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It’s not uncommon to feel some level of dread about going back to work after another Christmas and New Year. When the feel-good excitement of the holidays is over, the vacation has ended, and all that is left to do is box up the decorations, many people experience a letdown effect. Meanwhile, having to go back to work can seem dull and even a bit depressing. This experience may be more pronounced and prevalent in an especially stressful year like 2020, when a largely remote workplace and other on-the-job changes are naturally impacting mental health.
For those who can relate and are looking for greater professional fulfillment in 2021, know you’re in good company. Polls in 2020 reported higher levels of disengagement among American workers as the events of this year wore on. Besides, if you’ve lost a sense of passion for what you do, it’s only healthy to take stock of a job and to consider what changes might renew that same sense of passion; and what better time to do that than at the start of the New Year?
For help navigating this process, we turned to Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Beau A. Nelson. On behalf of our readers, we wanted to know the following:
- If a person is feeling unfulfilled in a job and wondering how to reboot their professional fulfillment in 2021, what tips would you offer them for how to do that?
- How would you define personal fulfillment in a career? Are there some ways to reframe expectations about a job that can increase job fulfillment or redefine it in a way that makes a job more fulfilling?
- How do you evaluate whether it’s time to change careers?
- If burnout is causing unfulfillment in a job, any quick tips for finding work/life balance in the New Year?
Explore what Dr. Nelson had to say below.
Tips for Rediscovering Passion and Fulfillment in a Job
It doesn’t hurt to start with some perspective. After all, “To say that 2020 has been a weird year, is an understatement,” Dr. Nelson said. “However, when things get shaken up, it is not uncommon to see our relationships, our careers, and our life choices afresh and in a new light. Added to the stress of the year, this may be a time where you notice you are not as satisfied in your career or current work situation.”
Acknowledge the Challenges and Reframe Them as Opportunities for Growth.
In other words, sometimes the unusual and most difficult circumstances of life can be great opportunities for reflection and self-growth: They reveal “the things to take note of” and prompt us “to get at the root of what needs adjusting.” Give yourself permission to recognize what a hard year it has been and embrace the opportunity to grow and learn from it.
One thing to take note of, for example— “Has your job changed and is that what’s not working for you? You may have a schedule that is different; you may be working at home; you may have a larger workload due to staff cuts or maybe a new manager. If your job has changed and the change is not working for you, then it might be time to think about a conversation with your manager or supervisor. Sometimes we need some coaching or feedback, and other times we have to accept what is going on unless we are prepared to go somewhere else.”
Evaluate What About the Job Is Getting to You and Whether It’s Temporary or Permanent.
“Take some time to look at the changes that have happened and clearly state— (this is just for you to reflect)—what it is that is getting to you, now. If your job were the same as it was before the change, would you be happy?” If so, Dr. Nelson recommended determining to what extent the change is temporary or permanent. He also suggested considering how, if at all, to adjust:
Think about ways to adapt and how you could do things differently … If there is something in your power you can change, then try it. if not, then you might have an idea about how to start a conversation with your boss, so you can get some clarity— and if all else fails, accept the situation while starting to look at next steps.
If You Are Thinking “This Doesn’t Work for Me Anymore,” It May Be Time to Evaluate Whether Another Job/Career Would Give You Fulfillment.
“Let’s face it, we can do anything (almost) if we have to, but it is so much better if we find purpose in it, enjoy the people and the environment, and feel we are valued and appreciated,” Dr. Nelson said. (For more tips here, check out the “How to Evaluate Whether to Change Careers” section.)
Reflect on Your Life Balance.
This is important, especially in a year when “everything is kind of upside down … If you have a job, be grateful for it, and take some time to look at fulfillment in the areas of your life you might be able to make more headway in. If you ratchet up your self-care, you look at personal growth, and then you still find that the job is really weighing you down, then it may be time for a change” (whether that’s in attitude, expectations, perspective, or a job/career change).
On the Question of Finding Fulfillment in a Job
Having a definition of professional fulfillment can also be helpful. Here Dr. Nelson emphasized the personal nature of finding fulfillment and the fact that it can depend on the individual and on their personality and outlook:
Some folks are happy coming in, clocking out, and doing what is required and that’s it. Others are always looking for the bigger and better! Take a look at your personality: Are you more wired for instant gratification or are you alright with delayed gratification? If you are an “instant” person, slow yourself down. “Good things come to those who wait” is a good mantra. If you are in the “delayed gratification” camp, start with a list of how you use your time, your job, and your energy to begin making positive steps forward.
Similarly, it helps to “know thyself,” with respect to values and priorities. “There are people who work to live and people who live to work,” Dr. Nelson said. “Maybe work is important to who you are, or maybe it it is just a paycheck to get you to what you really enjoy, such as time with family, hobbies, travel, etc.”
He continued: “Liking what you do is important but not everything. Sometimes you are working towards something … does your job now provide you the experience to give you that lift?”
In a job market that tends to value steady, long-term employment over “jumping from place to place or career to career,” such considerations are worth making before hastily leaving one’s job and resorting to “trial and error,” according to Dr. Nelson. He advised “putting work or career in perspective relative to our personal goals” … “in order to appreciate where we are and, if needed, make adjustments.”
“A key point here is to see a job for what it is (a means to an end, as in money) or as a personal statement on who you are and how you impact the world that we live in. You need money; you need something to do— (hours watching Netflix are really not that satisfying); and you need people (we are social creatures).”
Try This Quick Litmus Test.
If you’re looking for a way to feel happier in an existing job, Dr. Nelson recommended imagining how you’d feel if you got fired today:
If you would feel free to go tackle the next thing, then so be it. You are probably going to see a change in your future. Would you, on the other hand, feel scared and really in a bind? In that case, be grateful for what you have; try and find the good; talk to your supervisor about the things you can change; or take time for personal growth and see what is out there (but keep the job until you are sure something better is out there). Often gratitude about what we have, rather than focusing on what we do not have, makes things a lot better.
Mindset, Personality, and Temperament Are Decisive Factors.
“How we see things” is key to “finding a sense of purpose in our career.” Our mindset and outlook are bigger influences on mental health and a sense of purpose than our circumstances (in this case, a particular job).
For example, “if you think you should be the boss and everyone is stupid, you probably are not going to get much out of being an employee, so you might need to go entrepreneurial and look for something you can be the boss of,” Dr. Nelson explained. “(Do not be too shocked— many people have found dream careers when they were fired, things they never thought they could do.)”
How to Evaluate Whether to Change Careers
“If you’re thinking, ‘This doesn’t work for me anymore,’” that’s one sign that the root issue is a lack of professional fulfillment. In this case, Dr. Nelson said, “a first step here is to take stock of what you emotionally or personally need from your vocation.” While “more money” is a motivator for many people, “studies have shown that there are other things that really make a job more satisfying.”
A good way to proceed: “Take out a piece of paper and start thinking about jobs that seem to fit what you are looking for.” On this point, Dr. Nelson shared the caveat that “it is generally not a good time to make big changes when you are emotional, so if you just got written up, if your stress level is through the roof, or you are dealing with depression or profound sadness, table this exercise until you feel better and are in a clearer mind.”
“Once there,” Dr. Nelson continued, “start looking at the jobs that interest you and what about them interests you. What is it you are looking for from your work? To help people, be creative, problem-solve, tackle an issue close to your heart? This will help to give you some direction. Most things take time and starting to explore can be very fulfilling in itself.”
As a next step, Dr. recommended connecting “with someone in the jobs you are interested in or someone who is successful and have a conversation and toss out some ideas and gather information.”
Sometimes just a conversation about the possibilities can regenerate that sense of purpose and fulfillment.