More than You Can Chew?

Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean it’s your passion…

Lu, the Hippopotamus, from Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

I met Lu, the hippopotamus, several years ago. I recently checked in on him and he’s still hard at work…

I highly suspect that Lu is suffering from career burnout, but he isn’t your typical employee. Still, twice a day Lu goes to work performing at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. On one occasion, my son and I joined the audience gathered under the hot Florida sun to watch Lu emerge from his shaded spot among the water lilies. He slowly took his position in front of a ledge where his trainer stood, ready to feed him his noontime feeding.

“Lu used to be a movie star,” the trainer said through the microphone hooked around her ear. She tossed a quartered cantaloupe in the air as Lu made a colossal effort to catch it in his large mouth. “But Lu didn’t follow directions well. He was considered stubborn, so he retired early from the movies and has lived here ever since.”

The trainer continued to shell out quartered and halved melons from her bucket as she waited patiently for Lu to open wide. “Lu of course doesn’t need us to cut up his fruit like this,” she added. “Hippos can easily eat a watermelon whole. We just cut them up to make the show more entertaining.” I swear at that point I saw Lu roll his eyes.

Anyone know a “Lu”? This is a tale of what happens when a “star” employee gets caught in the trap of taking on more and more of the kind of work they’re good at it – and maybe at first even enjoy. Then weeks or even days later, realize that just because they’re good at something, doesn’t mean it’s motivating or energizing anymore.

In my book, Nail It! Six Steps to Transform Your Career, I used a quote by Peter Drucker that seems to address this career conundrum: He says: “A person’s strengths and the way that person performs rarely conflict; the two are complementary. But there is sometimes a conflict between a person’s values and his or her strengths. What one does well—even very well and successfully—may not fit with one’s value system.”

Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean it aligns with what you value. I find this a fascinating and relevant take on career burnout. You can see how we get into a hamster wheel of relentless forward motion and yet don’t feel satisfied with the output. That’s when we can get stuck, disengaged and demotivated.

To get past this problem, we must figure out how to get aligned. What do you value? What’s most important to you? Are your values being honored and respected at work? This isn’t always easy to decipher. I dedicate an entire chapter to this in my book because it’s something that is core to finding meaning in our careers.

Review your performance plan and for each area, rate on a scale of one to ten how motivated you are by this task. That’s the quickest way to check in and begin to see if you’ve lined up your passions with your performance. Or maybe like Lu, you’ve bitten off more then you can chew.

Wishing You All Full Career Alignment and Success,

Karens Signature

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