The office can be an overwhelming and tricky landscape. To help you navigate the often uncertain terrain of work-life, we’ve tapped a panel of experts to answer your trickiest questions. In this new weekly series, we’ll find answers to any dilemma you throw at us–from how to get people to notice your fledgling business to the best way to handle a difficult boss or ethical grey area and anything in between.
Our first reader question is from R. Ale of San Francisco, and is answered by a psychologist and a leadership coach:
When I started out my career, I was incredibly passionate and had a burning desire to succeed. But as I’ve entered into my 30s, I’ve accomplished all the goals I set out to do and am having a hard time finding that desire and passion for the things I want to do next.
How do I map out the next chapter of my life and maintain the drive to keep going onto the next stages of my career?
Art Markman, professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin:
First off, congratulations on your success! Your initial dedication and perseverance have paid off.
Given the way you described your situation, though, I’m not surprised that you are feeling unmotivated now. Psychologists have found that the more satisfied a person is with what they have achieved, the less motivated they are to advance, and vice versa.
If you want to advance but need a jumpstart of motivation, start thinking about what you haven’t accomplished yet.
Looking Back to Look Forward
To help you explore your options, I recommend the technique of looking back to look forward.
Studies on regret show that, when people in their 70s and 80s look back on their life, they often regret things they didn’t do (like never learning to salsa dance or playing a musical instrument) rather than mistakes they made or ventures that failed. You can use a little mental time travel to think about what you might regret.
This perspective often helps bring to light other dreams that you can pursue as you move forward.
Focus on Specific Actions
Once you set your sights on a new goal, it is time to generate a specific plan to get there. A common thing that holds people back from really committing to make a significant career contribution is that the path isn’t clear because their career goals phrased abstractly. In order to get there you need to take specific actions.
Abstract goals can’t engage your brain’s motivational system directly, so you may feel unmotivated by them.
Instead, you need to focus on actions that you can take on a daily and weekly basis that will move you forward in your goal.
Learn New Skills
Finally, as you enter your 30s, you have hit a great age for picking up some new skills. If you want to completely change your perspective on work, or start an entirely new career, consider a master’s degree.
Even if you don’t want to go to graduate school, consider what other skills you want to build. I recently read an article about parkour enthusiasts. These individuals have learned to navigate urban environments by leaping over obstacles and climbing walls. The people interviewed talked about how their growing skills helped them to see handholds and footholds that were invisible to them before. Similarly, the expertise by expanding your skillset will help you to see opportunities that lie dormant in your world.