Take Your Career Off Auto-Pilot

“’If you spend 12 hours a day doing work you hate, at some point it does not matter what your paycheck says,’” he told me. There is no magic salary at which a bad job becomes a good job.”

This comes from a recent article in the NY Times about job happiness. The author was a Harvard Business School grad attending his 15 year reunion. What he discovered in talking with the many successful alums was that few were completely, professionally happy.

I have always said that the external view is 180 degrees different from the internal view. On the outside, we all can appear has if we’re on top of the world. But inside, we are being eaten alive. I have encountered so many “successful people” who were struggling inside. They were afraid, not confident, and just a ball of turmoil on the inside.

The crossroad we all dread

As I read through the article, I reflected on an episode in my life where, at one time, the job I had appeared to be the perfect job. But over time it became the worst job. I was paid a princely sum and was holding on because I was linked to that paycheck.

In a discussion with a senior executive she told me, “I will not continue to put myself through this for a job.” And then, she did. That was defining moment for me; I could not get that statement out of my mind.

So many of you have arrived at that crossroad, idling, trying to decide what is next. The Sunday afternoon becomes a mourning period. Listlessly, zombie like, you approach the big M — Monday.

Hoping doesn’t work

I remember reading an article about how our body sends signals of danger, trepidation, fight or flight. So often we just brush them under the rug, sidestep and keep on moving as if it will all go away. Let me let you in on a secret: those feelings of work dread will not go away. Like a cancer, they will continue to grow. Some people feel this way their entire work life.

When we look at engagement scores – they are globally low. In the US we have a 34% engagement level overall. They don’t improve much. My thought is that many of those people are connected not to the organization and not to themselves. They are going through the motions, and in some way hoping the next job will be better or the phone call or email will come in like a crusader and save the day. Their career is on auto-pilot.

The executive who told me about putting herself through it no more, was taking it off auto-pilot and placing herself back in the driver’s seat. Did she see a clear road ahead? Probably not, but as my mother always told me, “A journey of 1000 miles begins with one step.

Article Continues Below

Seize the wheel

We all struggle in our career; some will find their way. Many do not. Their careers are autonomous, driving themselves, rudderless in a sea of change and turmoil.

A few weeks after having that discussion, I, too, mustered the nerve to walk out. I remember the day when it became crystal clear what I should do. I got up from my chair where I was sitting gazing mindlessly out to my backyard. I went to my office, sat down and wrote my resignation letter.

As I closed it out with “Sincerely” there was a feeling I had not felt in a few years. It felt like I had literally lost a hundred pounds. I was now back in control, fingers wrapped around the wheel. No job in sight, but there was the feeling I would navigate through this.

I now look back on that decision and the enormity of it and realize that by taking control I changed the trajectory of my career.

I now love Mondays only because I took the wheel.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

Topics