I'm burnt out, but still need to work.
June 8, 2012 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Consultants/Advisors/Strategists/etc: How do you keep doing a good job for your clients when you're burnt out and do not give a shit about the outcome of your work? I feel mentally "done" with my career, but because i don't yet know what my next step should be, I need to stick at it for a while. And i need to not suck so much, even though i can barely interest myself in completing the work.

I've always been a procrastinator, but this is procrastination that is so much more! I'm a digital strategist at a large digital marketing agency, and i'm tired of killing myself to come up with new innovative ideas for clients who are often never going to implement the recommendations, or who are just having the project done as an internal exercise. (I.e. right now, i'm working on a 'mobile strategy' for a large retailer, and the client has basically said that they just need this document from us to provide them with credibility when they speak to the rest of the organization. They already have a strategy, they just want an outside consultant to say they agree. And for this i am staying up nights and missing my life? The pay is good but the satisfaction level is shit.)

I don't really know how to do the job well without caring about the job - by nature, i need to be very mentally engaged in the project in order to do good work.

I'm not going to look for a new job in this field - i know i'm not burnt out on my employer, i'm burnt out on my career. Until i figure out the next big step, i'm sticking with this job, probably for another 6 or 7 months - till the end of this year. By then i hope to have the 'next step' figured out.

Any tips? Either mental/psychological or simply process driven?
posted by Kololo to Work & Money (5 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
See if you can come up with some rough ideas for your next job, figure out the skills that employers look for or that otherwise might be useful for that job, and see if you can't cultivate those skills by working on your current project in an innovative way.
posted by shivohum at 8:00 AM on June 8, 2012

I suffer from similar frustrations. Over the years, the following have all worked for me at different times...

Shift slowly and intentionally into a new area, perhaps carving out a new expertise for your firm. So if this job is 90 percent known stuff and 10 percent new area, try to get another client that needs a higher proportion of the same new area, until you've built it into a legit part of your practice. That helps you...

Win more work. Then you can keep the competent clients and shove the losers down the food chain. You'll have fewer losers if you...

Become the queen/king of radical honesty and tough love. Things got better for me when I realized that I have a strong point of view and that I need to show it to the prospective clients during the selection process so they can make a clear choice. That helps me trust them more and keeps the feelings of contempt at bay. Now my goal is to come in either first or last among the shortlist. This is easier now because I left my big firm to form a company, but that may not make sense for you right now. In any case, the company succeeded in part because I

Achieved notoriety in my profession and publicity for my firm via my other professional outlets, e.g., making speeches and writing on the work.

In any case, you're fortunate to recognize this now so you can tackle it before you really burn out and damage your zest for the profession.
posted by carmicha at 8:43 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

I work for an integrated marketing agency, and we have the same frustrations with some of our clients - it follows the 80/20 rule.

Anyway, why do you have to work late at night? If you can limit your working hours you will get more rest and relaxation.

This will help you deal with your frustration level and your feelings of being burned out.

Then you can plan your next steps.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:32 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look at it another way, what you produce IS the work product. Not what they choose to do with it. Plenty of professions have this situation. Yes, it'd be nice if the clients picked up on the idea and ran with it. But that's a different project. Yours was to come up with the strategy. One could argue that's even BETTER than having to actually implement it. All ideas and no work, sounds great.

Because what's to prevent you from ending with exactly the same impression at your next post? All this work and people don't run with my ideas.... You'd do well to give some serious thought to how YOU approach the work. Certainly before you jump from one frying pan into another...
posted by wkearney99 at 9:33 AM on June 8, 2012

I'm not sure this will help, but when I get bored in my staff position, I start focusing on something else, either a new topic or a new work skill. Let's say you are sick of writing documents about digital strategy. Well, how about writing documents about (...wow, I know nothing about digital strategy...) digital strategy as a component of defining a brand? how about writing documents about digital crisis management? how about doing hands-on digital crisis management? how about doing leadership coaching for marketing directors whose focus is on defining a new digital strategy for the organization? how about facilitating group digital strategy strategic planning retreats?
posted by salvia at 7:18 PM on June 8, 2012

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