. You sense that you may be a candidate for the next round of downsizing.
You are stuck
You have a nagging discomfort but can't pinpoint exactly what's disturbing you, or what you need to do to overcome it. You can't visualize a more satisfying alternative, nor can you muster the energy or motivation to try. You are living with confusion and self-doubt.
You don't like your work environment
It might be the people around you, whether toxic colleagues or needy staffers. Or the culture might be at odds with your values and temperament. All you know is that you don't feel like you belong.
You don't like your boss - or your boss doesn't like you
You don't like your boss's style or values. He or she makes you feel stupid or incompetent. You are constantly second-guessing yourself; you feel like everything you do is wrong, and you have no idea how to please your superior.
Further, he or she doesn't make eye contact with you, ignores, avoids or challenges any comments you make, and is agitated or uncomfortable in your presence. Your boss repeatedly passes you over, never issues compliments or any constructive feedback. His or her management style or your lack of connection is disheartening and brings out the worst in you.
Your industry is dead
The media has trumpeted your industry's death knell for several years. Insiders keep on having the same talk about reinventing the industry. You live with a constant feeling of insecurity.
Your age is an issue
You aren't treated like a serious player because you are deemed too young or old.
If you relate to these signs of distress, don't despair. Many people feel as if their career is dying at some point in their working lives, but they do recover. Here are some of the steps to take to restore your career's health.
Check out how real your assessment is
Sometimes people think the worse without any real evidence. Or they jump to the wrong - and worst - conclusions.
A client recently told me how astonished she was when a star staffer
complained of being ignored and marginalized. In fact, my client had been busy on a new work project that had simply sidelined her attention.
Get the facts. If you think you have reason to believe your career is dead, a candid conversation with your boss is in order.
Determine your financial needs
Be realistic about how much money you really need at your life stage. People often cling to jobs well past their expiration date based on false notions of financial requirements or over-estimations of the importance of money or security. If your career is dead, pretending it isn't will not give you more security
Accept the facts
I hear from many angry people feeling they are the victims of unjust employer behaviour. Their description of the lack of fairness may be accurate, but continuing to be angry will not change the facts. Rather than bemoaning it, swallow the bitter pill and determine how to overcome the unfairness of it all.
Consider whether you've changed
There may be nothing wrong with your job. Instead, your needs and desires may have shifted without you even realizing it. Often as we get older, work that is in tune with our values or providing an opportunity to leave a legacy become more important than the lure of challenge, power or progress up the ladder. If you have changed, it may be time to find work more congruent with your desires at this life stage.
Shift to a better environment
Drill down to determine which aspects of your current work or environment make you unhappy: Is it the people you work with? Your employer's values? The pace of business? Your boss's management style? Look for similar work in an environment that provides a better match for your needs.
If you like your industry and your company, research the possibility of a lateral move. If what you find distasteful are the values and the culture, they will often be industry-wide. So sometimes it's necessary to make a completely new move.
Position yourself for a buy-out
Ask your boss if he or she would be willing to give you a severance package. If your superior doesn't like or respect you, chances are good your request will be taken seriously.
Shift to a shadow career
If your industry is going downhill or you are bored with the nature of your work, think about how you can reconfigure to apply your skills in new ways to a "shadow" of your profession.
Examples of reconfiguring skills into shadow careers include a teacher becoming a marketer of educational texts; an occupational therapist starting a business selling health-related products; or a lawyer becoming a recruiter specializing in hiring lawyers.
Build a portfolio career
This kind of career combines multiple income-producing streams with non-income-generating activities that are personally satisfying. It can be an interesting way to revive a dying career, especially for older workers.
There are many different kinds of portfolio designs. Income-producing activities might include consulting, technical writing, teaching night courses and pitching in to help a friend's business. Activities of personal interest might include a combination of volunteering, learning a new skill that in the long term could become a source of income, pursuing a personal passion and mentoring.