Years ago I studied with a certain university at Kota Damansara. One semester, my classes were scheduled in such a way that I only had to be on campus at 3pm (which was great), but which also meant that I could only leave at the height of the PJ jam at 6.30pm (which wasn’t so great). One of those evenings, as my trusty Proton Waja inched down the hellhole that is Jalan Gasing during the rush hour, I heard from behind the mighty, angry roar of an engine.
It took a while before the vehicle in question caught up, and this is something I’ll never forget. It was a shiny new Ferrari, paint gleaming and glossy. With every tap of the accelerator, its engine VRRRM-ed – but it crept along like the rest of us at the steady pace of 3kmph. I watched, amused, as this marvel of modern engineering, full of sound and fury, designed to streak down the Autobahn in excess of 200kmph, crawl up beside me before slowly making its way ahead and through the jam, growling the whole way like a tiger on a tantrum.
It remains to date the most amusing thing I’ve witnessed in person.
Life is strange.
On one hand, we know that we live a pretty privileged life here in Malaysia. Sure, the political scene is a circus, the Ringgit is weakening against the Dollar, the seasonal haze is back in the middle of the worst heat wave in years; but for most parts we’re able to wake up and go about our day without worrying that militants are going to shoot up our offices or that missiles are going to rain down upon us.
On the other hand, we still manage to find the smallest things to bitch and moan about. The stupid LDP jam! Slow internet connection! The salted egg yolk croissants are sold out! Oh, horror of horrors!
But a greater suffering does not diminish the lesser suffering in any way. Or, in other words, just because we have first world problems, it doesn’t mean the problems are not real. And as much as you may grow to love your profession, like the natural cycle of a marriage, there will come a season of feeling like you’re burnt out or you’re stuck in a rut. There will be days, months, even years in which you will feel like the Ferrari stuck in the PJ rush hour jam.
What do you do when these personal crises arise? What can you do?
STEP ONE: DON’T PANIC
Print these two words out in large friendly letters and stick them somewhere you can see. The first and natural instinct for most would be to hit the escape button and pull the plug, but that wouldn’t be the wise thing to do. Not as a first step, at least.
As Master Oogway would say it, “Your mind is like water, my friend. When it is agitated it becomes difficult to see. But if you allow it to settle, the answer becomes clear.” Take a couple of minutes, hours, or even days, to process the things in your head in the best way you know how. This point then brings us to–
STEP TWO: Look Within
Whether through introspective reflection or wise counsel, this is the part where you find your zen and sort out the clutter in your head. Are you truly unhappy, or are you feeling bored and unfulfilled? Why do you suppose this is so? What are the things that are within your means to control, and what are the things that aren’t?
When it comes to seeking wise counsel, remember this one thing: Wisdom will oftentimes disagree with you. This is where an open mind and a willingness to be wrong come in handy. Seek perspective from all around, not just from your circle of close friends. Talk to your parents. Get in touch with a career coach.
And keep in mind these sagely words from the eminent Neil Gaiman (author of ‘The Sandman’ graphic novel series and novel ‘Caroline’) concerning feedback from non-professional sources:
“When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
However you choose to do it, take time to put yourself in the shrink’s chair and find the answers to the difficult questions.
STEP THREE: Take Action
This section here is probably why you even began reading this article. But the truth is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to feeling like you’re stuck in a rut career-wise, which is why STEP TWO above is important. Sometimes the solution is to quit, if you have lost all meaning or reason to stay where you are.
Sometimes the solution is to take on a new challenge and push yourself to redefine your limits, if you feel like you’ve grown complacent. Sometimes the solution is simply a change in perspective or expectations, if you’ve been looking at your career the wrong way.
Once the answer becomes clear: waste no time in taking action.
Above all remember this: building a career is a journey, not a race; and all journeys have pit stops for you to refresh yourself before continuing on. Don’t let anyone tell you to just suck up your first world problems and get with the program, because each of us have different ways of living life.
So if you need a break to rethink your plans and re-calibrate your life, as long as you’re careful to not become an overbearing burden to others in the process, do so.