Just like any relationship, jobs have their ups and downs. When you first join, there’s the honeymoon period when everything is new and exciting. Soon after, you get into a groove and feel pretty good about the relationship. And occasionally, you’ll also fall into a rut when things feel routine and monotonous.
This is when the true strength of your relationship with your job is tested. While this will no doubt be a challenging—and confusing—time in your career, I promise you can get through it, one way or another.
Step 1: Take a Break
If you’re starting to feel like you could do your job with your eyes closed, it’s probably time for a break. I don’t mean a permanent vacation, just a few days—or maybe even a few weeks—to recharge your batteries and get some distance between you and your work.
Pick someplace you’ll look forward to visiting, and make it known to all your colleagues that you’ll be officially offline and unreachable. While our devices make it possible for us to be accessible nearly anywhere on the planet (I had Wi-Fi while working in the heart of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park), that doesn’t mean you need to be reachable. Make sure everyone’s prepared for a blackout, then for Pete’s sake, leave your devices at home.
Spend your time away doing what vacations were invented for: relaxation. Immerse yourself in a good book, have a few fruity drinks, and forget about the day and time. Give yourself the mental and physical space to completely separate from your work for however long you’ve planned. I promise, it’ll all be waiting for you when you get back.
Step 2: Remodel
As much as I wish it were the case, vacations alone won’t solve all your problems. But the good news is, after you’ve given your brain and body a chance to reset, whatever challenges—or lack thereof—you were facing before will be much easier to dissect with a rested mind.
And it’s with that rested mind that you should dive right into shaking up the status quo with a remodel to your daily grind. It’s important to start this process immediately after you get back from your break—don’t let yourself get back into old habits.
Start with the easy stuff. You don’t have to do something drastic to make a difference. For example, try changing your morning coffee routine; even the smallest change can help. This is also a fantastic opportunity to clean up your workspace and make a few cosmetic improvements. You’d be surprised at how much a small plant (I’m a big fan of succulents) and a clean desk can brighten your mood in the office. And while I’ve personally never achieved this, I hear cleaning out your inbox can be pretty zen, too.
Change your physical routine and space as much as you can without a ton of effort—it needs to be easy, otherwise you risk not following through—and you’re ready for the next step.
Step 3: Get Uncomfortable
This is by far the hardest part, but definitely easier if you’ve followed steps 1 and 2. Careers have an interesting catch-22. We’re often afraid to venture into uncharted waters because we’re uncomfortable not having mastered the skills required to sail those waters. Yet, once we’ve mastered those skills, the work becomes routine and we get bored.
This part, to be honest, kinda sucks. Although I force myself to do it whenever I’m feeling bored with my work, it’s not easy to do because it requires me to push myself completely out of my comfort zone and dive head-first into work I’d actively avoided in the past because I didn’t think I was ready. I’m sure it’s no surprise, but I’ll say it anyway: You’ll never be fully ready for anything.
This is the beauty of pursuing things that make you a little—or a lot—uncomfortable. You’re forced to push through that discomfort, and the reward is (hopefully) a newfound love for your career.
If this fails, however, proceed to the next step—but only as a last resort.
Step 4: Get Out
I repeat: This is a last resort. This step shouldn’t be taken lightly, but let’s face it. Sometimes things just don’t work out, and a mind-numbingly boring gig is just the start of a tortuous descent into a really unhealthy relationship with your work. If this is the case, then it’s time to seriously consider moving on.
If you feel you’ve truly explored every option to get the excitement back into your work with no result, start looking for a new job. If a job description gives you butterflies, apply for it. The simple act of pursuing new work can not only spark some inspiration and revitalize your will to work, but it can also help you realize how good—or bad—you’ve really had it.
Give yourself some metrics to compare your current situation with what’s out there, then start aiming to land somewhere new and exciting.
Thankfully, jobs aren’t quite as complicated as our personal relationships, and it’s widely accepted that many of us will have several, if not dozens, of different jobs throughout our careers. If you’re feeling like you’re in a rut with your current gig, give steps 1-3 a try, and if all else fails, change things up in a big way and move on.