05/28/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How To Love Your Job Again

Dear Christine,

I'm an engineer - it's a good job but I'm afraid of becoming stagnant professionally, and this job isn't challenging my adaptability or communication skills, or any of the other things I consider my strengths. I feel drained having to kick in that self-motivation to get things done. Any suggestions on finding the things that do motivate me? -Drained Engineer, 24, Los Angeles

Dear Drained Engineer,

Motivation comes from within. Even though I can offer suggestions, you will ultimately be the one doing the heavy thinking and decision making. You seem to have some unrealistic expectations that a lot of Gen Y workers have during their first few years in the real world. Your job is not there to motivate you or challenge you in the ways you desire; it is incumbent upon you to either change career paths or create challenges for yourself at the job you have.

Consider these words of wisdom offered by Susan Heathfield, Guide to Human Resources for and founder of Heathfield Consulting Associates. "Start by writing down your ten favorite activities, the ones without which your professional life would feel bereft. No career choice is suitable unless you get to do your favorite activities at least weekly, and preferably, daily. Then, write down the top five goals you want to accomplish in your career. (Think money, fame, impact, contribution and more.) Your selected career must enable you to reach these goals. If your current career choice or your new career choice doesn't include these, it's the wrong choice."

To discover more about the path forged by Susan's expert advice, continue your self-exploration with these other specific questions. In what ways do you want to utilize your communication skills? Do you want to interact with people on a daily basis? How do you want your adaptability to be challenged? Do you want projects that constantly change? How big of a company do you want to work for? Do you want to wear a suit or jeans to work? It's great to know your strengths, but just because you are good at something doesn't mean you necessarily want to use those skills constantly. Which qualities are most important to you, and which do you want to incorporate into your job? And what do you want to learn from a job?

It would also help for you to prioritize the elements that you need and want in your life. Remember, your job is a PART of your life, not your ENTIRE life. Consider how important down time is to you right now. Or perhaps now is the time in your life when you have the energy and motivation to take work home with you. When you picture the perfect job and the perfect life, what elements do you see? And resist the temptation of looking at someone else's life for clues. "Having it all" is a misconceived goal. Life is full of compromises, so it's important when making choices to know what you can and cannot compromise on.

Once you have your list, research career fields that include the key aspects you want. Talk to friends, family, contacts, and your alumni office to see if anyone works in the industries you are intrigued by, and then start setting up informational interviews to learn more about the industries, the duties of the jobs, and the paths people in those industries have taken. You will glean an amount of knowledge that no class or book can teach, and will be able to see if you can picture yourself living the life of the people you speak with.

This process might sound daunting, but if you are already feeling unmotivated at 24, it's time to give yourself a serious pep-talk. Research is a great way to re-energize yourself. Every bit of knowledge you can get about yourself and other career paths will add to your information arsenal, and be invaluable when you need to make your decisions. The bright spot is that once you discover who you are, what you love to do, and go after it, work will no longer feel draining; it will be exhilarating.


Please send me your questions by posting them in the comments section below. You can also email me at

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