Your relationship with your work can be a lot like a marriage.
In the beginning, presumably, the chemisty is great. You’re both on the same page. You’re spending lots of time together, and generally enjoying that time.
Over time, though, things can turn decidedly chilly. You may find yourself dreading the very same work that once made you excited to get out of bed every morning.
So what went wrong? Did you pick the wrong career? The wrong company? Has your workplace become a toxic environment, or are you just having the vocational equivalent of the seven-year-itch?
According to His Needs, Her Needs, a book on extramarital affairs by psychologist Dr. Willard Harley, we all have what he refers to as a “Love Bank.” Every person we know has an “account” in our Love Bank. Whenever we spend time with a person, if the experience is generally enjoyable, that person gets “Love Unit” deposits in their account in our Love Bank. If the experience is unpleasant, there’s a withdrawal. Harley defines activities that typically make a deposit as emotional needs, and activities that usually make a withdrawal as love busters.
And certain kinds of emotional needs are worth more to different people–for example, one person might highly value affection, while another might highly value their spouse taking out the trash.
When a person’s balance reaches a certain threshold, it triggers a state of infatuation. When it drops below that threshold, we “fall out of love” with the person.
Those are the basic dynamics Harley uses to explain how affairs happen; it’s essentially a math equation. When your spouse’s account is low, and someone else’s account goes above the threshold, you become infatuated with the other person, stop thinking rationally, and the next thing you know, you’re Tiger Woods.
Well, maybe not. But it is at least a helpful metaphor when thinking about your work. Sometimes, a problem with “work-life balance” isn’t so much about the amount of time you’re spending at work, as it’s about how much you’re enjoying that time (or not .)
If you find that you’ve fallen out of love with your work, ask yourself what made the experience of work enjoyable, back when you enjoyed it?
Are you still getting those things now? What changed?
What are the emotional needs you value most highly when it comes to your work? Praise and admiration? Financial security? Prestige? A sense of accomplishment when projects reach completion? The camaraderie of a particular team? Is it something else specific and intrinsic to the work?
Were you getting any of those things with much greater frequency before you started to feel dissatisfied? If so, that might be a clue as to why you’re ready to divorce your job (even if you’re self-employed!)
Conversely, is there a really unpleasant situation (a work love buster) going on now with some frequency that wasn’t going on when your work satisfaction was high?
If you feel like you’ve nailed down what’s missing now, or what’s entered your work life and made it unpleasant, it’s time to do some brainstorming. Can you fix what’s not working while remaining in your current situation? Then it’s probably worth at least trying that.
If you’ve tried to Bring Back that Lovin’ Feeling with your current work, and failed, then it may be time to look for a new vocational love connection.