Some of you may not believe that knowing who you are and what size work you could do (given the opportunity and some mentoring) will have any affect on the rut you now find your career in. Here’s a short statement from Alan, whom I’ve been talking with for the past few years.
When I met Forrest four years ago, I was languishing in a job that I had clearly outgrown. Of course, I didn’t realize it at the moment. I had no idea how undervalued and underutilized my skills were. I thought for some reason I was simply unfocused, unmotivated or, perhaps, too disorganized. His perceptive eye helped me understand I had clearly stagnated for too long in a position where my capacity to perform had clearly outstripped my responsibilities. He claimed that, no matter how hard I tried, I would fail and ultimately get depressed if I continued to stay in my current position. I had gotten “too big” for my job. Honestly, my first reaction was to disbelieve him — I got somewhat emotional and upset. Hearing the truth, can, at times, unsettle you. His clear-thinking analysis coupled with his persistent, but encouraging tone helped me understand that “fit” is more than cultural, it has to do with doing work that matches you innate capacity and your ability to handle complexity.
In a relatively short time, I began to see and understand that I was operating in an position what was not just one, but several levels below me. The position was challenging at first, but I had reached a point where I didn’t enjoy my work at all. If I was evolving into a more complex individual capable of keeping many “variables” in the air, but the job wasn’t changing, then, perhaps, what Forrest was suggesting was the key to my career inertia. He made me realize I was thinking too small.
Forrest’s coaching got me to a place where I could begin to dream again and clearly see where I needed to begin looking for my next job. Within six month’s time, I had found a new position where I was much happier and where my capacities could be more fully utilized.
Forrest has remained a friend and trusted counselor. In fact, in my most recent change in jobs, his ability to boil the situation down to it’s bare-bones offered me a vision and a game-plan to take a direction that had proven quite beneficial.
It’s really true: there are times where you high-potentials can get stuck failing worse and worse in a job that you used to be great at. It can often be as short as six months, something Glenn Mehltretter of PeopleFit has spoken about. For the first few months, you’re learning everything at an extraordinary rate. You seem to have the golden touch. And then — WHAM! — the shoe drops and everyone hates you.
For people like Alan, you get into a job that is not necessarily exactly where your passion is, but you get good at it. You exceed your numbers and things are rolling. But you keep growing and forget to get a bigger job. Soon, you find your numbers slipping until you can barely meet the minimum. And then that can fall.
Once you can get work that fits, and you have the courage to take it, your entire life seems to turn around.
That’s really what took Alan six months: he had to come to grips with the fact that no matter how hard he worked, this job was not going to turn around for him. He had to look for something bigger.
“Neon sign: Open”, © 2005 Justin Cormack. Via Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY SA 2.0)
I’m not sure what “new line” means exactly, but I’m getting in the queue to be a customer.
When I read “Underachievers, Are You Simply Out of Flow” and then Andrew Olivier’s “Our Working Journey and Stress”, I could hardly believe my eyes. I diagnosed myself immediately.
I have been on 2 sick leaves, the last one for 7 months because of depression. Even though I had stopped eating and sleeping I seriously didn’t care because I had all that extra time (that would have been spent sleeping and eating) to pursue my art-related hobbies. All day and all night. I was so happy! ( And skinny).
I mean, duh, I knew that my jobs were not very fitting, but I didn’t know that they could make me that sick. I thought I was sick mostly because my boss was mean and I was freakishly sensitive.
Now I know better.
Knowing will help me cope and not be ashamed of myself for getting sick while doing an admin. suppport job.
Now I just need a more suitable job! I have natural talent but no credentials. I hope you have some suggestions for high potential people who had misspent youths and didn’t finish university.
God bless you, Forrest, for starting this conversation.
I am a computer programmer and my job has gotten harder, but I have not outgrown it. I think I’ve gotten worse at this job. I’m constantly missing details and forgetting to do things and people are not too impressed with me. The I.T. industry has changed a lot, and so that is part of it. I’m 48 now, and I’ve gone back to school to upgrade my skills, but I’m not any better. I don’t understand.
By the way Mary, I hope you get a better job – you clearly are made to make a huge contribution. Thanks for your clarity and honesty.
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Maureen, your situation mirrors one of my clients, Jack. He was an accomplished programmer who finds himself stuck. Like you, he’s in his mid-40s and just can’t do the work like he used to.
The good news is that this is normal: if someone had been looking out for you a bit (say, your manager’s manager, whose job it’s supposed to be) you would have learned that you can’t stay where you are indefinitely. It’s not just age, or that the field keeps shifting. I’ll be talking about Jack’s situation in the next few days. I think you’ll find what I say about it interesting.
I’m also finishing up a very focused ebook on the problems facing software developers in your situation, and the options open to you. It will talk about this problem more indepth. It’s really rather common, and it’s a shame.
Thanks so much, Forrest. I can’t wait to read more! Your note really cheered me up.
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