Any job can be, or become, draining. Aggressive or needy colleagues; a repeating cycle of the same courses, same lessons, same student errors; and allowing yourself to get roped into service commitments that drain your energy and produce few results can all lead to burnout, frustration, and thoughts of a simple 9-5 job with less Angst. The policies (or lack thereof) put forward by university administrations can also contribute to burnout and frustration. When management systems and universal guidelines impinge on how you schedule assignments, advise students, order textbooks, assess students, and myriad other things, your sense of autonomy and purpose feels under attack. For those with stable jobs, this frustration can then be compounded by survivor’s guilt and the knowledge that they should not be “crying on the yacht.” If you are in a contingent position (and statistically, an increasingly large number of you are), then the burnout and frustration is even more acute. And you, of course, are not on the yacht (or in the lifeboat, or whichever metaphor you like.)
At this point, I’m going to address those with stable jobs when I talk about a fresh perspective.
Frustration and burnout are the home turf of powerlessness. And when we feel powerless, the future of our careers looks like a bleak scenario of the current malaise, replayed ad nauseum. As a coach, I work with clients to discover, name, and access both their inner resources and their external skills, in order to create an awareness of their capacity to create and orchestrate change.
For some, tapping into under-utilized capacities can mean developing some sort of “side hustle” to your regular job. I’ve discovered, however, that most humanists don’t have–or don’t feel they have–marketable specializations. My exhaustive knowledge of nineteenth-century historical novels for German girls isn’t exactly something I can sell on the open market. Plus, creating more hours of work in a week on top of the work you are contractually required to do might not seem possible for many.
So, forget the side hustle (unless you play a killer accordion, in which case: can I pay you for lessons?) and think instead about choosing to double-down on some things that you already do. Once you’ve identified all the small pieces and parts that make up your job, which ones resonate most forcefully for you? Can you feed and water those areas of your job more than you are doing currently? One way to do this is by identifying a new career-related goal. By choosing to stretch yourself in a new direction, you stretch the parameters of your job in ways that conform with your skills and desires. This can transform your perspective on your job and on your career. You’ve put yourself in the driver’s seat of your career, selected a goal that is meaningful both to you and to your institution, and the pursuit of this goal can re-energize your relationship to your work.
What goals are out there for you to reach for? Leadership in a professional organization; editing a journal; acquiring a new sub-speciality; moving into administration and management? What would change the landscape of your job so that it became a place you wanted to spend your time, instead of a place you feel like escaping from?
Another way to achieve a new perspective on a job that has lost its luster is to lead a new initiative from where you sit right now. If you have tenure and can’t relocate, due to job market concerns, or family concerns, etc.; or if your specialization is unique in your department, leaving you with few colleagues available for brainstorming and feedback, then working on something that both brings you together with like-minded colleagues around the world AND demonstrates your initiative and leadership can reframe your relationship to your job, your colleagues, your career. A friend of mine, who works in student services and felt isolated from colleagues at other institutions who might face the same problems and have possible solutions to offer, got together with a few other people she met at a conference and started a Twitter hashtag and a Facebook group to bring student service professionals across the country together in conversation. Their initiative lasted for a year or two, created some valuable professional relationships, and fostered several conference panels and reports. My friend felt energized by her colleagues-at-a-distance and demonstrated her ability to bring people together on an extra-mural scale.
Another option, of course, is allowing yourself to cry on the yacht, recognizing that you are in a career that no longer (or never did) speaks to you and your values and ambitions. Then it is really time to inventory your skills and needs and begin charting the course to a new job.
Wherever you are on your professional journey right now, you have internal resources and skills that will see you through the changes–large or small–you want to make to your career. Everything you’ve done up until this point, including fundraising for band camp, lifeguarding in the summer, or working at the library reference desk in grad school, can play a role in how you choose to move forward. You are larger than the sum of the skills and expertise required by your current position AND you don’t need to reinvent yourself to move your career in a direction that resonates more than what you have now.
I work with clients to identify their resources and skills, so that they can make good-for-them choices and make progress in their careers and personal development. If you’re curious about how it works, get in touch. I offer free sample sessions to anyone who’s interested.