Three Things to Do When Your Career Hurts You

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I am eating a peach. I notice the white flesh that is laced with streaks of pinkish red fibers. I feel the fluff of the skin like an abrasion against my own. I taste the sugar water that pours from within it and I realize that I have not taken life in like this for many, many months.

This refreshing perspective comes after a year of deep treading in very murky water. My career has hurt me in ways that I am only able to process after the fact. The days that mark this period of my life look like a continual darkness that I cannot break through. I cringe waking up; I cry going to sleep. My sleep is disturbed thinking of work the next morning.

I sit in front of my computer with tears streaming down my face not knowing where to focus my energies. When my staff arrive, I escape to work in a coffee shop so that they will not see my desperation. I live in fear of infecting their vision of who and what we are as a company.

My priorities become null. My to do list grows, but nothing is marked off. Deadlines slip. Something has to give but I am immobile.

The removal company arrives. I pack the last box into the back of the car and drive down the farm road that I love. The fields blur alongside the road as kilometers become hours and a new life waits but nothing has really changed.

I make 37 telephone calls to psychologists. I ask questions because the profession is my own. I will not waste my time. I cannot find anyone suitable. Telephone call number 38 leaves me with a promise of a distant connection and a return call in the morning.

I wait for three days. No word. Day four and an unknown number flashes on my screen. Aine agrees to meet me. She has worked in corporate as an Industrial Psychologist but she has recently moved into private practice to work with individuals who have been negatively impacted by the recession.

She has never worked with a case like my own: someone who needs to reassess their career as a whole but she is willing to help me if I am willing to work with her. Something about the call, her professionalism, her time, her questions, are right and I know that my 38 phone call quest was not in vain.

We meet in a quiet hotel lobby. I have completed a lengthily online questionnaire and a detailed analysis of my career to date. I allow my words to tumble out in unordered disarray. It feels disconcerting and empowering to let the lumber fall in the silent forest of my inner world. It creaks and groans on its way down and then comes to rest.

We discuss four areas:

1. My beliefs

2. My core values

3. My personality

4. My skills: burnout and motivating skills

We assess each of my jobs to date as well as all my current roles in light of these four areas. The beliefs, the core values, the personality: these reveal little that I am not aware of to date but the skills area makes me sit up straight. What are burnout skills? I have never seen an assessment that identifies these.

Burnout skills are the actions at which you excel, that people identify as your strong points but which drain you of motivation. They are unable to energize you and therefore deplete you without refueling you.

My entire career to date has been made up of my burnout skills and I have continually pursued these areas with intensity because everyone has always told me to work within my strengths. Aine states that this is why I am where I am. We go back to the assessment and she talks me through the areas that are listed as my energizing skills. These skills motivate me. They refuel me. They give in return for the energy they use. I leave the session with a workbook full of homework.

Together Aine and I have identified career changes that I can make. We have also identified that my current businesses are not wrong for me, I am simply doing the wrong things within them. I need to make phone calls to people who work in these areas. I prepare a list of questions, email the individuals and set up meeting times.

These people open up, share their concerns, their dislikes, their burnout areas, their passions. I come away with a deep sense of gratitude. These people have given time, expecting nothing in return.

I had my last session with Aine yesterday. We laughed at how much has changed in 3 months. She remarks that there is light in my eyes again. This morning I met with my team at the Design Factory at 100 Capel Street. We laughed over cups of tea at the fish with feet and four people riding on its back. It is for a project called: The Innovation People.

Tonight over barbecued hamburgers and grilled mushrooms I tell my husband, Calvin, about my day. My last words end something like this: It didn't really feel like work today. I was having so much fun.

So Life Lessons to take away from this experience:

1. Get help when you need it.

2. Identify your burnout skills and your motivational skills.

3. Change direction.

Work might just surprise you with how much fun it can be.

Image by Daniel Alexander. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Claire Burge.