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Rejuvenate Your Career

You're successful but you wonder if all your focus on the bottom line has been worth it. Here are six antidotes to existential angst.

Glenn's only been home an hour, yet he's already on his third martini.

In the well-appointed living room in his 3,500 square foot mini-mansion, he slumps in his designer chair, gulps again, and thinks, "Is that all there is?"

Glenn has done everything society told him to: went to a brand-name college, got a job in a brand-name company, worked 60 hours a week, moved his family to some God-forsaken place to get a promotion, and kissed the appropriate corporate butts. And -- by external standards -- he's a success: vice president of a Fortune-1000 company, earning $180,000 a year plus stock and bonus. He drives a Lexus (leased), can afford (barely) to send his kids to private school, and get away (also barely) for an annual upscale vacation.

But he's still not happy. He's not even satisfied.


Over the past two decades, I've worked with hundreds of Glenns and I can tell you that while there's no one-size-fits-all solution, these six antidotes to existential angst have helped many of my clients:

1. Do something bold. If you've been a go-along-to-get-along kind of person, perhaps now, when you're not at risk of becoming homeless, is the time to propose a bold new idea. Have you thought of a product that would really make a difference to your customers? Or a change in operation or policy that would make your workplace more productive, ethical or -- heaven forbid -- fun? (See Seven Ways to be Happier at Work.)

Let's say, for example, you want to overhaul the way your salespeople are compensated. You think quotas encourage unethical behavior so you propose, instead, that promotions be based on customers' reviews. That could be a risky proposition because sales may decline at first. But if you believe they'll rise in the long run from customer loyalty and your good reputation in the industry, stand up for your idea. Even if you're not sure it will increase sales, you might forward the idea. The bottom line isn't everything. Taking on a new project can bring a much-needed change from your usual routine so don't be afraid to lay your thoughts on the line. Learn how to overcome your fear of rejection.

Even scarier, if in your heart of hearts you know you're in the wrong line of work, consider a career change. See my book, Cool Careers for Dummies for guidance.


2. Become a mentor or find one for yourself. Developing personal relationships can make your work more meaningful. No doubt your experience has brought you a wealth of knowledge that would be useful to young up-and-comers. But don't overlook middle-aged or older workers. Many of us go through life waiting for someone to take us under wing, yet it never happens. An older person, who might have given up on finding a mentor, may particularly appreciate your attentions. Plus, sharing your expertise can validate your years of hard work.

Finding a mentor for yourself can also be rewarding. Whom do you most admire? What would happen if you told him or her of your respect and asked advice about something? That could pave the way for a mentoring relationship.

3. Give your attitude an adjustment. Are you a glass-half-empty kind of person? Sometimes all you need to renew your vigor is a change in outlook. Say, for example, that you don't think your work is important. Look at it this way: Even if your job is a widget marketer, as long as that widget offers true value to the customer, your work is worthy. You're also helping to ensure that your company's employees have a job and can provide for their families.

Another common source of a bad attitude is that you're frustrated with coworkers, suppliers or customers. Realize that most people are less capable or driven than you -- you probably wouldn't have risen to your position unless you were more capable and motivated than the average bear. I know it's not easy, but work to replace your disdain with gratitude that you have better genes and upbringing.


4. Take on an exciting avocation. There is more to life than work. Find a new hobby or resurrect an old one, volunteer for a cause you believe in, make a concerted effort to meet Mr. or Ms. Right, host a TV show on public access TV. I, for one, have recently become a play director. My production of Same Time Next Year opens this Friday. Being a part of something beyond yourself can bring clarity and purpose to your life.

5. Focus on the positive. Try to be a better person and look for the good around you. For example, give earned compliments effusively, deserved criticism tactfully. Try to replace "We can't do that because..," with "Let me try to figure out how we can make that happen." And remember that no matter how drab your job, beauty still remains in the world: in nature, in people, in art -- even that oddball pin your coworker is wearing.

6. Find faith in something. I'm often surprised by the number of high-level employees and entrepreneurs who find that religious faith adds great meaning to their lives. They believe they are God's instruments and they find purpose in doing His work here on earth. Even if you're an atheist, developing spirituality about your career or finding faith in a mission can be a powerful motivator.

I've never had a client who adopted even some of the above yet continues to enduringly wonder, "Is that all there is?"

Marty Nemko is a career coach and author of Cool Careers for Dummies.