Change is scary. I think that’s a fact that many of us hold true in our lives. Think about the last time you had to go through a big change in your life. For most of us, that change would’ve been going from college or university and joining the work force.
School or college is actually pretty fun, well most of it anyways. Think about it, once you’re done with Form 1, we head on to Form 2. Once we’re done with SPM, we move on into college and then we start our degrees. For the first 21 years our lives were something like a video game really, where it was just a series of going up to different levels and finishing accomplishments around the way. Borrowing from a video game analogy, I’d probably say the first quarter of our lives were akin to Candy Crush in terms of the general trajectory most of us had. We worked as hard as we could, got our accomplishments and moved on a level when we’ve fulfilled the requirements that has been set for us. Everything (well, mostly anyways) was set for us and all we had to do was turn up and keep our heads down.
Now that’s all fine and dandy, but you get to graduation day, and then what? It’s like spending all your time on Candy Crush, now you’re done, and you’re wondering what you’re going to do with the rest of your time. For many of us, the natural transition would be to enter the workforce and be that wonderfully productive member of society which we have been working so hard to do. Some of us might enter the field of work from which we studied, whilst others may venture on to try something new.
Regardless of which direction we choose, leaving education and entering the workforce can be just like starting a brand-new game again, like moving from Candy Crush to Skyrim or something of that sort. Suddenly we have to learn new rules, new roles we have to play, new techniques to master and new people to meet. No more exams that we finish each semester, but we have KPI’s now that never seem to end and just keep getting bigger. No more teachers, but bosses telling us the ambiguous goals they expect from us, rather than the homework we had to finish.
So we’ve moved from the better part of 20 years of your life where everything moved on a linear fashion, to a situation where we have much more options and responsibilities. Think going from Candy Crush to Diablo III and you start to get an idea of the change that has been happening. We’ve gone from rapid fire games where changes happen all the time, to a life where we’re just grinding away, hoping for that special something to occur to us.
It’s never easy making such a big jump, where every new direction or step belongs to us and us alone. No more pre-determined steps, but it almost literally is up to you to decide where you go from here on out. Naturally, this can be a time where we would feel lost and stuck. Having that much responsibility thrust onto us can be a scary thing, especially for those amongst us who have not had to handle such issues before this. For example, some of us may have the fear that we may fail and throw our goals and expectations down the drain. Imagine if you will having the burden of success on your shoulder perpetually, it would be enough to paralyze the strongest of us. And when failure hits, most of would find getting back up again hard. Their work suffers, they feel down and out, and life seems that much more harder. Suddenly school seems like a much more appealing option.
For others still, transitioning into the workplace makes them have to face the fear of disappointing both themselves and their loved ones around them. Questions like “What if I choose the wrong job?” or “What if my parents think my new job is horrible?” would guide our decisions and the things that we do. Some of us may also compare ourselves with our friends and family, “Compared to them, I’ve got a pretty crap job!”. These examples are just some of the difficult realities that we may have to face, and would at times definitely hold us back and make work not the funnest thing ever.
So what can we do? We’re stuck in a ‘dead-end’ job, we’re unhappy and we’re just going through to motions, just looking for the day to end and hoping the next day would be better. Well, the first thing that pops into my head is the lovely (and strangely accurate for some reason) meme, “Keep Calm and Carry On”. Sometimes, that’s exactly what you need to do. We spend so much time thinking about the ‘future’, about the promotions that we’re getting, or the amount of money we’ll be earning (or not), or about the ‘past’, all the should’ve, could’ve, and would’ve that we regret now (bearing in mind hindsight is 20/20), that we forget about what’s happening today, right here and now. The more time we spend ‘time-travelling’ where we fantasize about the future or rue or past, the less time we spend right here and now making us miss the point of all of this.
And the worst part? Imagine a scenario where you’re worried about doing badly in your job, where you muck up and don’t meet the KPI set for you at the beginning of the year. Instead of keeping your head down and pushing on to make sure that it doesn’t happen, you spend all your time worrying about the possibility of it happening and hey presto, before you know it, it happens. In our line of work, we call this a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Staying in the moment definitely helps where we tell ourselves to focus on the here and now instead of the future and past where there is precious little that we can do to change things. In the here and now instead, there’s something that we can do to make things right. Try it out for a day or two, and you’ll love the newfound productivity that you find.
The next step would be to manage those expectations that you have for yourself. In this day and age, we’re often bogged down by the accomplishments of others. A new millionaire here, a new viral app there, we’re almost always constantly surrounded by these wonderful success stories that makes them the envy of all of us. And when you hear enough of these stories, you start telling yourself, “if it can happen to them, why not me?”. So why bother putting in the hard work when I could just wait for an opportunity to drop in my lap? Why pay it forward when I’m going to have a fantastic brain-child and the rest of my life is sorted?
Don’t get me wrong though, setting goals are fantastic and everyone should have them. But when setting goals, remember two distinct points, setting tangible goals and breaking them down.
It’s so incredibly essential that you have goals that are tangible! Compare a goal of “being rich” with “I want to earn a million dollars”. What’s rich to you may be different from the rest of the world and would be something that changes constantly. Think about the property prices here in Malaysia. Thirty years ago, 150k would buy you a nice home, whilst nowadays, you’d probably need ten times that for antyhign half decent. So imagine if your goal is ambiguous as being rich, you’re going to be aiming for goalposts which are changing all the time. Instead, setting a realistic and tangible goal would make that dream of yours that much more reachable. And the best part, you can always make new goals as you mark each one of your list.
Breaking down goals is also essential. Let me give you an example. Oftentimes when we have patients suffering from depression, they come in with the goal of wanting to be happy which is all good and fine. But when you ask what happy is to them, they often struggle to find an answer. Happiness is one of those big ideas that we sometimes get caught up with and never really stop to think what it really is. So the next time you set a goal for yourself, remember to break down the goal into clear and distinct steps so you can start working towards it.
So you’ve set your goals, and you’re slowly working towards it. The next step would be to give yourself a good healthy outlet outside of work! I cannot emphasize this enough. So many people suffer from burnout nowadays, especially when they make work their one and only focus. Having a hobby or an activity that you do outside of work would help you to focus better and give yourself a break after a long hard time at work. And if this activity is something you used to do at college, it can also act as a nice bridge when you transition between work and study. Always nice to have something familiar!
Last bot not least, sometimes its important to take a leap of faith. This may not be for everyone, but for some people, this is exactly what they need to get yourself out of your rut. Doing what you’re good at doesn’t always mean doing what you like and, sometimes, that’s just what you need to get yourself up and about. Ask yourself, “what’s the worst that could happen?” and if the answer is nothing really, go give it a go. Yes, I’m borderline endorsing YOLO here.
But sometimes, feeling stuck and not being able to fit in may be indicative of something more severe. If you’re tried many different things to change and you still feel stuck no matter what you try, maybe you need a little bit of outside input do get yourself going again. Open up to your friends and family, and maybe even consider seeking a mental health professional, and hopefully, you’ll be able to get those engines running again.
So the next time you’re at work and feeling down and out, have a think and see what you can do to get yourself going again.