This is a public service announcement:
Career Roomba Syndrome (CRS) is a serious problem in America today and is afflicting almost 50% of recent grads.
But what the heck is a Roomba?!
A Roomba is a “smart” robotic vacuum cleaner from iRobot that cleans without anyone pushing or controlling it. One of its greatest features is being able to change directions upon encountering an obstacle.
With the Roomba and my career experience in mind, I came up with a fictitious disease I call Career Roomba Syndrome and define it as such:
An occupational affliction that is characterized by a string of different job roles, some related, some starkly different than the last. The afflicted lacks passion for these jobs, and each time the “patient” hits a dead-end at a job, they back up and redirect their career path, but more often than not, the new path is not determined by any clear strategy, but necessity to keep the status quo. In some extreme cases, the afflicted may simply be stuck in a single dead-end job.
I did not pull this definition out of thin air. I lived and breathed it for six years after college. Undergrad was a memorable time in my life (though not for academic reasons) but I put no effort into career planning. After graduation I was hit with a tidal wave of of parental, financial and peer pressure which led me to a career in finance. I didn’t do the prep or networking required to land a high-flying Wall Street job and ended up halfway there, working in financial software and services.
I never loved my job, and for six years I bounced around to different companies and positions: data analyst at an investor relations SaaS firm, consulting with a student loan consolidation company, database administrator with a legal software company, and project manager with a hedge fund software company. While all these jobs paid the bills (and some quite well), after the new job buzz wore off (three to 12 months), I was repeatedly left with an empty feeling inside. At each company, I found I had zero passion for the products, services, and clients I supported.
After six years, I couldn’t take it any longer and made a drastic move. I quit my job, went to business school, and moved from NY to Hawaii and then on to China, where I lived for three years and worked in an operations and research capacity for American companies entering China. Each of those moves is a story unto itself– it was a time of exploration both within myself and the world around me. Most importantly, though, I learned if you dig deep you can unlock your innermost desires (personally and professionally) and pursue the career of your dreams with unbridled passion.
While I have no regrets, the China experience was in many ways a failure. After a four-year sojourn, I landed the new job of my dreams as a management consultant, and sure enough, I hated it. I moved back to the U.S. with almost nothing, but I had a clean slate, a worldly perspective, a global community of friends, and most importantly, I learned you could teach an old dog new tricks (in three short years I was semi-fluent in Mandarin).
Upon returning home, my new passion became content marketing and I consumed any learning material I could find with a voracious appetite. I went to meetups, made new friends in the industry, and ran a ton of marketing experiments. Within a few months, I connected with the person who became my mentor and business partner, and in turn became an instrumental figure in a scrappy startup that was devoted to helping people like me–those who were suffering from Career Roomba Syndrome.
That’s enough about me for now. I had Career Roomba Syndrome and I overcame it, but I’m not done. As a recovering Career Roomba Syndrome patient, it is my mission to help eradicate it from the face of this earth.
Before I get into how to diagnose and cure this disease, it is helpful to know why people end up with Career Roomba Syndrome in the first place. Tia Singh, career coach at Live Your Way outlines a few reasons people end up in a job rut:
1. You have bills to pay and can’t wait around for the perfect job.
2. You are saving up for something big (grad school, a car, house, etc.)
3. You are not sure which career path is the right one.
4. You are afraid of the rejection the job search will bring.
5. You are scared of not finding another job or the new job will be worse than the current one.
6. You hope things are going to turn around or improve at your current gig, or that a new opportunity might fall into your lap.
Jenny Blake, career coach and author of Life After College, says, “Careers spark some of our most primal fears. Because it is directly tied to money, we associate career change with threatening our very ability to provide food, clothing and shelter for ourselves.”
It’s no surprise people feel paralyzed and stuck with their situation. “Here’s the zinger,” Singh says, “Most people will stay till the pain of NOT leaving becomes more than the pain of leaving.”
If you are proactive, you can get ahead of the curve and avoid hitting an extreme pain threshold. Here are 10 signs you may be suffering from Career Roomba Syndrome:
1. Work feels like you are just going through the motions.
2. You come in late, leave early, take long lunches, and look for any excuse to be absent from work.
3. Your co-workers are the only thing you like about your job.
4. Your work day feels like it goes on forever.
5. Friday at 5 p.m. is your favorite time of the week.
6. You self-medicate with alcohol and drugs on the weekend.
7. All of your happiness is derived from your personal relationships (friends, significant others, etc.)
8. You see people’s vacation photos on Facebook and are incredibly jealous. In general, you spend a lot of time on social media and personal interest sites.
9. When you are on vacation and its about to end, you want to cry because you have to go back to work.
10. Sunday evening fills you with an incredible sense of dread and anxiety.
If four or more of these items resonate with you, Career Roomba Syndrome may have already set in. You are not alone. According to Gallup, only 30% of U.S. works are engaged and passionate about their jobs.
According to Blake, “Unchecked, many people start experiencing physical symptoms too: trouble sleeping, headaches, and sometimes more serious health afflictions.”
The good news is that Career Roomba Syndrome is reversible and with considerable effort, you can remedy your situation and serve as an inspiration for your friends and loved ones who may also have this problem.
I am now in a happy place in my career but plenty of my friends and loved ones are not. They fall into several different categories:
- They know they are in the wrong job and they are trying to actively fix the situation.
- They know they are in the wrong job and don’t know what to do about it.
- They know they are in the wrong job but won’t do anything to fix it.
- They are in denial that they are in the wrong job.
My advice likely won’t help those who fall into the latter two categories. Career Roomba Syndrome will not simply go away. For some it may take years to fix.
Making a lasting and meaningful change requires indefatigable self-motivation and commitment. “Any job can be a great launch pad to the next, more fulfilling direction if you’re willing to put in the effort required,” says Blake.
Some may look to friends and family who seem to have been on the right path from the get-go. Maybe you think it’s not fair they have it all figured out and that they are killing it in their career.
First, they put in the hard work early on. In college, they were busy exploring their options at career services while you were sleeping late. Either that or they had a good push from overbearing parents.
Next, you can’t judge a book by the cover (or the price tag.) In many cases things look ideal on the surface, but money and success don’t equate with career satisfaction.
Others might see grad school as the answer. This makes sense if a secondary degree is a requirement for a career you’ve already researched and determined to be the perfect fit.
“It is important for someone to consider what their ideal outcomes from graduate school are, and if those are worth the cost of time and money,” Blake explained. “Many people I know have very successfully leveraged graduate school into facilitating a move to a new city, vastly expanding their network and skills, and finding work in a new arena. You don’t need to attend grad school just to get out of a dead-end job.”
Many people hit the proverbial wall and blindly decide going back to school to get an MBA or JD is the solution. This is a dangerous choice, as MBA and JD hirings are at all-time lows, and if you don’t go to a top school, your chances of getting great placement and salary are substantially lower.
[Editor’s Note: I know this from experience. Getting an MBA was fun, but I could have done something similar for free and saved myself $45k (I got a good deal too!). Most of the skills, I use day-to-day, I didn’t learn in business school. That fits the same pattern I experienced after graduating from undergrad.]
That is not to say grad school is not a fine choice for some. “It’s not a question of grad school, more a question of what you’re interested in,” says Singh, “It’s way more important to figure out what you want to do, then do what it takes to get there.”
That said, I commend those who are ready, willing, and able to make a change. Here is an overview of how you can go about curing Career Roomba Syndrome and finding satisfaction in your next job:
1. Admitting you have a problem and committing to change
This is arguably the hardest part of curing Career Roomba Syndrome. Meaningful change starts from within.
2. Start saving for a rainy day
Mentally you’ve already given notice, but that idle time is valuable. Singh says, “You have a buffer period and can create an exit strategy. Start saving money so you have a cushion to support yourself in case you quit. Invest the money in yourself to update your skills and learn something new.”
Admitting you have a problem is like a deep dive into your psyche. A lot of people don’t want to do that because they are afraid of what they’ll find. Whether you buy self help books or enlist the services of a counselor, be prepared to answer a lot of questions about yourself through expository essays and personality tests.
After thorough self exploration, you’ll have a better sense of your ideal job role or career path to a few select choices. Take them for a test drive. Experimentation has many forms: research, volunteer work, part-time projects, and self-education via offline and online courses.
If you have financial obligations, it’s ideal to get this done without interrupting your current income stream by, say, taking an unpaid internship. Those with obligations can start by getting involved with side projects. After a few projects, you may have refined your skills enough to charge for your services. The goal here, however, is to create a new resume and a body of work or skill portfolio around the career you’d like to move into. There is nothing wrong with unpaid internships, just be sure you prepared financially for that plan.
6. Your network is your net worth
Knowing what you want to do and getting ready is only half the battle. By now you’ve refreshed your resume, reinvented your LinkedIn profile and your new portfolio is raring to go. It’s time to print up business cards and get your network on! The best way to put yourself out there is having an elevator pitch for your dream job and sharing it with everyone you know. It may feel strange, but most people want to help you succeed. Need to expand your network? Attend meetups, LinkIn, Tweet and expand your Google+ circles. Talk to anyone and everyone– you never know who knows who and the perfect opportunity might be lurking around the corner.
There you have it folks. A fool-proof plan for vanquishing Career Roomba Syndrome. I cannot put a timeline on how long it will take to your cure your bout with with Career Roomba Syndrome. I’ve endured two bouts at this point in my career. The first time took two to three years to cure–via grad school and a trip halfway around the world. The second time it only took a few months. However, if I had decided to become a doctor or lawyer, those would have been longer roads to success (eight and three years respectively).
With a positive attitude and a commitment to change you can eradicate Career Roomba Syndrome from your life and help others around you to do the same.
Don’t let lack of direction kill your career before it even starts.
If you believe one of your friends or loved ones might be afflicted with Career Roomba Syndrome, you can get them started on the right path by sharing this article with them.
If anyone has any questions or comments please feel free to reach me at
firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be happy to suggest further resources to anyone who reaches out to me.
Lets band together and cure this dreadful disease.