When it’s time to renew your relationship with your work

Companies helpfully write to us when it’s time to renew our relationship with them – asking us to commit to another 12 months of gym membership or resubscribe to their anti-virus software. But how do we know when it’s time for us to renew our relationship with our own work? In my experience this feeling doesn’t show up like an email or a letter in the post – it’s more complicated and nuanced than that.

Sometimes you just get get a low-level feeling that things aren’t quite right. Looking back, I felt this way (although I didn’t quite appreciate it at the time) while I was doing my post-doctoral fellowship. I felt that I was logically on the right career track, given everything that I’d done previously (my Master’s and PhD). And yet something didn’t sit well with me about the academic job search.

At the time I interpreted my unsettled feelings as the insecurity that comes from not having a permanent position. Reasonably enough, I was looking for clarity about the next step for me and my family. On the other hand, looking back now, I can interpret my feelings as a desire for a deeper change – in fact, a whole career change.

How do you know when it’s time to refresh your employment situation, to find work that’s more fulfilling and better aligned with your personal sense of purpose? And which more fully rewards you for your skills and experience?

Have a look at this list of symptoms and see if one or more sound familiar to you:

1. You experience a day-to-day heaviness or tiredness. You feel restless without an obvious direct cause. Nothing is actually wrong, and yet somehow nothing feels quite right. This can be very frustrating to those close to you, like your partner! In my experience these can all be physical and mental symptoms that it’s time for you to make a change. Not just a logical change perhaps, but something more fundamental – which for researchers, can mean leaving academia for another career path.

2. You get distracted by ‘non-core’ activities. During my post-doc I was busy reading business magazines, listening to radio shows about business and technology, and embracing new ways of doing things, like moving my banking online. My attention was telling me the way to look, the direction to follow, not just in my spare time but in my life more generally. This formed the kernel of my Plan B, which eventually became my Plan A, when I came to the end of my academic job search in the final year of my post-doc.

3. Activities that once energised you, now drain and exhaust you. Tasks that you once found effortless, like reading and research, start to become really hard work. You used to be able to read and reflect for hours – and now you’re feeling sleepy after the first page! These are all signs that you need a revival, a break from the routine you’ve established. You need to get a sense of novelty and wonder back into your life – which may come from a change career.

4. Any process that you need to follow seems a total drag, and you can’t help being conscious of every single step along the way. On the other hand you really notice it when you ‘get into the flow’ on something. You realise how much you’ve missed that sense of losing yourself in the moment, and how good it feels to be in the zone again.

So take some time out to listen for these symptoms in your own life. Are these feelings telling you to make minor adjustments to your working life, to improve your self-care for instance, or take some quality me-time? Or are you actually craving full-scale career renewal and rejuvenation? Don’t be shy of embracing it if you do. I did, and I’ve never looked back.

Take action now: Send yourself an email, requesting that you renew your current employment position! Type ‘Annual renewal notice -‘ in the subject line and after the dash, put your present job e.g Doctoral Researcher, Post-Doctoral Researcher, or Professor. If you’re on a temporary teaching contract, you’ll already be familiar with this situation, as your teaching gigs will expire and you’ll be seeking the next one.

As you would with any other renewal invitation, take some time to reflect on your relationship with your current work situation, and where it’s going. And consider carefully what the alternatives are.

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