“I’m getting a bit bored and wondering what I should do next?” I’ve had this question come up in some coaching conversations lately. The default next step is to consider what the next role or position could be. The next rung on the ladder. Getting a raise. More responsibility to achieve greater status.
These factors are all external motivators. As Susan Fowler puts it, ‘low quality’ motivators. Not bad things at all but don’t lead to sustained engagement. There may be an initial sense of excitement to begin with but it wears off. We find ourselves bored or stressed. Not highly engaged as we would like to be.
It’s because we’re focusing on the wrong thing. We attach our identity to positions and roles. Relying on external forces to give a sense of value. At the extreme, this can cause a crisis for individuals if we make mistakes or face redundancy. We’re limiting ourselves to a role rather than bringing our whole selves to work.
How about we focus on problems we like to solve. Or tensions we want to manage*. Challenges that will bring satisfaction. Interesting and meaningful work, leading to sustained engagement.
*See more about problems to solve vs tensions to manage here.
It’s natural and healthy to want greater challenge. To progress in our levels of competence is a human need. Sometimes that may lead to a new role, a pay rise etc. But it doesn’t have to be. When I work with people thinking about the next move, I ask the following questions:
Who are the people you want to help? We want our work to make a difference in people’s lives. This is where we get a sense of contribution.
What problems to solve (or tensions to manage) do they have that most interest you? Think about interesting work you’ve done before. Or something you’ve always been curious about. Fill out a Business Model Canvas on yourself.
What is the best vehicle to solve this problem? This is important. It may be in a new position or workplace. But… it could be right where you are. A different way of thinking about your current role.
What is the smallest thing you could do this week to make progress on solving this problem? A lot of motivational stuff out there tends towards the sensational and extraordinary. Let’s suspend that for a minute, focus on the first small step and see where it leads.
I know small steps work because that’s been my path. I used to have a great corporate job. Excellent people to work with and enjoyed many aspects of the work I did. But I wanted to solve different problems. Sounds easy to say but it was a difficult process. Cutting off a secure income source comes with lots of challenges to work through. I worked on my current business as a side job for a while till I was ready. When I took the step into self-employment the focus was on problems I wanted to solve.
I see myself as a guide. I imagine people walking through the woods. Dark, overwhelming and unsure of what the best direction is. Then coming out into an open field. Into the sunshine with a sense of freedom, excitement and possibility. I’m the guide who helps them get there. This paragraph is best read with Vangelis’ Conquest of Paradise playing in the background!
Getting clear on what truly motivates us. Reaching greater levels of performance and engagement. Moving forward with a sense of meaningful progress despite the complexity. These are the kind of problems I want to work on. These provide focus for me when thinking of my next move.
Reach out if you’re considering what’s next. I’d love to work through the questions above with you over a call or coffee.
Doug Maarschalk guides workplace teams to become more ‘human’ by growing a culture of contribution, learning and empowerment. He is a facilitator, consultant and coach who helps teams get clear on their strategy and change their thinking to become high performing. He’s worked with clients in the horticulture, banking, logistics and manufacture sectors along with local government. Read more about the Services Doug provides and the Clients he has worked with.