Are You Languishing or Do You Just Need a New Job?


The pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 may have felt what New York Times writer Adam Grant called “joyless and aimless.” Rather than calling themselves depressed, many instead may feel somewhat restless in their lives and may even describe themselves as lacking a sense of purpose. Grant defines this feeling as “languishing” and suggests that many people are feeling it, even as the pandemic sees its conclusion. Languishing is a middling feeling, in between the psychological states of flourishing and depression. “Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work,” Grant writes. 

How can we get out of this state of languishing? 

One of the best methods is to develop a more consistent sense of flow in your daily tasks. A flow state is when you are completely absorbed in what you’re doing. In a flow state, you’re completely engrossed in your project or activity; you’re not watching the clock, endlessly shifting tasks, or clicking onto your email.

The opposite of flow state is fragmented attention. 

But what if your languishing isn’t just because of a year in the pandemic? What if your job is also the problem? 

Atlantic writer Derek Thompson notes that more Americans quit their job in May of this year than any other month on record since 2000. Rather than languishing in a job that is dull or uninteresting, more workers have taken this pandemic as a sign they should search for something new. Job changers aren’t lazy or non-committal; rather, they could be on the search for a position that helps them reach a flow state more easily and more often. “[Quitting signals] an optimism among workers about the future; an eagerness to do something new; and a confidence that if they jump ship, they won’t drown but rather just land on a better, richer boat,” writes Thompson. 

If you’re languishing in your current position, you may not have the energy to dive headfirst into the job search. Here are some reasonable tips that can lead you towards the job that could get you out of your funk. 

Decide if you’re seeking a new position or a new field.

The first step in altering your feeling of languishing is identifying the problem. Why are you unable to reach a flow state in your current position? Is there something wrong with the work you’re doing, or are you simply unchallenged at your company? 

A good rule of thumb is to identify when (and if) you feel flow in your daily work tasks. Are you mostly asked to work towards tedious objectives? If so, then decide if you would be asked to do the same or similar duties in a lateral position at another company. If so, then you may need to consider a career shift or a promotion. 

Identify jobs that would let you behave as your authentic self.

One of the reasons we can languish is if we don’t feel a sense of meaning in our lives. Perhaps you don’t believe in the core mission of your company. Or maybe the behaviors you have to enact in your job don’t feel like you. Years of this kind of disconnection between who you are and your professional role can lead to a sense of malaise. 

“While this is often the price we pay for being a part of an organization, it can be psychologically destructive — especially when the gap between our personal values and the interests of the organization becomes too wide,” writes Mark Travers for Ivy Exec. Instead, aim to identify a field or position that would feel more connected to your values and personality. 

If you’re feeling down on yourself, connect with others who are seeking new positions.

Job searching can be challenging, especially when you’re feeling unmotivated. This long process can seem particularly daunting if you go it alone. Instead, find a peer group that is also searching for new roles, as well. This group can share successes and failures, as well as adding a second or third set of eyes to your application materials. 

If you don’t have a peer group, it’s a good idea to find an accountability partner who you can talk to about your progress. This person could be a spouse, friend, or relative. 

Network in ways that seem like fun.

It’s common knowledge that networking is one of the best ways to find a new job. But if your mental health is middling, it can be exhausting to force yourself into a challenging networking situation. So, decide you’re going to network in ways that energize you, rather than deplete you. Perhaps you can invite a former colleague out to dinner to talk strategy or attend a virtual happy hour that doesn’t require you to leave the house. 

Your Languishing Doesn’t Have to Be Permanent

As we learned in our recent webinar with organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, this last year has been all about disruptions. Some people may have been languishing in their current roles long before the pandemic; others may have needed to take a step back from their daily hustle to notice their dissatisfaction. 

But the goal of searching for a more interesting job is an optimistic one. Though it may feel daunting to search for a new role when you’re feeling de-motivated, setting achievable goals and taking baby steps towards them is the best way forward. 

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