Work shouldn’t be hard. Challenging yes, but never hard in the sense that it fills you with daily dread, fear or stress. Too many of us fall into a pattern of accepting being dissatisfied when we hit the middle stage of our career. We start to compromise on joy and fulfillment because we don't understand why or how to fix the situation. We start to believe it's just a way of life. If this resonates with you then it's time to believe you should and can reignite the fire within for the work you do.
Let’s take a step back to when you landed your first job. Likelihood is you were fresh out of university or college and were about to start in what was being considered a ‘proper’ job. You were making the first step into a career which you had been working towards and desired for a while. Perhaps not your 8-year-old self’s dream of being a fireman, footballer or ballerina, but still a career which you’d felt drawn to for some time and which was igniting a fire inside. A career which was going to bring everything you associated with success and more. This was an exciting time.
For a long-time that fire can remain inside us. We meet new people, get new experiences or find new challenges which keep us stimulated, fresh and interested. Effort, perseverance, motivation and action flow easily. The fire inside continues to burn and powers our performance and satisfaction year after year.
Then as the years go on it can become a little harder to feel that fire. Everything is less new, no longer exciting and becomes repetitive and mundane. Even if you've moved around a bit, boredom and apathy can take over. Challenges now are frustrating rather than energising. The fire inside starts to fizzle rather than roar. Yes, you can dig deep and find strength to ‘perform pretty well everyday' even when the fire inside is fading. Many do. However, the honest truth is the desire and the ability to perform any better than just ‘pretty well’ is lost.
It’s natural to feel boredom after a period of time in anything we do and a lot of us get to a point in a career where we simply just feel uninspired and restless. It's ok to admit that. What’s not ok is falling into a state of acceptance and compromise.
It can take a while to admit we are out of love with what we do in our career, and even longer to accept it is affecting our performance and quality of life. When you eventually do, it can feel overwhelming and like you are stuck with nowhere to go. That's where I got to with my own successful marketing career after 18 years. On the outside I had everything to be proud of and be satisfied with. I’d risen up the ladder pretty quickly. I had a good salary, status, experience and I had managed to maintain a senior leadership role and have two children along the way. I was successful. But it was a success on the outside and not inside. I remember being miserable, confused, lost, trapped (so many ways my mind described my situation) for a long time. I was convinced there was no way out, no other route for me to take and that this was my bed I had to lie in it. I wanted things to change, but had no idea what, how or why.
These thoughts kept me stuck and wanting change but doing nothing about it. Then one day I observed myself taking a huge deep breath before I pushed open the office door. I realised that I was doing this all the time. I'd stop, hold the handle and take that breath before entering work every single day. That deep breath had become my coping mechanism to face what was inside, as it is to many people before they do something they really don’t want to do. There were other signs of course but this habit stood out – it was symbolic and was a simple mental and physical exertion of what deep down I was truly feeling. Unhappy and with no fire in my belly for what I was doing, and going to be doing, for the next 20 plus years.
It was hard, yet really simple at the same time, to face the reality that I was at a mid-career panic point. Thoughts of failure, confusion, security and despair flowed through me. However, with every small step I took to transform my situation it became easier, less fearful and more exciting. Eventually the steps started to reignite the fire within.
My first step was to find a professional partner to help me face the fears, the uncertainties and the truth. A coach who could help me make sense of my thinking and open my eyes to new perspectives of a world outside of my comfort zone. Someone who could support me outside my normal ‘go-to’ set.
The next step was to manage my mindset so that I did not view where I found myself in my career as a crisis point but a natural turn. That where I was, was an essential point of reconsideration and re-alignment to what I needed and wanted out of life. A point where I needed to redefine my identity, work more aligned to my values and do more of what made my heart sing every day. Not just the stuff I was good at and had done for years.
The next thing was to stop blaming others and the situation. To take ownership of being stuck. I realised that the only person holding me back was me and my own limiting beliefs. That the only person who controls our destiny is the person standing in our own shoes.
Getting back on track and reigniting the fire within for me was to start my own business. To take my experience, interests and skills and re-channel these into a new career path. However, a mid-career ‘bump’ doesn’t have to mean starting something completely new, it can simply be a few shifts to help re-enage you with what you originally loved.
So, if you feel the fire inside for the work you do is fading, notice the signs, admit it and don’t fear the change but embrace it. Take action. Look inside and work through your own beliefs. Get to know yourself again and what you truly want. Then you will be ready to confidently take action towards your true aspiring vision of career success which will reignite the fire within.