I had a conversation with a Human Resources friend of mine years ago and she gave me a piece of advice that I’ll never forget. She said that in our professional lives we are like hamsters on a wheel. No matter how fast we run, we eventually come full circle. “How many times can you run around the same wheel without getting bored?” she asked me. My answer is four.
In my experience every job has four cycles that provide opportunities for success and sanity. On the fifth time around the wheel, boredom and restlessness sets in. High-performers start looking for a new wheel to run on.
Where are you on the wheel?
The first time around the wheel corresponds to the honeymoon period of a job. Things are exciting and new. You don’t know enough yet to get bogged down in details or office politics. On the first time around the wheel, you’re simply having fun.
The second time around the wheel is the learning curve. The honeymoon is over and you’re in heavy-duty learning mode. The learning curve can be short or long depending on your specific job responsibilities and your previous experience. As stressful as the learning curve can be, most people enjoy the intellectual challenge of this cycle.
The third time around the wheel is a time of confidence. You understand your job well and you have a feeling of mastery over day-to-day responsibilities. You are comfortable acting as an expert in your area. The confident period is a time of high job satisfaction for most people. Your confidence in this cycle gets you ready for the fourth cycle on the wheel.
The fourth time around the wheel is the time of giving back. You are tapped to lead, coach, and mentor others. Most of your time in this cycle is spent in teaching mode. This can be a very rewarding period for many people, and can last several years under the right circumstances.
The fifth time around the wheel is when boredom and restlessness start to set in. Job satisfaction and engagement rapidly decline. You’ve seen the view from this wheel and have experienced what it has to offer. Your job feels stale. You crave new challenges and new learning opportunities. You become aware that even the finest wood chips lose their flavor after a while.
How long does it take to complete all five cycles? There is no one answer for that. It’s different for every person in every job. With that said, the typical high-performers hits the boredom cycle every five to seven years unless something occurs to interrupt the natural progression of the cycles.
Think merger and acquisitions, think changes in high-level management, think broad sweeping organizational changes, think promotions. All of these are examples of interruptions that break up the natural progression from honeymoon to boredom. These interruptions can be a very positive experience. They can help re-engage a top performer in her job, send her back to the learning cycle, and propel her career forward.
If you are a top performer in your organization who is going around the wheel for the fifth time, ask for new challenges immediately. With the right strategic interruptions, you can continue to enjoy job satisfaction within your same organization for years to come. Without it, you’ll be looking for a shiny new wheel to run on very soon.