How to Bounce Back When Work is a Drag

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Most of us have periods of misery, when it seems like our careers are caught in a downward spiral. Sometimes the trigger is big and in-your-face, like the arrival of a new leader who wants to change everything about your job and mission. But at other times you just gradually lose hope, until thinking about your career leaves you wallowing in despair.

So things are tough at work? These 5 strategies can help.

So what do you do if you can’t find a way to leave your job, but it feels like it’s only going to get worse from here?

The first thing is to understand that doing something is better than doing nothing. Chances are that nobody else will rescue you. So you’re the one who’ll have to shake things up and scramble toward paths leading to a better place.

If you’re caught in the mire, it’s time to get moving, even if you venture out only a little bit every day. As you look around for starting points, consider five strategies for bringing positive motion back to your career:

  1. Build valuable expertise.  One reason to develop greater subject matter expertise is that it will increase your job satisfaction. It takes long hours to acquire deep knowledge or technical skill, but people who have it and use it are more likely than their peers to find their work to be inherently rewarding. Beyond that, becoming an expert may translate into greater job security in the near term and a wider array of opportunities in the future. When you’re thinking about broadening your areas of know-how, don’t just jump on the bandwagon for whatever is hot today. Instead, focus on emerging issues that may become prominent down the road. Then position yourself to become the go-to answer person for next year’s questions.
  2. Embrace technology.  Change is tiring and it’s normal regret losing the old ways, particularly if that’s where you’re an expert. But this is the digital age, and — regardless of your profession — your future is being reshaped by changes in technology. If you drag your feet when it’s time to learn the latest system or application, colleagues may assume that you just can’t do it, perhaps because you’re too old or lack the education. Don’t fall into stereotypes or allow yourself to be marginalized. Instead, show interest in new trends and learn the latest relevant App. A good starting point can be social media. Professor Karen Riggs, who leads an SM program at Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication, says, “Social networks have low barriers to entry for professional use and can give you a way to show that you’re not intimidated by tech.”
  3. Learn something.  When you’re in the doldrums, a smart method for working your way out is to learn something new. This might mean expanding your expertise, but the approach works well even if you focus on a topic that has nothing to do with your day job. Being in learning mode changes the way you see the world. You become more alert, less bored and, perhaps, even less boring. You are more likely to spot opportunities and make connections among seemingly unrelated issues. And, while you’re gathering information outside your normal patterns, there’s a good chance you’ll try new experiences and broaden your network.
  4. Focus on people.  When you’re struggling in the morass, it’s easy to stumble into self-pity. But self-absorption will make your situation worse. If all you can think about is how unhappy you are, it’s time to shift your thoughts and start noticing other people. To get started, look around your workplace and ask yourself, “Is there any way I can help.” If you’re in a situation where others are struggling too, an easy way to add value is to listen carefully to what they have to say. Another is to be a positive force in the office, whether that means complimenting and thanking co-workers or consistently sounding upbeat and friendly. Many people find it satisfying to help out by mentoring or assisting colleagues or others in their professional community. And if you’re really feeling frustrated at work, volunteering in some kind of unrelated non-profit activity might help you regain overall perspective.
  5. Enjoy other parts of your life.  Most of my coaching clients were “A” students at school, and now they still want to feel like they’re regularly earning accolades and moving ahead. But a sense of achievement is seldom enjoyed at a steady pace in today’s long careers. There are times when trying too hard to get ahead may be self-defeating. In some difficult periods, the smart move may to do the best work you can, but then give yourself permission to stop striving so hard in your professional life. There are other ways to find enjoyment and satisfaction, and get your mojo back. One strategy for escaping career doldrums is to pursue a healthy hobby so passionately that you are energized and in better shape for your work life. The best path to a reboot at work may be to take a great vacation, vary and expand your social life, or try a new sport.

Want more ideas for creating a thriving, resilient career? Check out my book, “Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO: 50 Indispensable Tips to Help You Stay Afloat, Bounce Back, and Get Ahead at Work.”

Beverly Jones, an alum of Ohio University, is a former lawyer and Fortune 500 executive, is an executive and transitions coach, and a leadership consultant with a broad and varied practice. Her column appears at Clearways Consulting LLC. Republshed with permission. For archives and additional content, visit the Clearways Consulting website.