Though the economy’s supposedly getting better, I haven’t noticed a lot of people running for the exits. I read about people getting new jobs, and certainly everyone’s a lot calmer than they were a year ago. Still, I think folks remain hunkered down, glad to have their jobs and trying not to rock the boat too much. This, in turn, leads to frustration: You feel like you’re trapped, with few options to move into a position that’s going to pay you more, offer better growth potential or, if nothing else, be more interesting than what you’re doing now.
A friend of mine who edited a Web site for entrepreneurs once told me the great bulk of his traffic came from corporate Web addresses. His site was a destination for dreamers, he said, people taking a few minutes in their cubes to nourish their eternal fantasy of ditching the rat race and starting over with their own business. Most of them would never do it, but they liked imagining they would.
I got to thinking about this after coming across this story on Bloomberg, by Susan Cramm of the Harvard Business Review. (Wake up. Just because I said "Harvard Business Review" doesn’t mean you should nod off right away.) She proposes the uncomfortable notion that maybe people who say their work is boring are wrong: May they’re boring.
It makes sense: You’ve been doing the same job for a while, with the same team, focused on the same kinds of business problems, working in the same technical environment. There’s no money for conferences or travel, so you haven’t been able to get out much. You can’t even noodle about that side business you’re going to start in the backyard shed, because, well, the idea of leaving a steady paycheck just seems too farfetched nowadays.
Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I’ve never taken a job I wasn’t excited to start. I come in wanting to explore every nook and cranny of the operation, the Web site, whatever it is. I make notes, I study competitors. I want to roll into everything like it’s a big ol’ hay pile. Then, I get to work. I keep an eye on my deadlines. I go to meetings. I interview people. I worry about my budget, and my goals. That initial excitement becomes something that’s a bit less. Let’s say it’s enjoyment rather than excitement. I look less at the big picture and more at the workaday issues I have to deal with to get my job done. Sound familiar?
Like any good writer for HBR, Cramm’s writing for "leaders." Her advice to them: Mentally "fire yourself" and spend "the next few weeks acting as if you just joined the company." My first thought was, well, that’s fine for a CIO, but it doesn’t really apply to the rest of us. But the more I think about, the more I believe it’s not a bad approach for anyone. If you can shake yourself up enough to take a fresh look at old challenges, you might accomplish two things: come up with new solutions, and find yourself re-engaged by your work.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a trick up my sleeve here (if you do, by all means, let me know.) It’s hard to change your mindset on cue. When we miss a story, or a user e-mails to tell me we screwed something up or disagree with some point or other, I get jostled and dive into everything to try to figure out how we can do better. I make more notes, and roll around in the hay pile again. Usually, a lot of this happens in off hours. It feels like time well-spent.
My point is this: If you’re feeling bored and frustrated, maybe the solution is close to home. I don’t think people are boring, but we can fall into boring patterns. The challenge is to recognize when it happens, and be ready to take some extra steps to get yourself excited again.
– Mark Feffer