No matter your age, area of expertise, breadth experience or career path — there are fundamental components of work life that cannot be negotiated.
When doubt surrounds these non-negotiable elements, we can experience a host of negative emotions. (Reading this post by Sally Blount helped my thoughts on the matter coalesce.)
One such component, is the belief that we are making a worthy contribution. Call this meaningfulness, call this worth, call this task significance, call it anything you like. When you feel as if you are not making a difference — key aspects of work life, such as energy and engagement can be threatened. (See this APA post about the “why” of our work.)
Let’s call this dynamic a “Crisis of Contribution”.
When you explore career paths that no longer motivate contributors, this dynamic is often expressed. On some level, the individual feels that their dedication and hard work fail to bring outcomes they deem valuable to their “work self”. This becomes quite draining — and forces their hand to pursue some kind of resolution or change.
You’ll find this dynamic rearing its ugly head in a number of situations. So — keep an eye out and explore possible adjustments.
Here are a few examples:
- You do not have an effective voice. Whether you are holding back because of self-doubt, prevailing circumstances or you are hearing a clear message to “tone it down” and take a back seat — having the opportunity to express your perspective fully is crucial to a happy work life. When this path is stifled — feelings of frustration, resentment and disengagement likely follow.
- What you bring cannot be applied. Sometimes your leading strengths, skill or ideas still cannot make a difference simply because the situation is inflexible. Whether there are extreme time, people or budget constraints — your solutions aren’t being considered. This can create a painful work-related depression, so to speak. At some point, you shut down entirely.
- You have concerns that your skill set isn’t the right fit. When we start a new role, there is often doubt that we have the “right stuff” to make a difference. (Which is a completely normal thought.) Even with well established careers — contributors harbor doubts that they have the skills and experience to make a strong contribution.
- Your work isn’t ringing true. When your contribution is valued by others, but no longer has meaning for you, it is also time to pause and take stock. For example, I’ve spoken to individuals who realized they are now playing in the wrong “career field”. Either they had evolved, the field had evolved or a combination thereof. As a result, an adjustment was in order.
For now ask the following questions and reflect on your answers:
- Have you noticed a decrease in opportunities to express your opinions or apply valued expertise to your work? How has this affected you?
- Have you sensed a shift in feeling connected to products or outcomes?
- Do you no longer identify with serving your customers or clients?
- Do you find another role appealing or intriguing? Why are to drawn to the role?
Have you experienced a “Crisis of Contribution”? Did you move on?
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial & Organizational Psychologist. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her posts on workplace topics have appeared at The Huffington Post, US News & World Report and The World Economic Forum