I don't normally post "big" posts on the weekends, but I've spent a lot of time at my desk this weekend, watching work emails. We're were finishing up a big project, and my role at this point was largely to watch, answer questions, and standby to jump in if necessary. Anyway, this gave me the time to write up some thoughts that have been nagging at me recently. Fair warning- this is a ridiculously introspective post. If that's going to bother you, click away now! But it helped to write this all down, and since I've shown time and again that I absolutely cannot predict which posts will strike a chord with someone out there... here it is.
I've been struggling with a lack of motivation at work lately. I have had a hard time figuring out why. I like my colleagues, and I'm well-respected at this job. I'm doing work that I'm good at, and that most of the people I work with value. I've got a great team working for me, and the people I have to collaborate with are mostly easy to work with, albeit with some quirks (but we all have those).
So what's my deal? Why am I daydreaming about finding some other way to make a living?
I figured out the answer while I was out for a lunchtime walk. I use my walks as a time to think. I like to set myself thinking about a hard problem I'm trying to solve at the start, and it is sort of magical how I often have a solution by the end of my walk, even though I don't force myself to think about only that topic. I let my mind wander where it wants to go.
Anyway, on this particular walk, I couldn't come up with a problem to think about. And I realized that lately, I haven't been thinking about work problems on my walks. I've been thinking about posts I want to write, or process optimizations we need at home, or a parenting conundrum, or... anything but work. I thought about that a bit more, and decided that isn't because I'm shirking any work. It is because I don't have any hard problems to solve right now, and haven't had any for at least a month.
I'm busy at work. There is lot that I need to do, and some of that is not trivial. It draws on my experience and on things I have figured out in the past. But none of it is hard for me. The only challenge is one of prioritization, and I solved the general form of that problem a long time ago- these days it is mostly a question of applying that solution to the specifics at hand.
Some people might be happy to find their work life so ordered. But I am bored. I spent some money on some career counseling several years ago, and one of the exercises I did was to determine what my "work values" are- i.e., what things I want in a job. One of my top values was that I want to be working on hard problems.
And I'm not.
And worse... I realized, as I thought more about this on that walk, that I haven't been working on hard problems for a long time. Or at least, the majority of my job has not involved hard problems for a long time.
This may sound strange, since my team just successfully completed a major, high profile project on time. That certainly required a lot of hard work, from me and everyone on my team. But my part of that work wasn't intellectually challenging. Once we worked out the schedule, my contributions were in communications (within the team and outside the team), task tracking, deciding when we needed to make a compromise on what we were trying to accomplish in order to ensure we could complete the project on time, and keeping other people from bothering my team. In short, I was the project manager. And none of those things are an intellectual challenge for me anymore.
One I realized this, I understood why I keep getting restless in my jobs. The intellectually hard part of what I do is figuring out how to get things done in a new environment. Once I've done that, then the execution isn't an intellectual challenge- although it can be a challenge for other reasons. Based on my recent record of employment satisfaction, I'd say that it takes me roughly 6-9 months to figure out how to get things done at a company. Then I get 3-6 months of happily accomplishing things. And then I get bored.
So now that I've figured this out, the question is what to do about it.
I could stay in my current line of work (which pays well, after all) and just devote more of my time and attention to my hobbies- like writing. Perhaps I could tackle some bigger writing projects in addition to writing this blog. The problem is that I can't really cut back on my work hours, and I don't want to cut back on the time I spend with my family, so that would mean squeezing in more time for hobby work around the margins. I'm not sure this would work well.
I could talk to my boss and tell him I'm bored, and see if we can come up with any changes to my job that would fix the problem. Unfortunately, I know full well that the reason I was hired was because I am good at managing projects and getting things done- so it seems unlikely that I'll be able to stop doing the work I'm doing now. And I don't really want more work. I want different work.
I could stay in my current line of work, but change things up to try to get more intellectual challenge. I could go out on my own as a consultant (which is financially risky, so would require some lead time and preparation) or I could try to find a "bigger" job in my current field. I wonder if this would just be a short term fix, though.
Or I could try to find a new line of work. I lean towards doing this, but that opens up another huge area of introspection. I've done well in my current career- it seems like pushing my luck to toss it all in for a new career, and if I do, it seems unlikely that I'll get yet another chance if my second choice goes poorly. So it seems that I should make that second choice carefully.
I've been doing a lot of thinking about what I might want to do. About 18 months ago, I was unhappy in my job (it was a different job), and thinking that I needed a "life reorg". I even wrote a series of posts about it. My post about my "core competencies" is particularly relevant here. I had identified "organizing information" and "getting things done" as my core competencies. In fact, I think those collapse down to one: organizing things. Unfortunately for me, what makes me happy is organizing information, but what I've found people to pay me to do is organizing people and projects.
So I've got a lot to think about. How to get back to doing something that I really enjoy for work? (Note that I don't hate my current work, I'm just a bit bored by it.) Could I find a way to get paid to lose myself in masses of information and organize it? How to fit all of this in with my larger ambitions? I don't know the answers to any of these questions yet. I guess I know what I'll be thinking about during my lunchtime walks for awhile!
Feel free to give me advice in the comments. What would you do in my shoes? As always, I may or may not actually take any of the advice I get, but I enjoy reading other people's perspectives.