Jeremy had all the symptoms of mid-career burnout.
A 29-year-old buyer in the purchasing office of a Bay Area company for four years, he was having a hard time staying focused and completing projects at work. He also had low energy, no enthusiasm and a negative attitude toward his job. Worst of all, he simply did not want to go to work when his alarm clock would ring in the morning.
“The pay wasn’t bad, and I had good benefits and vacation time,” Jeremy said. “I had a lot of reasons to stay, actually, but I was feeling totally burned out. I had the job down. It was beyond routine. My work was mindless and I couldn’t handle the repetition any more.”
Jeremy’s symptoms of mid-career burnout are very common. Many people start to burn out after working at a job for more than a few years or once they have mastered a profession. Burnout is a major reason for people switching careers. In today’s day and age, people are expected to make five to seven career or job changes in their work life. The U.S. Labor Department says the average 34-year-old has held nine full- or part-time jobs since entering the workforce.
One of the first things you should do if you are experiencing the symptoms of mid-career burnout is to assess the causes of these feelings by asking yourself the following questions:
Has the job become routine with no further challenges? Are there growth opportunities in the company? Has the field or industry become stagnant? Are jobs being shipped overseas or to other parts of the country? Are there opportunities for professional development? Is there too much stress or not enough to do (either one extreme or the other)? Has the company downsized or reorganized too many times?
By asking these questions, Jeremy figured out his problem: He was frustrated with the lack of growth opportunities at his job.
Some questions that can help you refocus include:
What motivated you to get into the profession or work you are in? Did you plan it or did you just fall into it? Was there a time when you were excited, and if so what types of projects or tasks were you working on then? Do your values match the company’s? Do you like who you are working for? Are you staying current in your industry or field? What have you tried to remedy the situation?
In Jeremy’s case, some introspection led him to changing career paths completely.
Jeremy has always been passionate about music. While he was a student at the University of San Francisco, he majored in communications with a music industry focus. He is also an avid drummer who has played in a few different bands. Getting a job in the music industry was something he always wanted to do, so he decided to conduct some informational interviews with people in the music industry and discovered that he could transfer his purchasing skills to being a buyer or sales rep for a music store. He ended up fulfilling his desire and eventually found a job as a sales representative for a company that sells musical equipment in the Bay Area.
Another strategy to fix the problem of mid-career burnout is to look for a similar position in a different setting. Sometimes what people need is a change of scenery: Doing similar tasks in a smaller company, or for a company in another state or country, could be a positive career move. You should also consider changing industries. For example, a person working in human resources in the high tech industry might want to stay in human resources but move to the healthcare industry.
The easiest option is to look within your own company to see what the opportunities might be. Don’t overlook this possibility. Your company may not want to lose you if you are adding value to the organization. Plus, if you leave you may walk out with a great deal of knowledge and expertise they may not be able to replace. For example, if you are working in sales and feeling burned out, consider moving into marketing or management. It would be a good idea to talk to people in various departments to learn what they do. Ask questions and find out about the training or educational background needed to move into these departments.
Another option for those suffering from burnout is going back to school to obtain an advanced degree or certificate. Returning to school can be a way to re-energize your career, because when we are learning we are growing and developing. Many people become transformed when they are engaged in learning new things either through extension courses, certificate programs or online learning programs. If you are unsure of what program to take, consider signing up or auditing a couple different types of classes in subjects that interest you.
The next steps for people like Monette are to research classes in their areas of interest online by visiting sites such as SearchForClasses.com and by talking to admissions reps at the schools or programs they are interested in. They should also find out how long the programs will take and whether their workplace has tuition reimbursement.
There is no reason to stay stuck and continue feeling burned out at your job. There are remedies out there to help you move forward. What can help is taking action and experimenting to see what you want to explore and investigating further. A more exciting career could be waiting for you. Just ask Jeremy.
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