My heart was beating so loudly that I could feel it in my ears. I looked down, wondering if I could see it pounding though the outside of my shirt. I took a deep breath and counted to five on the way out. It was the kind you take when you try to smooth out a heart flutter by willing yourself into calmness. My husband looked over because the flutter sounded out in my breath. He asked what that was. I blew it off, “oh it was just one of my Sunday night heart palpitations.”
That was my Sunday evening ritual in the worst job I had ever taken. I had a great boss. I adored my teammates. Everything seemed good on the surface. Yet in only the first week on the job I could tell something was wrong. Now when I look back I realize I was smack in the middle of my weakness zone. That job called on every talent I didn’t have. I “succeeded” each day through brute force. I looked competent to everyone around me, yet it was sucking every ounce of energy from my body.
I felt disappointed in myself because I dragged my feet into work. As I thought about how to take action on my bad choice I felt trapped. I chose the job because the title was great and the vision of the role was inspiring. Yet I found, once on the inside, that there were about 12 months worth of soul-sucking work to get the company prepared for that aspirational vision. It’s not what I meant to sign up for. I don’t think the hiring executives knew there were so many problems to fix. I respected them. I liked them. And I didn’t want to disappoint them.
I considered the options. I could quit. Yet my CV, resume, and LinkedIn would show a flake. I’m not a flake. So I considered staying. Yet I felt my normal, high energy, high performance attitude shifting into a mopey, grumpy zone that I had to reframe every 10 minutes. I felt stuck. Looking back, I know this job was soul sucking because it was in my weakness zone.
First Steps For Getting Unstuck
If you’re feeling “bleh” about your work, yet you can’t put your finger on what’s wrong, take these five steps to get you into your strengths zone.
- Find what lights you up. Start with an assessment like StrengthsFinder or The Motivators Assessment. They’ll give you a new way of thinking about how you see the world.
- Spot your Yucks and Yays. Open your calendar and to-do list. Look at the two weeks ahead. What items make you think, “yuck, I usually procrastinate that” or “yay, I can’t wait for that project?” Your reactions will reveal things in your strength and weakness zone. The idea is to get more of the Yays in your job and fewer of the Yucks.
- Look at your history at your best. Think back to moments you felt on fire. What were the trends? Were you always influencing people? Were you researching? Were you analyzing data? Find the similarities in the roles and moments that put you at your best.
- Notice What’s Easy. Write down three things people have always told you you’re good at. It’s sometimes tough to spot your own talents because they just seem like common sense ways of thinking to you. If someone says, “you are so great at setting a positive tone” or “you have a knack for risk management” or “you’re the go-to person every time we need to simplify a complex issue” – those are all clues to your strengths zone.
- Put it into practice. Once you’ve spotted one of your talents, use it as much as possible in the month ahead. For example, if you’re especially talented at communication, lean into it further by looking at your work emails or customer communications as your art. Volunteer to help team members who need a hand with word smithing. Think of things that allow you to use the talent more frequently and in expanded ways. The more you get known for your talents, the more they’ll become part of your job responsibilities over time.
According to Gallup, 87% of employees worldwide are not fully engaged on the job. This is a sad statistic that you can impact by making your own work experience better. Your career doesn’t have to contribute to that data on the disengaged side. If you consciously notice what works in your career, you’ll slowly but surely get more of what works in your day. So what will you do to claim your talents and share them with the world?