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Emerging From a Funk

The annual College and University Professional Association for Human Resources conference was last week, and I joined three colleagues from around the country to do a presentation on disengagement. While we touched on the research that leads employees to feel disconnected and dejected, and provided a quick overview of the latest thinking on human motivation, our talk was designed to be more personal. Rather than talking about disengagement in the abstract, we had an honest conversation about what has led us each into periodic or sustained bouts of despair in our roles.

While I am pleased to say I am not currently disengaged, I certainly have been in the past. As I reflected on the low points in my career, I determined that my visits to Emotional Funk Town occurred when I felt undervalued, stereotyped, or pigeonholed, and especially after I was blamed for things that weren’t my fault. There have been times when I felt like the main character in The Elephant Man who pleaded, “I am not an elephant. I am not an animal. I am a human being. I am a man!” My internal dialogue is slightly different: “I am not a mindless bureaucrat. I am not a management shill. I am not a character in a Dilbert cartoon. I am not the architect of the dysfunction that surrounds us!”


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Putting words to what has been ennui at some times and outrage at others has always been a key step in emerging from my emotional muck—there is a special power in naming the problem. Next, I had to accept that things around me weren’t going to change. I had to change myself. I could leave, own my part in creating the problem, do something risky to reinvent myself, or even decide to compartmentalize work and focus on outside interests more likely to offer intellectual and emotional gratification. I have done each of these at different points in my career and know I will need to do so again in the future.

What about you? What has led you to feel disengaged? What strategies have you employed to get your mojo back?

[Creative Commons-licensed photo by Flickr user John Pastorello.]

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