Is Your Job Running out of Gas?

By: Michael Kaplan, Fast Company
Fast Company

[Read this article on the Fast Company site.]

Here are five signs that it's time to fill'er up before your career stalls - plus four tips for roadside service.

Philosophers tell you that your life is a journey, not a destination. Career counselors tell you that your job is a car ride - and the question is, How much gas is in the tank?

Like most cross-country car trips, jobs have a predictable rhythm. You start out with a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm, and a tankful of gas. Down the road apiece, however, the trip loses some of its luster, and the excitement of being on the road starts to fade. Then you realize that it's time to check your gas gauge: How much fuel is left in your tank? Is it time to pull into that gas station and fill 'er up? Or is it too late - are you running on empty?

How do you read your career gas gauge? Fast Company asked Pam Lassiter, the principal of Lassiter Consulting, a Boston-based firm that offers career-management services to both individuals and companies. Lassiter, 50, has 26 years of experience as the workplace equivalent of a gas-station attendant. Among her corporate clients are Polaroid, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and Malden Mills Industries Inc.

We asked her to name the five most important signs that your fuel level is down - or that your boss is telling you to find a pump and refill. "These are signals that you should be paying attention to," Lassiter says. "They don't mean that you need to march into the boss's office on Monday morning and quit. But you should monitor your job regularly and check your network to see what shape your career is in."

And remember: Pulling into a filling station while you're still able to is better than getting stuck on the side of the road, holding an empty gas can.

You don't want to go to work when you get up in the morning.
This is the first, the most obvious, and in some ways the most important indicator that your job is starting to run out of gas, says Lassiter. "There was a time when your work was fun," she says. "Not necessarily laugh-out-loud fun, but the kind of fun that meant you were satisfied with what you were doing. But if going to work isn't something that you look forward to, it's time to check your fuel tank."

Be realistic, Lassiter cautions: You shouldn't expect to leap out of bed in the morning, champing at the bit to get to your job. "But as you get going in the morning, the wheels should start to turn," she says.

" 'What am I going to work on today? How am I going to approach this problem?' You should look forward to addressing those things. And if you're spending 60 hours a week at your job - which today is more common than working a 40-hour week - then you owe it to yourself to do something that gives you satisfaction."

Lassiter cites as an example doctors who suddenly find that their work is undergoing a subtle but disturbing shift. "For the first time in a long time, doctors are coming to me for career advice," she says. "Their work is changing, and they don't like it. What they're doing now has less and less to do with why they went into medicine in the first place. They're waking up in the morning, and they're not going in to work to heal people. They're going in to fill out forms, to move people through their offices as quickly as they can, to track volume of care rather than quality of care. One doctor who came to see me decided - after talking through these issues - that he'd had enough. He felt that he was undermining his credibility with both his patients and the hospital staff. He took a job with a medical-instrumentation company, and today he's much happier."

What if getting out of bed in the morning doesn't make your motor turn over the way it used to? "Ask yourself what part of the job is bothering you," Lassiter suggests. "Take it apart, and try to distinguish between the parts that you can fix and the parts that you can't fix. If you can figure out how to spend more time on the job doing things that you enjoy, you may find yourself more eager to get to work in the morning."