Same old assignments, petty office politics, squeezed budgets, irritating colleagues – at this time of year, it's hard not to feel as dark about your career as it is outside.
If you're fighting midwinter gloom, here are some ideas about how to let the light in.
Consider what makes you happy
You may be surprised what you can learn, and the clues you will generate, when you delve into non-work sources of pleasure. For example, one of my clients realized that one thing she loved to do was to summarize a book at her book club in a way that held people's attention. Her lesson for her work life was that she wanted to do more presentations.
Focus on experiences which are so captivating that, in the moment, you lose any sense of time passing. This highly engaged state provides the greatest opportunities to optimize pleasure, motivation, and creativity.
Take inventoryof things you did over the past year that produced an intense sense of satisfaction. What were the underlying themes? For example, did they involve taking on an unexpected leadership role, or giving useful career advice to a younger colleague? Determine how you can do more of this.
Do something out of character
Shake up your colleague's impressions of who you are. If you are normally agreeable, ruffle a few feathers. If you typically dress in banker grey, wear something flamboyant.
You can't transform yourself into a new you, but you can modify how people experience you and therefore what they expect from you. Note how your co-workers react to your changes. Do they compliment you, or interact with you differently? If you like how they respond to you, do something that feels even more outrageous.
At first, making these changes will feel awkward and it might take a while for people to notice what you are doing differently. Force yourself to stay the course. Many people find it easier to initiate changes that don't come naturally by writing down one thing they will do differently the next day.
Initiate an unusual conversation
Take it beyond normal pleasantries to places you wouldn't ordinarily go. For example, share something of an intimate nature or ask a probing question that indicates genuine and deep curiosity about the other person.
Network with someone outside your profession and set yourself a challenge: At the end of your conversation you will aim to have learned one thing interesting, whether it is a mutual connection, a shared interest or a useful piece of work information.
Do something that makes you slightly uncomfortable. Volunteer for an assignment that uses different skills or that exposes you to a new area. The trick is to get in slightly over your head – deep enough that it feels like a risk, but not so deep that the chances for success are limited.
And if necessary, talk back. This will be particularly satisfying (as well as helpful to your career) if your natural tendency is to be a doormat who agrees to any request, no matter how unreasonable. No one will hate you when you say "no," assuming you decline politely but unapologetically. These unreasonable requesters may be surprised by your reaction, and may think twice before they treat you like the department's first responder for undesired tasks.
Invest in your personal life
Do something outside the workplace that holds your interest. What activities do you love doing, though you somehow never get around to doing them? Consider things you were interested in when you were younger, before life got in the way, whether it was a vocational dream that didn't materialize or a hobby you drifted away from. When people feel good about their non-work activities, there usually is a huge spillover into their work life.
Amp up your mentoring
Tell someone who interests you that you would love to help him or her. Take the initiative to set up the get-together; the person may be shy or reluctant to take advantage of your offer.
And remember, mentorees don't want to hear your old war stories or have you project your values on to them. What they want is introductions to your network and tactical career advice on how to get ahead, how to handle tricky political situations, how to negotiate a raise.
Fight the tendency to withdraw
No matter how strong the urge to simply keep your nose to the grindstone, don't do it. It will just add to your malaise. If you find it difficult to follow through with your resolutions to shake things up, tell a buddy what you want to accomplish and ask him or her to help you.
Make a date with yourself
Review how your needs are being met and whether your work continues to be a good fit. If not, how you can improve it? Determine what you want to accomplish over the next year or two. Set a timeline for your goals.
Do something for someone else
Volunteer. The best antidote to the blues is to focus on people or things outside of yourself.
Barbara Moses, PhD, is a speaker, organizational career management consultant and the author of Dish. Website: www.bmoses.com