“What should I do next?”
I hear this question a lot. After running a company designed around the new world of work for the past decade, I’ve had hundreds of discussions with people in the middle of their careers who feel stuck, unhappy, disengaged or confused — and who are looking for a better path.
A group studying job satisfaction in the U.K. suggests the mid-career slump is “U-shaped” — meaning, our satisfaction with our work peaks at the beginning and end of our careers, but often dips in the middle. And, it found this to be a widespread phenomenon, not just with the occasional individual.
Recently, my friend Adam came to me. He was feeling the same midcareer itch. He has been working and advancing in his career for 20 years, and now, he feels stuck, burned out and bored. He’s not excited about the status quo. He’s looking back at his work so far and thinking, “Is this really as good as it gets? Is this what I want to do for the next 20 years? How can I start doing work I love?”
Here’s how I answered his questions.
Figure out what, exactly, is making you unhappy at work.
Stephen Glomb coaches executives and MBA graduate students at the Carlson School of Management at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota. He says he asks people to “talk out loud about jobs they’ve held in the past that truly made them happy.” “Often you will start to hear clear themes that emerge, such as an inspiring leader, or a fun, close-knit team,” Glomb says. This exercise helps people pinpoint what’s missing in their current role and what features they should prioritize as they make a change.
People’s work-related unhappiness tends to fall under three categories:
- Career trajectory: Where are you in your career, and are you happy with that? Have you advanced on the path you expected?
- Type of work: Are you challenged by your work? Do you feel fulfilled and motivated? Are you learning and growing?
- How you work: Are expectations about when, where and how you work interfering with your personal responsibilities and priorities?
Once you know why you’re unhappy and what you want, start talking about it.