Q I used to really enjoy my work — but, for the past few years, I have been getting tired of it. I switch jobs and it's exciting at first, then more of the same and I get bored and move on. It's still challenging, but I find I don't enjoy the challenge or the people as I used to.
A It sounds like you have an ailment that has reached epidemic proportions in the American male: The solve-it guy blues. The condition strikes men, mostly, but women in our can-do culture can suffer from it, too.
It comes from the American tendency to reduce situations to their abstract bottom-line. It cam make life intolerably depressing. Let me give a few examples.
First a domestic problem: Your wife is upset because you are late coming home from work yet again, despite repeated and recent promises to be timely. She tells you so, citing specifics: This is the umpteenth time it's happened. You know you have the reprimand coming. So why go into explaining yet again why you are late? You are armed with a solution and plan. You'll go into work earlier so it'll be easier to come home on time.
Or a moral problem: You know the Ten Commandments well enough that you should-n't break the law even if a particular temptation will produce expediency and a low likelihood of getting caught. Solution: You debate with yourself, but finally conclude that you shouldn't do it. You don't do it; you move on.
Or a work problem: Someone comes to you with, let us say, a complicated and disturbing human-resource issue. You have a lot of experience in the HR realm. Solution: You immediately know what he should do and tell him so. Thanks.
See you later.
What do these three scenarios have in common? They all go from a problem immediately into a solution. What's wrong with that? It's not wrong. But if it becomes our norm for living, or our “style,” we end up impoverished. The corner we are cutting to do things this way is the corner where we acknowledge the other person as a person. We are nurtured and enriched by acknowledging and interacting with people as people.
If I say to my wife, “You are rightfully upset and maybe even lonely because I'm late again — are you not?” I'm treating her as a person. To God: “Would you give me the grace to do the right thing? This temptation worries me. I need your help.” This is how you develop a personal relationship with him. To an employee: “Sounds like this HR issue is one you are struggling with. Can we talk about what's bothering you before we jump into the solution?” This addresses that person as a person and not just as an issue or problem-bearer.
The first place to look if boredom, depression or a general listlessness overtakes us on the job is how much energy are we putting into creating or receiving personal acknowledgement and enriching interactions with others versus the energy to try to have as little interaction as possible so we can get stuff done or out of the way? Otherwise things just get done. And so do we.
Art Bennett is the director of the Alpha Omega Clinic and Consultation Services and a radio host.
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