If, like me, you have been in the workplace for a while, there may have been times in your career when you hit the snooze button for weeks, months, or even years. Every now and then you get a wake-up call—a toxic workplace, a stultifying to-do list, or just the feeling that you’re not living the way you want—but you hit the snooze button in the hopes that the problems will go away and you can carry on comfortably without having to make a change. Eventually, though, the snooze button will stop working. The restlessness comes back and you find yourself waking up, despite efforts to keep your eyes closed to your uncomfortable situation.
My colleague John spent two years doing excellent work in a workplace where he suffered in turn from benign neglect and being micromanaged and disrespected. Leaders came and went, and John continued to deliver on his promises to guide the organization through a transformation. He felt duty bound to support his teammates. He was also passionate about the mandate of the department.
Every time we chatted over coffee, he would speak about one more analysis to do, one more report to finalize, one more team leader to orient. He was a strong contributor and had pride in his work. He couldn’t leave now.
Knowing when to make a change
Persistence in the face of difficult odds is admirable—until it becomes detrimental to your physical and mental health. When do you stop swallowing the bitter pill day after day, and start running for your life?
John eventually ran out of excuses, stopped hitting the snooze button, and pushed himself out of his painful comfort zone to approach other departments in search of talent. He was soon offered another opportunity with a leader who was eager to benefit from his expertise. He sent in his resignation and was gone.
At our next coffee date, he shared how relieved he had felt upon leaving the building on his last day. He hadn’t realized the weight he was carrying on his shoulders. He could now breathe more easily and looked forward to arriving at his new workplace. All of the loyalty and obligation he’d felt so compelled by had dissipated.
I didn’t say “ I told you so! Why did you wait so long?!” I know from experience that only when the status quo becomes untenable do many of us find the courage to move on. Only when we can’t lie to ourselves anymore are we able to face the music and eventually speak our truth.
How to stop hitting snooze
-Stay connected to others. Don’t close yourself off to conversations with others who care for you. A sounding board may help you see more clearly. Friends can reflect back to you what you already know and help you wake up to what you need to do next—to put your own need first.
-Reconnect with your passion. Do what you love, including things outside of your work. Make sure these are not obligations, but activities that bring you joy. These are usually an extension of you, activities you’d never consider procrastinating about. As you feed your passion and joy, you start to feel better overall, and you’ll become more resourceful and resilient in the situation facing you at work.
-Daydream. Imagine yourself with no obligations, no guilt, no ties. Where you would be willing to move? What work you would like to try? What training calls to you? This is a way of checking your temperature. If in your daydreaming, you find a possibility that calls strongly to you, then imagine how it fits into your existing life. While you may not be able to stop what you are doing altogether, perhaps you’ll find that your family would be willing to relocate to a new city with better opportunities. You may have far more options than you realized because your vision has been clouded by your everyday life.
–Step forward. If you have to twist yourself into a pretzel to make it through your day, consider taking small steps to explore the options you’ve spent time imagining. Look for ways to make new connections, attend a new meeting that may open your eyes to opportunities in the next division, the next department, the next town. Brush up your résumé or reach out to your network of contacts. Any step will do at first, and then you can get bolder and bolder.
Do you have any other techniques for leaving the snooze button alone and waking up to your full potential?
I would love to hear about your experiences.