There comes a point in many careers where you get up, hit the shower and find yourself leaning face against the wall with hot water running down your neck for an extra 10 minutes stalling to face the inevitable day at work. Unless you have a shower buddy in there with you, this is the day you need to consider quitting whatever you call work or a career because you are longer going to be any good at what you’re doing for a living. You are also wasting a day of your life, destined to be repeated, for as long as you continue to let yourself shower in misery, which eventually results in the loss of the most important asset you own…your life.
The mistake is that you should have never allowed yourself to get to that point in your life. How and when did you lose your passion for what you do for a living? If you ever had it. How did you ever let the world take it away from you? Worse, if the work you are doing isn’t important to you then why are you still doing it? Lost minutes in the shower often lead to lost years trapped doing work that is meaningless. Your life’s work defines you in so many ways, yet choosing work that forces you to find ways to avoid it drains you of your best years and most creative energy. You are not the work you do, but you often live your life by the quality of the work you choose.
Here are five questions you need to ask yourself if you are the person in the shower:
1. Are you living your dream or someone else’s? We too often end up doing work that is part of someone else’s dream. You find a spouse, the spouse has a good job in that area and you then take a job that isn’t firing your passion, but it keeps you fed. You spend a few years doing this and your dreams vanish to be replaced with someone else’s, and if you lose that person, you now are often too late to reach back and rekindle that passion that excited you and your dreams earlier in your life.
Your first realization has to be that what you are doing is not what you were meant to do. Of course you have to make money out of whatever you do, but you can’t change lives when you are the person that needs taken care of in life. So the first question really is: whether the job you are avoiding was your choice, or did you commit to something that allows someone else to live his or her dreams while yours are lost?
2. Are you in a job you should have never taken? You would not be the first person who spends years preparing for a career that turns out to be a bust. And there are still many more people who take what appears to be a dream job and then find that it just isn’t what it seemed to be from the outside. These people refuse to leave due to pride or embarrassment and end up equally trapped doing work that never delivered on its promise.
If you picked badly, run away now. Admit the mistake and move on now. Pack up your bags and move on now, or at least as soon as you can get other work that moves your career ahead. Remember, every job, certification or course should only have one purpose, and that is to move you closer to your dream. If isn’t doesn’t move you forward, then don’t do it.
3. If not this, what else would you do? This is my favorite and the most common complaint. Owners or senior people rack up years doing what they wanted to do and then mentally just quit. You can almost tell the exact day it happens. The first thing you hear is, “This would be a great job if it wasn’t for those f%^&*ing clients.” Or “I can’t deal with another person in my face bitching about the same old thing.” The second indicator is that their business begins to immediately fade. The place is dirty, the paint is outdated, the staff is undertrained, if trained at all, and finding the owner actually in the business working would take Sherlock Holmes.
The question is now what will you do? If you worked this business for years, what else would you do or could you do to make the same amount of money? Walking away only means you will again become trapped in yet another business, and this time it will happen sooner. You forgot how to work and you forgot the pleasure work is supposed to give you.
This is sort of like the old married guy who is forever in love with a super model in the catalogue. He dreams of her, buys her pictures and has a secret crush on her for years, but he never learned the most important thing; your dream is someone else’s pain in the ass. The point of this is that if you don’t learn to find a way to make yourself happy in the business you own now, then running away to another business will never change that failure; it just perpetuates you being miserable somewhere else doing something else.
4. Can you find a different way to get it done? This is really part of the question above. The burnout of an owner or senior manager is often the failure of his management style. If you do the same thing everyday for 20 years you will hate it, but who said you have to do the same thing for 20 years. There are too many owners that cling to the images of the past. “You can’t teach me anything new, I was making money doing this way 20 years ago.”
Yes, you were wildly successful 20 years ago, but how is that working for you now? Everything changes in the world. Businesses come, businesses go. Technology changes daily. The consumer changes, grows and becomes more sophisticated. The market you are in changes too with new competition we couldn’t have imagined even a few years ago. Yet there you stand, too cheap to paint the place and too lazy to sit down and reinvent your business.
Your business didn’t fail you, you failed it and it is amazing that people who are making a lot of money seldom ever complain about being burned out.
5. What have you done to reinvent yourself in the last year? We all used to be somebody and back in the day I am sure you were the master of all you surveyed, but what have you learned today?
Part of burnt out is that our tool kits start to deteriorate. Ten years ago you were a master salesperson, but now those pressure tactics just make potential clients laugh and walk out. Fifteen years ago you used to be a master trainer, but now there are workshops that teach more in three days then you have learned in those last 15 years. You fail because you cling to glory days instead of admitting you don’t have one clue left in how to do things anymore and that the world has past your lazy ass by.
The perfect example of being trapped by former glory is the 40-year-old trainer who learned how to train during the bodybuilding craze. His solution to every training situation is the application of technology that is older than he is and isn’t every coming back, but to let go of this he would have to attend a workshop and admit that he needs to start all over again and reinvent himself.
Sometimes letting go of something is the most powerful move you can make. Remember that life is about going forward, not living back in the day when we were all young, beautiful, smart and rich, at least in our heads.
People fail to change because the perceived risk is too high so they cling to everything that fails and then here comes that perception of burnout. If what you’re doing isn’t working anymore, and you won’t change because what you might do might not work. This circular thought leads to a person freezing in place and while we might call it burnout to be nice, it is really just a nice way of saying you are going to avoid your problems until they take your business down.
If you are in the trapped, burned-out avoidance crew, sit down and spend a few hours with someone who cares and ask why? You will find that there is fine line between being a crispy piece of toast and a productive passionate person totally laser focused into making money and changing lives, and in kicking a few assess a long the way. Come on, get your ass out of the shower, it’s time to go live the dream.