“What’s wrong with me? I thought this was my dream job but now I’m bored and struggling through.”
It’s not an uncommon feeling and it is something that you shouldn’t ignore. It’s often a sign you need a change of job or career.
Usually, you would just go on gut instinct when deciding to change a job or career but what if there was a more scientific method?
From listening to the stories of hundreds of clients, I’ve noticed a pattern and it almost always fits with the careers of ambitious, hard-working, successful individuals.
I call it the career fulfilment curve and it is a useful tool when planning your career path as well as deciding when it’s time to think about looking for another job or career.
The Fulfilment Curve
The fulfilment curve is a simple tool to assess where you are in your career path and to help plan ahead to ensure you maintain the highest job satisfaction. It is a visual demonstration of job fulfilment over time.
As we work through a single job there is a natural fulfilment curve.
At the beginning of a job, most people experience a steep upward curve of fulfilment as they enjoy the challenge of the new work, meet new people and receive praise for their work.
At a certain point, somewhere between 1 year and 2 years, most people will reach a plateau in their fulfilment. The job is at it’s most fulfilling, but with all the acquired experience and skills it’s not that challenging any more.
As we move towards the end of the 2nd year and into the 3rd year, the plateau comes to an end and the decline in fulfilment begins. There are a number of reasons this occurs:
- Without the exciting challenge of the work, you might not be producing your best work.
- The praise for your work starts to recede as people get complacent with the quality you produce. Combine this with a drop in your own level of quality and the reduction of praise accelerates.
- You’re not learning new things as much because you’ve already learnt enough to do your job well. As a result, you’re not stimulating your brain and are less interested in your work.
- You get into a routine of getting up, work, go to bed and repeat, doing the same work you’ve done for the last couple of years which contributes to your reduction of enjoyment for the job.
This descent in fulfilment leads you into the dreaded ‘fulfilment trough’. You feel like nothing has changed about your job, yet everything has changed in regards to how you feel about it, how other people are treating you and how it is affecting life outside of work.
The aim is to never find yourself in the fulfilment trough and with careful career planning, you can do just that. All you need is to understand the fulfilment curve and how to apply it to your own career.
Using The Fulfilment Curve
We only looked at the fulfilment curve from the perspective of a single job, but the real power of the curve comes when you start to consider your career path as a whole.
What normally happens when people change jobs or career is that they find themselves at some point on the descent into the fulfilment trough, or even fully entrenched in the trough already. Then they decide it’s time to change.
The trouble with this is that, until you find another job or career, you have to spend your time in the fulfilment trough which isn’t pleasant. You risk jumping into another role that seems better but just repeats the cycle.
A far better way to navigate your career is to plan ahead. When you get to the fulfilment plateau, around 18 months to 2 years in, start thinking about your next move. At this point you will have maximum satisfaction for your job, you will have generated momentum in your ability to learn and push yourself onwards, you will have great confidence in yourself, you will be aiming higher for your next move.
It’s the perfect mindset to go into a job or career search with.
It might seem counter-intuitive to be thinking of moving at the top of the curve, but the point is to be setting yourself up and attracting opportunities so that you’re ready to move at the right time.
The plateau is the warning sign that you might be close to the descent, but you could turn it into another ascent with the right move, continually improving your level of fulfilment.
If you’re searching for a job or new career when you’re in the fulfilment trough, you will have reduced energy and enthusiasm, low confidence, perhaps a bit of resentment for your current role and the way people treat you there, you might accept lower standards in your next role just to get away. Nothing good could come from that!
This is how the perfect fulfilment curve should look:
Each move is timed to occur before you experience any fulfilment decline. Every move then helps you gain greater fulfilment.
You might be thinking: “Amazing, all I need to do is start planning my next job at 18 months into my current job, thanks for the advice!” That could be a good way to go about it, but it could lead to another form of complacency.
A Quick Story About Tom
Tom came to me with a lack of passion for his current job. We went through his career history and it became obvious that Tom always seemed to land on his feet. Opportunities fell into his lap and he never had to struggle to push his career onwards.
This was his experience for the early part of his career at least. When he reached his 30s and found himself staying in a job for the longest period of time so far, around 3 years, he noticed a change.
He started to experience the effects of the fulfilment curve descending:
- Lower enthusiasm for his job.
- Less praise for his work.
- A resentment for having to go in every day.
When I showed him his career history in graph form, with time against job fulfilment, he suddenly saw what was happening.
Here is Tom’s career fulfilment curve.
Through chance (whether self-earned or sheer luck) he had been following a perfect career fulfilment curve, but when things suddenly didn’t go his way and he was in a job for longer than ever before, he was subjected to the ‘fulfilment trough’ for the first time.
This shock had impacted his confidence, further reducing his career fulfilment, putting him into a state of crisis and pushing him further into his first career fulfilment trough.
How To Ride The Fulfilment Curve
The aim is to be riding that wave of fulfilment throughout your career, with each wave getting bigger and bigger. In order to do this, there is a little more to it than simply changing job every couple of years.
- Go back over your career and plot your own fulfilment curve, marking the points where you changed job or career. Really think about how fulfilled you felt throughout each job. Where were you riding a fulfilment wave? When did the wave begin to die out?
- Look for patterns in the length of the fulfilment plateau and the points at which you changed job or career. You should start to see a fairly regular, optimal fulfilment time which can vary from person to person.
- Now you know when your fulfilment usually starts to go down, you can plan when you need to implement your career fulfilment strategy to maintain and build on that wave.
Planning a career fulfilment strategy is not as complicated as it sounds. While it is a good idea to have a plan for your long term career path, that is slightly different from a fulfilment strategy.
The key things to consider when you reach a plateau in fulfilment are:
- Laying foundations for your next move, whether internal or external.
- Taking action towards attracting new and exciting roles.
Grow your network in the area that will have the most effect on your next move. 50% of my clients find their next job or career through the people they know or meet.
Showcase your skills and the quality of the work you do right now by being active on LinkedIn, talking to your network and even applying for award nominations.
When you reach the plateau it is easy to get complacent and comfortable. A great way to inject a bit of enthusiasm and challenge into your work is to start automating much of what you do.
Use your team, if you have one, to carry out the tasks that you find least enjoyable, but that someone lower down the ladder will benefit from experiencing. This will give you more time to spend on your career planning, while also ensuring you are doing more of what you enjoy and are good at.
Learn to say no. Don’t take on more than you can handle, especially when you start delegating some of your work. Keep your standards high and your workload manageable by discussing strategically the amount of work you can take on.
Attracting New Roles
Start talking to recruiters and finding the ones that will work best for you. Talk to them about your great work too. Building a relationship with several top recruiters could benefit you throughout your career.
Don’t leave finding your next job or career to chance. It may seem like you usually land on your feet, but as with Tom earlier, you can’t rely on that always being the case. If you take control of your career moves then you can increase not only the probability of attracting a role but also attracting the right role for you.
Making a change doesn’t always have to mean moving to a new company, it could be a new role, responsibility or project within your company that fits with your skills, interests and career path better than your current one. Don’t be afraid to ask about opportunities to progress within your company. You can apply the same tactics of laying foundations internally by networking with influential people within your company.
There is no reason to find yourself languishing in the fulfilment trough at any time in your career. The fulfilment curve happens to us all, the key is to avoid getting complacent and sitting in your comfort zone.
A fulfilling career is simply about riding the crest of the fulfilment curve.
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”Steve Jobs
You have control over how well you ride it, but it doesn’t need to be complicated, you just need to be thinking ahead and allowing yourself time dedicated to planning your career path.
When you look back at your career so far, can you see the career fulfilment curve in action?
If you want to arrange a free conversation about career change with a coach, send us an email to email@example.com.
We want to see you fulfil your potential!