Dealing with existential career crisis

“I Was Meant For Soup, Salad, Maybe Chili. And Then The Trash! I’m Litter!”

When Forky, the googly-eyed spork, from Toy Story 4 said these lines to Woody, my heart skipped a beat. It resonated a deeper sentiment of feeling worthless. Or, worse- accepting worthlessness.

Forky wasn’t meant to be a toy. But his creator Bonnie, a kindergartner, created him during craft time in her school. And it turned his life upside down as he couldn’t come to terms with living a life he had never imagined.

Does that sound familiar? A feeling when you start questioning “What is my purpose in life?” and get “I don’t know.” in return.

I’m sure we all have experienced similar thoughts at different stages in our career- while switching jobs, making a transition or during role change and promotions.

There could be a plethora of reasons why such feelings begin to settle in someone’s mind. One reason could be the lack of a compelling vision of one’s organization. Another could be a gap in setting the right expectations within the team. When you don’t know what is expected from you, it’s quite natural to feel lost.

The preachy-side of my mind wants to yell that every problem can be solved by communicating with your leader/manager. But let’s just cut the crap for a moment, because (I’ve) been there, done that! Communication doesn’t work everywhere, especially when you’re deeply buried in the woes of decreasing self-worth.

What works is — self-indulgence.

Or, what smart people like to call introspection.

So, answer a few questions for me, will ya? I hate to start it with the questions, but this is the only way we’re ever going to feel okay about our situation.

What is one thing that I don’t like about my job?

We often have a very dreamy picture about our job. Handsome salary, flexible work timings, remote work, exciting perks, and whatnot! But the moment we come into a routine of everyday work, these benefits start looking insignificant and work becomes meaningless repetition.

So take out time to figure out what exactly is bothering you? Is it them? Is it you? Is it the messed up political scene in your country? Are you in the right job? Do you have enough skills to do your job?

What is one thing that I am uniquely capable of doing?

I am an Engineer by education. But my profession (and passion) is writing. I had worked as a developer for nearly 2 years when an existential crisis hit me. And it hit me hard! I could have continued to do what I was doing nonchalantly. Instead, I decided to think of what other unique things I am capable of doing.

We all have that one unique thing which is hidden from us because we’re too naive to see it. It could be worthless to you (now), but if you work with a plan, this can be your life-altering moment. Don’t just run after “what’s worth doing?”, be after “what’s worth pursuing?”

I’ll go back to the Toy Story 4 reference again. Forky was meant to go in the trash bin. And There’s nothing more in the world that Forky loves over trash. But, as soon as he realizes that Bonnie (his creator) loves him over every other toy, he giddily asks Woody, “She thinks I’m warm and cozy and sometimes squishy?”

Be like Forky and discover your worth!

What is one thing that I can change about my current situation?

Only when you know that something is not right, you can come up with solutions to tackle it. If you’re not getting the right kind of opportunities, talk to your leader about it. If you’re not happy with the guidance given to you, or the lack of it — don’t wait for something to happen. Go and have a 1:1 with your leader.

Or, better, start managing upwards.

If you see that the problem is with your skill-set, start working on learning and improving your knowledge. The idea is to take charge of the situation and not wait for someone to hold your hand.

Conclusion

It’s easier to feel dismayed when you start feeling worthless in your job. But here’s the bright side of it — the feeling of existential crisis inspires us to ask big questions (I listed three of them!) about who we are and what we value. More importantly, the crisis-feeling reminds us that we are empowered and we can make choices about our lives in how we answer those questions.

And as Forky says in the end, “We are all toys. Unique, beautiful toys.” So, don’t let anything dim your sunshine.

I wrote this blog for our Medium Publication- Unboxing Product Management. The publication is a weekly column by people of Quovantis to share their learning.

Storyteller @Quovantis, BookFairy @booksontheMetro. Merry Giggler. Reader and Writer. I share my experiences and experiments on Instagram @shrutibookfairysharma

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