The Proof is in the Pudding

Recently, I had one of those luxurious catch-up conversations with a colleague with whom I hadn’t spoken in about a year. The last time we had spoken, he informed me he was leaving the consulting world to embark on a totally different business venture with his wife. The combination of a new empty nest and burn out from heavy travel prompted this lifestyle change.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I received an email from him saying the business was no more, and he was available for limited client work. Obviously my curiosity was aroused so I gave him a call to catch up.

Sure enough, the proof I came away with substantiated a belief I have held for a long time…

Work, either employed or self-generated like entrepreneurial ventures or working as an independent contractor, is an essential part of one’s life. As human beings we naturally work to realize goals. Work is the process of applying know-how to realize specific outcomes (aka goals). The wide-ranging situations involved in one’s employment consist of applying knowledge, skill, experience and applied capability to assigned tasks to be completed by a targeted completion time. When mismatched to our work--being over-qualified, underutilized and/or not having the knowledge, skills, experience and capacity to do the tasks assigned--our overall well-being is impacted.

In my colleague’s case it was a situation of over qualification. Having spent his career providing services to executives in corporations, he bought a small business providing services to average Janes and Joes. He was now chief cook and bottle washer providing services to the public, whereas before he was consulting to senior executives. Very different roles, requiring very different expertise, knowledge, know how and capability. The hours were exhausting, the labor more physical than mental; and before long, mental fatigue and physical exhaustion set in. A trip to the doctor and a battery of medical tests demonstrated the impact of stress on his psyche and overall health. The recommendation was cut your losses and get out of the business. He was told that continuing this could kill him.

Stress associated with being mismatched to a role is carried into your home and shows up, for example as being short-tempered with loved ones, drinking or doing drugs to numb the pain (physical and emotional), and a myriad of other symptoms both obvious and subtle. Unlike my colleague, not everyone is in the position to “suck it up” and cut one’s losses. Most people need sufficient income to care for themselves and their families.

So what can you do? Doing nothing is not the answer. Doing nothing will likely result in a serious blow-up, illness and or mental breakdown. Who will be there to care for family and loved ones?

One suggestion I have (and I have many) is to have a conversation with your boss. Muster up the courage to let her/him know that something is off with you and the work. Begin by saying you are determined to make a contribution to the unit/company/organization, and you need some guidance. Always try to avoid blame. Focus on the fact you want to add value. You’ll be surprised what a conversation like this can bring out into the open. Express your willingness and desire to do a good job. Depending on the situation, from here there are different paths the conversation can take, and these paths can indeed be positive.

Have any of my comments evoked something in you? What is your thinking on this topic? Sharing your reflections helps all of us to grow and expand our thinking. Comments can be left on the Contact Rosemary page. If you have found the information of value, please forward it to colleagues, associates and friends.

And fiinally... Shanah Tovah! Wishing a good new year to all!