The search for personal meaning can be an ongoing quest. It’s a difficult process but it usually results in a very healthy and necessary awakening. Leaders, for example, need to work on this regularly in order to replenish their energy, solidify their commitment, heighten their creativity, and rediscover their passion.
But they cannot do so without first re-calibrating to focus on their goals and dreams.
Certain signals can trigger the need to take stock or adjust your perspective. Examples of these signals are feeling trapped, feeling bored, feeling like life is passing you by, or that your personal ethics have been compromised. Or maybe you just don’t feel like yourself.
So how do you train yourself to recognize these symptoms of distress and take action before it’s too late? In my experience, it really takes a concerted effort to self-examine on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick solution for reestablishing meaning in your career. But there are some very effective strategies for examining your decisions and adjusting your trajectory where appropriate. Many people use a few combinations of these strategies, some seek help from others, and some prefer to go it alone. However you choose to undertake these methods, remember to take it slow. You’ll need time to reflect, consider where you are, where you’re headed, and where you really would like to be. Let’s take a look at 4 ways to do this.
1. Take a time-out
Taking some time off is a great way to figure out what you really want to do. It gives you a chance to reconnect with your aspirations. Sabbaticals are a common occurrence in academic institutions, typically offering faculty members six to 12 months off – often with pay. Because this is less common in business settings, those who do so are taking a risk, to be sure. But in my experience, few regret the decision.
Do you think this is right for you? First imagine: no to-do lists, no meetings, no structure. This can be quite difficult; most high achievers crave routine. Additionally, what about the loss of financial security? This is often prohibitive. And then there’s your identity in your work role. For some people, abandoning their station feels like too great a sacrifice. It’s a decision that needs to be made with great care and careful planning.
2. Find a program
If a more structured scenario would suit you better, consider a leadership or executive development program. These offer guided settings for people as they explore their dreams.
Take a long-time executive of several health care organizations. For a change, he began teaching part-time. He maintained his position at work, even as his course load grew rapidly. But he was becoming exhausted. It wasn’t until he enrolled in a professional development program that he was able to design his ideal future. It became clear to him and his coach that he had a powerful calling to teach. Teaching was not just a diversion; it was his dream. So he developed a two-year plan for disentangling himself from his business role, and now he’s full-time faculty.
It’s common for educational institutions to offer these kinds of programs. And some progressive companies have also decided that these programs are worth it, as they result in a rejuvenated, reinvigorated team. The risk to the company, of course, is that participants won’t return. Fortunately for them, it’s more common that these employees return with new meaning and excitement. Either way, it’s important to remember that those who jump ship would have done so regardless.
3. Create “reflective structures”
When the late leadership guru Warren Bennis conducted a survey of leaders in the early 1990s, he discovered a common trait: their ability to remain in touch with what mattered to them. They created space in their lives for what he called “reflective structures,” meaning they allowed themselves the time for self-examination on a regular basis.
Many people rely on meditation, prayer, exercise, or simple reflection as their outlet. One CEO reflects in solitude for an hour a day, and sometimes two or three hours on weekends. However you choose to do this, the goal is to separate yourself from everyday demands and just be with your thoughts.
There are also ways to reflect collectively, so that you can share your ambitions and disappointments with peers. After overseeing multiple divisions of his consulting form, one executive decided to share his experience by joining a CEO group that met monthly. By joining a group like this, you’ve legitimized the importance of examining your role and learning from others. The benefits are quickly tangible; members exchange proven effective tips for the difficult situations and conflicts they all have in common. (It also creates a space for honest feedback – something most executives don’t hear much of!)
4. Work with a coach or mentor
When we’re in a confusing situation, disregarding our past experience to arrive at an objective stance is very difficult. Perhaps impossible. An outside perspective is extremely useful in this way. You might seek help from trusted colleagues, but it may be in your best interest to consult with a professional coach. Coaches are trained to help you identify your strengths and determine the best ways to use them.
You may also be fortunate enough to work with a manager who possesses a coaching leadership style. Coaching leaders help employees identify their unique strengths and weaknesses and tie them to their personal and career aspirations. They encourage employees to establish long-term development goals and help them conceptualize a plan for attaining them. They make agreements with their employees about their role and responsibilities in enacting development plans, and they give plentiful instruction and feedback.
How did you restore your career passion? Share you experiences in the comments, or tweet them to me: @DanielGolemanEI.
You may find also these other articles useful in your quest:
The Coaching Program is an online streaming learning series for executives, highlighting methods for enhancing any leader or manager’s effectiveness, creativity, and ability to connect with their teams.
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The Competency Builder program was created to assist workers at all levels learn how to work more mindfully, improve focus, handle daily stresses better, and use these skills to increase their effectiveness. A great resource for any HR library.
The EI Overview provides easy-to-understand insights into proven-effective ways managers can best employ leadership styles, as well as develop the areas where they lack.