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February 27, 2015

Regain Your Spark!

Sarah Pavey

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Around a year ago, I had dinner with a friend to celebrate her promotion. She'd worked for her organization for more than 10 years, and she was about to start her new role as department head.

Over three courses of delicious Italian food and a nice bottle of wine, her excitement and enthusiasm were palpable. She had lots of innovative ideas, she had a clear vision of how she wanted to lead her new team, and she couldn't wait to get started. We left on a high, as she rushed off to prepare for her first day.

However, when we met again a few weeks ago, she seemed completely different. Her shoulders were slumped, her eyes were dull, and she'd lost the spark of enthusiasm that was so apparent a year ago. She explained that she wasn't enjoying her new role any more. She was no longer excited by her work, it wasn't motivating or rewarding, it didn't feel meaningful, and she delegated most of the tasks she loved doing to her team members. She wasn't sure what to do next – this was an exciting step up the career ladder, but she felt bored and wanted to find a new challenge.

So, I asked her to take a deep breath, and explain exactly why she felt this way. As she talked, I began to understand the problem… and I thought we could make things better.

We spent the rest of the meal discussing how she could regain the excitement she used to feel at work. We talked about her daily tasks, and identified the ones that she enjoyed doing most: she loved the camaraderie of collaborating with her colleagues on group projects. So, she decided to delegate some of her other responsibilities to make more time for this type of work.

Next, I suggested that she set some SMART goals, so she had something positive to work towards. What did she want to achieve in the next few years, in her professional and personal life? She was spending so much time concentrating on the present that she hadn't given this much thought. After a few minutes, she pulled out a notebook and made the following list:

  1. Increase the department's revenue by 10 percent in two years.
  2. Join a gym and run a 10k race in six months' time.
  3. Develop good relationships with newer members of the team over the next three months, and socialize more with other colleagues outside of work.

These goals were great: they gave her something specific to work towards, and helped restore her sense of purpose.

Finally, we discussed the fact that she'd worked in her organization for a long time; her promotion was the next logical step. She knew the job inside out, she understood all the processes, and could do everything she needed to do without much thought. As a result, she felt bored. However, her organization valued her hard work and expertise, so she didn't want to seem ungrateful.

So, how could we make her job more exciting? What could we do to bring back the interest and enthusiasm that she once felt? What about mentoring new team members? Or leading a new, challenging project that's outside of her comfort zone?

By the time we'd finished our desserts and got the check, she seemed much more upbeat. Her eyes were bright, she was energized, and she was looking forward to getting back to the office and trying out these strategies. She'd taken the first steps towards regaining that spark... and I left with a smile on my face.

Read our article on Beware the Mid-Career Slump for more on this, and to find out how you can rekindle your lost motivation and productivity.

Question: Have you experienced a mid-career slump? What steps did you take to bounce back?

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