In the dwindling days of the calendar year, many CIOs find themselves taking stock of their personal career management highs and lows. They might be considering a midlife career change, or maybe they're happy where things are but always looking for a bit of free career advice.
Recently I found myself in a seriously imbalanced place in my career. The negative organizational culture and continuing financial challenges gave me serious pause in my current CIO role. From where I stood, it became obvious that no matter what I tried, personal career management success was not going to be forthcoming in the foreseeable future. I was experiencing serious job burnout.
I have a very high capacity for work and love being a CIO, so job burnout was a strange feeling indeed. Stress was not usually an issue for me, but stress with what appears to be no hope for eventual success … well, that’s another thing altogether. At the same time, I realized that the organization needed someone who could better meld with the emerging culture, and that wasn’t me.
For the first time in my life, I left a solid full-time job before having another CIO job waiting in the wings. During this midlife career change, I've realized that I’ve learned some incredibly valuable lessons during the past 18 years. I know that there are many out there unhappy in their current place, and all I can say is this: It can get better, but you may have to be the change. If you're similarly finding yourself looking back at your career with mixed feelings, here is some free career advice to help get your ship back on its heading and avoid job burnout.
- Being loyal isn't what you think. In my case, loyalty meant walking away. Sometimes, being loyal to your employer may involve letting someone with new and different ideas take the reins in the new environment.
- You're not your title. I still identify myself with my work, but that’s OK. For the longest time, this bothered me, but as I get older, it doesn’t bother me so much. You are who you are. You don't have to be entirely comfortable in your own skin but try to get there.
- Know your stopping point. Up until recently, it seemed like I had an unlimited capacity for work and stress. Recently, I found out -- the hard way -- that I don’t. Unfortunately, I’m human, and I've learned my limits. It’s been an extremely humbling experience but also a valuable one, as I can set better limits in the future. Doing more isn't always the answer.
- Your career is not set in stone. Believe me, there have been days when I’ve felt 80 years old, but I’m still 42 years shy of that. With the exceptional opportunity to take a break from the day-to-day while I work on my own business, I can explore a midlife career change in a nonstressful way and make the best possible choice for my family and me. Sometimes the best path isn't the one you envisioned when you started out, but one you discover along the way.
- Trust yourself. I’m good at what I do. There have been periods in the past year in which I felt totally lost and washed up. Since emerging from job burnout, I’ve looked back and realize that I still have a great set of skills, both technical and managerial. If the calls I’m getting are any indication, my skills are still valuable in today's IT marketplace.
- Take care of your physical machine. There has not been a period for more than two years where I was able to leave the office without getting dragged back into something and having to be engaged the entire time I was supposed to be on vacation. This is my fault for allowing it to happen. Also, I need to be healthy. I seriously allowed my weight to balloon out of control while stress ate away at me. Make a decision to demand time away from work to on a weekly basis when you can focus on your own health. You'll thank yourself later.
- Your career shouldn't come first. Looking back, no matter how bad the day was, no matter how stressed out I allowed myself to get and no matter how burned out I felt, I came home every night to two wonderful kids jumping into my arms screaming “Daddy’s home!” For me, that is life. Decide what really should come first in your life and chase after it with all you've got.
So, what is personal career management? Heck if I know. I’ve set a single goal in my career and was able to achieve it. I’ve managed to be in the right place at the right time to capitalize on some great opportunities over my career and advance to a place that I once only dreamed about. But even now, I find myself in the midst of a midlife career change and, thankfully, a bit wiser for it.
I think personal career management means knowing which opportunities to seize and which to skip. It also means learning to be somewhat self-reflective and truly understanding of one's own strengths and weaknesses. In the end, the biggest lesson in avoiding job burnout is to focus on your core belief system and never let the job become bigger than that, whether it's in your head or in the real world.
Scott Lowe is a former CIO and frequent contributor to TechTarget, TechRepublic and other IT publications. He is the president of the 1610 Group. Write to him at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.