Tuesday 18 June 2024

Navigating the murky waters of work malaise

Many career professionals are experiencing a sense of gloom at work despite being hardworking, empowered, and eager to make progress. This issue appears to be bigger than any individual’s situation or circumstances. The following thoughts explore trends that might be contributing to this phenomenon. While solutions are unlikely to be one-size-fits-all, understanding the underlying causes can help in better preparing for and addressing these challenges.

  • The shallow workplace:

Individuals are not to blame for this feeling, nor are they alone in experiencing it. The work landscape has become particularly shallow, especially for those in middle management roles. This generation briefly experienced work as a genuine second space in life, where there was a journey, progress, and a sense of merit. Now, they see it transforming into a transactional workplace filled with constant micro-stresses and a lack of psychological safety. This trend began after the Great Recession of 2008 and accelerated with COVID-19. There is a pervasive sense of 'What is it all for?' When other compelling reasons arise (e.g., not wanting to stay away from kids, family health issues), work today simply loses its appeal. This trend could be termed as a 'worth-life crisis.' Although this is anecdotal evidence, it seems more prevalent at a certain life stage and among those who have seen significant success in their careers. Unless faced with a do-or-die situation, work can feel like a drag. Even in such situations, there is often a reluctance to fully engage in work.

  • The burden of shoulds and coulds:

Another theme is the 'burden-of-shoulds' (what is expected of us and what we tell ourselves we must do) versus the 'burden-of-coulds' (what we can do and what seems possible, with trade-offs). The problem is not one or the other; both are burdens and impose a mental tax. We struggle to choose a path and maintain mental sanity by knowing which tax we are willing to pay. This constant switching leads to depression and weariness, which could be referred to as a 'burden switching tax.' Some people have chosen the burden they will bear, and it makes them better for it.

  • Modernity induced fatigue:

The third theme is the problem with modernity itself. The paradox of choices in our hyper-abundant world conditions us to expect solutions to our problems. We want everything to be solved and believe that the solution will be personalized to our unique quirks. Life, however, is often messy and doesn’t comply with easy solvability. We are constantly going around corners, seeking an elusive, perfect solution. This constant search leads to what could be called 'solution seeking fatigue.'

Combined, these trends, along with the erosion of meaningful engagement and the pervasive sense of disconnection, contribute to the pervasive personal gloom many professionals are experiencing.

Solutions are not straightforward, as different people have different circumstances and not all will resonate with the same ideas. Here are some experiments that might help with this:

  • Creation over consumption:

We are overstimulated in our modern lives and must cut back on constant dopamine dosing. Prioritize creating something, either at work or outside, to replace consumption, even if that consumption includes activities generally considered healthy, like endlessly scrolling through educational content or obsessively following fitness trends.

  • Slowing down:

Slow down and become unrushed in our actions, decisions, and needs. Prioritize being unrushed in every action, even if it means missing out on opportunities or experiences that seem within our reach, to foster a sense of calm and deliberate purpose.

Both strategies present challenges. One requires us to create more, while the other might reduce our activities by slowing down the pace and letting go. If we get this balance right, it might eventually permeate other parts of our lives.

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