Feeling stuck at work?
How do you know when you’ve been at your job too long? There’s no one answer. Sometimes one week can be too long. Usually though, my clients talk about being in a job too long when they’ve been working at the same place for more than 10 years.
That’s when I’ve noticed the water analogies being used to describe extreme frustration and sadness at work. At a long-term job.
I found this language striking because I’ve always loved water. I love being busy in water, being on water and being near water.
Normally, the second I think about water, I see an image of the ocean. In my mind, I travel immediately to my happy place, Baja California, where I’m sitting in a 20 foot wooden boat, surrounded by the sounds of the blowholes of Grey Whales. Within another second or two, I feel blissful, relaxed, and peaceful, overwhelmed with awe and wonder of the moment and the world.
I found it so interesting that water analogies were being used to describe something so negative, when I’ve always had such a positive association with water.
As we all know, being in a job for a long time can be rewarding in many ways. One of the things my clients talk about is stability. I also had a job for 19 years and stability was something I thought about like a warm, cozy blanket.
Somewhere along the line though, the blanket that used to give me comfort got wet…soaking wet. The once rewarding and stable job started to feel like it was dragging me down and sucking every last ounce of enthusiasm and motivation out of my life, personally and professionally.
Can you relate?
There doesn’t seem to be any consistency about when it’s common to feel stuck at work.
Sometimes it’s a milestone like a 40th or 50th birthday that kicks off these new feelings; other times it’s a bad boss or a reorganization. Perhaps it’s something in your personal life, like a friend’s illness, divorce or lay off that gets you thinking. Or…you might just be bored to tears.
I’ve heard the feeling described like this:
- There must be more to life.
- I’m treading water and just drifting along for decades.
- I feel stuck in a rut.
- I feel limited.
- My self-esteem is at an all time low.
- I should be doing more.
- I’m not present. I’m just getting through the days.
- I feel selfish when I want more for me.
- I’m not living up to my potential.
- I haven’t made the most of my shot.
- I want to thrive, not just survive.
- I’m just churning, staying above water.
These sentiments seem like feelings, but in actuality, they’re thoughts. Thoughts that are rumbling around in your mind all day. Sentences in your mind.
Sometimes they become your “go to” thoughts and become like a cozy blanket themselves because you’re so comfortable thinking them. Because of this, these thoughts actually becomes practiced and can become habitual.
The thing is that these thoughts create your feelings. Feelings of overwhelm, sadness, confusion, fear are typically generated from these thoughts. It’s fast too. You may not even notice the connection. You may not even notice how often you think the thought.
The bottom line is that it’s not your job that’s making you feel this way. It’s your thinking ABOUT your job.
As all of us get older, we start to realize that life is finite. And that’s where the long-term job comes in. You are older if you have been in a job for a decade…or two…or three. That’s why it seems to coincide with the whole midlife thing.
I’ve noticed something else too…those of us who have been in a long-term job haven’t dreamed about what we really want to do in a really long time, maybe even decades. The last time may have been graduation from high school, college or university.
Yes, that long ago.
We’ve forgotten how to dream. When we were kids, we thought about stuff we wanted to do all of the time. I loved thinking about my tape recorder and all of the spoof commercials I was going to record with my cousins.
About the same time, I use to dream about owning my OWN pair of roller skates – with four wheels. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, especially when they resurfaced the streets in my neighborhood. I remember saving up Kennedy Half Dollars (I grew up in the States) until I had $27 to order the skates. True, these are small examples, but dreaming was so easy back when we were kids and we made time to do it.
We practiced dreaming so much that it became a childhood habit. Like any skill, dreaming takes practice.
Now that we’re older, we’re woefully out of practice with thinking about what we want, but incredibly practiced at thinking we’re stuck. Victimized by our circumstances. Treading water. Drifting along for years.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Awareness is the first step.
Start small; this will make it possible to avoid being overwhelmed by solving the problem right away. Four great questions are:
- How do you feel at work and why?
- What are you thinking about your job that makes you feel that way?
- How do you want to feel at work and why?
- What would you have to think about your job to feel that way?
Whatever your answers are, these simple questions will help you kick things off and dive a little deeper into your thoughts and feelings. You’ll likely notice that your current habitual thinking about your job is not making you feel the way you want to feel at work. Such an important connection to notice!
Remember, the good news is that thoughts can change. They are optional. This means that your feelings can change too. This also means that you can start now; you can choose to focus on different thoughts, which will change your feelings now, even at your current job. You have options whether you stay or go.
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