dog sitting on bed with blanket overhead, looking at laptop
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It’s 2 p.m. on a Wednesday and you’re still in your pajamas, your hair uncombed. You’re in your home office (read: at your kitchen table) idly refreshing your work email—clicking the button but not focusing on the screen. The text messages and social media notifications have been stacking up on your phone and no part of your being cares to look at them. Instead, you flip the device over, hiding those irritating red dots. You’re tired of trying to keep up with the endless expectations. If this scene is familiar, you may be in “goblin mode.”

Revealed as the Oxford Word of the Year by public vote, this phrase sums up how many of us feel about modern working life. Chasing perfection, following the rules, and climbing that career ladder has somehow lost its appeal. That life you used to envision as you strove away no longer feels in reach—or all that desirable. Let’s explore what goblin mode means and how to get out of it.

What is “goblin mode,” anyway?

Goblin mode is a slang term for “a type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.” Imagine a teeny green fellow hiding in their grotto, hunched over and refusing to get up and face the outside world because it’s all too much to handle. You get the picture.

While the term first appeared on social media back in 2009, it truly went viral at the start of this year—as the world was slowly opening up after a marathon of lockdowns. “Seemingly, it captured the prevailing mood of individuals who rejected the idea of returning to ‘normal life,’ or rebelled against the increasingly unattainable aesthetic standards and unsustainable lifestyles exhibited on social media,” reads the press release from Oxford Languages.

You might say that goblin mode is a natural reaction to the modern working world. More than 80% of American professionals suffer from work-related stress and 25% say that work is their number one stressor. Chances are, your mode switch is rooted in a place of despair; a feeling that your current working situation doesn’t quite suit your mindset, goals, or values. Despite this fact, failing to engage may impact your overall career progression. 

“With so many challenges, stressors, and [so much] competition in the workplace, it’s natural to feel pessimistic sometimes,” says Muse career coach, Kristine Knutter. But when employees retreat into goblin mode, “Their work may suffer, and they may be overlooked for projects or jobs they may actually like better than their current work,” she adds. “When a person faces a career slump, they need to make some changes.”

5 top tips for getting out of goblin mode

You’ve identified that there’s a problem. Congratulations—that’s the first step in making a positive change. Whether you’ve been hibernating like a mythical creature for a week or three years, now is the right time to do something about it. While shifting out of this mode may, understandably, be tough, it’s worth it. Here are five actionable approaches you can try.

1. Pinpoint the changes that need to be made.

There’s a reason that you’ve switched into goblin mode recently. Before you can dig yourself out of it, you need to do the internal work to pinpoint what’s caused you to disengage.

What is it exactly that's bothering you about your career? It could be an accumulation of irritations or perhaps one overriding problem that has festered beneath the surface for years. Does the issue lie with your perspective or the situation? Put simply, you cannot “positive think” your way out of a toxic workplace. That’s not how it works. However, if there are small changes that can be made at your company that would make a significant difference, you may want to look at how you can propose them.

We all deserve to be fulfilled and satisfied with our careers. What steps do you need to take to make that happen? Do you need to pivot and try something entirely new, or can you alter your current situation so that it better serves you? It may be helpful to speak to a career coach to help you answer these most pertinent questions.

2. Don’t leap straight into finding a new job.

Your gut may be telling you to look elsewhere. A fresh start, a new environment, and different colleagues. It all sounds shiny and exciting. However, finding a new job won’t always magically solve your problems.

If you’re struggling with burnout, for example, you might need more than just a new setting. Yes, objective factors, such as the size of your workload, could change instantly with this move, but without a little bit more reflection, you might not have all the insights you’ll need to help you find a healthier work culture, change your habits, and find your balance.

“Before assuming you need to get a job at another company, I recommend you try to make your work more meaningful and explore the opportunities for your current employer,” says Knutter. “That way, you will develop coping skills that will help you throughout your career.”

To begin, you can “talk to your manager about what you enjoy most about your work and ask if it’s possible to do more of it and delegate some of the work you enjoy least,” Knutter says. Or “find a mentor within your company, so you feel supported when you have questions or are struggling.”

Of course, not all situations are salvageable. If you have a toxic boss, the workplace culture is dire, or the job or mission simply don’t interest you anymore, these challenges may be impossible to overcome. In those cases, it may be time to look elsewhere.

3. Relight your spark of motivation and upskill yourself.

Don’t listen to your inner goblin and give up the game. Whether you want to look for a new job completely, redefine your role, or go for a promotion, upskilling may be the answer.

Aside from adding more feathers to your hat, learning something new could give you the motivation you’ve been lacking lately. Perhaps the reason you’ve switched modes is that you began to stagnate and needed change. Let’s face it, doing the same tasks day in and day out with no progression is certain to take its toll.

“Upskilling is empowering,” Knutter says. “It feels good to learn new things and have more to offer. It can be fun, boost your confidence, and make you a more valuable employee with more employment options. It allows you to make a greater impact in your current role and prepare you for a different challenge or even career.”

If you’ve been stewing in an all-too-familiar position, upskilling will open up doors—either in your own company or further afield. You may want to consider taking an online course on a site like LinkedIn Learning, Skillshare, or Udemy. Alternatively, you could choose to speak to your employer directly about any training opportunities they offer.

4. Advocate for the changes you want to see.

Goblin mode isn’t all about hiding under a rock for funsies. There could be a valid reason—or several—that you’ve begun to feel disenchanted with your career right now. During your professional soul-searching, you might have discovered aspects of your job or industry that don’t gel with you.

The mode is all about rejecting social norms, and you may be responding to expectations of our work culture that feel outdated or unhealthy. What is it that you’re trying to protect yourself from? It takes strength to acknowledge and speak up about challenges. But if you feel safe doing so, it can bolster your self-esteem and make a real difference.

It could be an opportunity to advocate for the changes that you want to see. That might mean joining a union, proposing a new policy to upper management, or forming an employee resource group (ERG).

5. Find joy and fulfillment in every area of your life.

Unfortunately, when you’re in the grips of goblin mode, you’re probably not the happiest version of yourself. But you, like all of us, deserve to be. Learning to find joy both at work and outside of it takes time and practice. However, there are approaches you can use that will help you out.

“There are many non-traditional ways to advance your career,” Knutter says. For instance, when you’re looking for that extra buzz, it doesn’t always have to come from your nine-to-five. The modern working world is rapidly changing and the U.S. is now home to more than 70 million freelancers. Finding a side project allows you to gain more skills, boost your income, and figure out what you really want.

Alternatively, you may want to devote time to a hobby, start traveling again, find a community group, or revitalize your social life. What is it that you’ve been missing lately? What’s a prospect you find exciting rather than dutiful? When you find a reason to push yourself out of the cozy comfort zone you’ve created, it will help you find a whole new perspective. Or should we say mode? As in, bye, goblin.

Updated 12/15/2022