Shy of just ten years out of school, I work for a cushy corporation designing range of products. One may comment my current state as a respectable career track but I can’t seem to attach any damn passion to products and brands I’m designing for, thus lacking motivation and (will in the long run) performing well under expectations. There are moments I think about walking away from industrial design altogether, or better yet walking away from this job mid-day without any notice.
Is it the product category I’m assigned to killing my soul, or is it working for a corporate that ripple this effect, or have I run out of steam in this field and should see a career counselor?
Anyone care to comment from a personal experience having gone through this phase?
I think it’s a normal hump in the career. I’ve tried two things:
Focus on delivering to the customer. Maybe the product doesn’t need to be passionate, but it may need to be easy to use or more acceptable to a certain group of customers. Focus on what makes them happy and you will feel that the work is more rewarding.
Change jobs. I’ve worked corporate for 14 years. I’m starting at a consultancy in two weeks. Maybe I’ll be horribly disappointed, but I’m sure I’ll learn a few new things and get a couple of those “oh-my-god, how will I ever get this done!” moments again.
I’m your opposite. I did consulting for 15 years and have been in corporate for the last 10.
Back to the OP. It’s a tough spot, but the question is before you do anything, what is it that will give you fulfillment? It certainly isn’t necessarily a market segment. My whole career has been in medical devices and quite frankly I hate hearing people in my field saying how great they feel helping people. Like comfort doesn’t count when you are not sick or injured. I get more comfort from the 5,000 songs on my phone than the disinfectant wipe I used prior to my recent surgery.
So before you do anything rash like burning a bridge at lunch today, make sure you have a plan. Use your current situation as a tool to your next step. My current corporate gig will pay $6K annually to pretty much any education I want. If I want to be a lawyer for the next step, they will pay for it.
Personally, I learned a while back, I just like to make stuff. Even as my management duties have increased, I make time to make stuff, whether it is developing ideas for other people’s projects or side jobs. If I had my druthers, I would be making sculpture and smoking like a chimney. But due to other life choices that are better than being a bum artist, that will have to wait until “retirement”.
On a side note, having worked for small companies (0-100 employees), medium companies (250-1000 employees) and currently a yuge company (26,000 employees), by far the best experience was with a privately-owned medium-sized (600 employees) company.
You need to decide what would make you happy. I personally find myself engaged when I’m solving technical challenges and building things. I realized after 8 years in corporate ID designing new versions of the same widgets I had been doing for the past decade lost it’s fun. There were limited amounts of new challenges and the corporation simply had limited resources and for every innovative product there would be 5 light cosmetic refreshes of something existing.
I decided to transition back into UI/UX at the same company since it presented me with a good opportunity at the time to move roles without a complete career reset. It also meant I had a load of new challenges to undertake personally and professionally so internally I felt more rewarded. Likewise it came with better pay and a year later I left for a risky job at a startup where I continued to evolve that role into a director level position. If I hadn’t decided one day to make that jump I’d be making much less money doing something I had gotten bored of years ago, but it just came to me one morning to talk to the manager of another division and say I wanted to switch, and the rest fell into place.
Moral of the story: Look inside and try to decide what would really make you happy, if you think diversity of product would help, consider a consulting role where you would have more exposure to different product categories on shorter cycles. Or consider entering a market where you really enjoy the work. I know people who went into design in the bike industry and even though the pay is average at best, they absolutely love the life style and working on products that they can live and breathe.
Burn out is common in any industry. Mixing up your exposure is always a good way to do things, but think about where you want your career to be in 5 or 10 more years and think about ways to get on that path. I knew from early on I wanted to focus my career in leading to an executive/C-suite position and that building widgets was only part of the knowledge I needed.
If you haven’t recently and are able, also consider taking a long vacation. 1 week isn’t long enough - try to sneak away for 2 weeks and give yourself some time to do some soul searching. Usually on a 1 week trip I find by the time I’m done sight seeing I’m already checking work emails and preparing myself for the Monday I go back.
Once upon a time three stone masons were asked, one after the other, what they were doing. The first, without looking up, answered, “Earning my living.” The second replied, “I am shaping this stone to pattern.” The third lifted his eyes and said, “I am building a Cathedral.” So it is with the men of the law at labor before the Court. The attitude and preparation of some show that they have no conception of their effort higher than to make a living. Others are dutiful but uninspired in trying to shape their little cases to a winning pattern. But it lifts up the heart of a judge when an advocate stands at the bar who knows that he is building a Cathedral.”
It sounds like you are burned out and need a new challenge or growth.
A) Switch industries or switch from corporate to consultancy. But if you switch to consultancy you may be bored in 5 years again.
B) Look into advancing your career/position at your current company. The natural progression is to move on to management, director level, etc. If it’s not possible or it’s not going to happen anytime soon then look for that position at a different company but same industry.
Lastly write down the pros and cons of your current job. Then write the (assumed) pros and cons of your ideal job. After 10 years you should be able to pin point what is lacking from your professional life now and hopefully design a path for your ideal career path for the next 5-10-20 years. After you have made a plan then make a smooth transition without burning any bridges. It’s hard to give a good recommendation of somebody that just walks away.
But yes, iab, I share your frustration with parables, too. Just because the first mason said “earning my living” doesn’t mean he isn’t “Earning my living so that my family may have food and shelter they need to survive.” It’s dangerous to assume that only those who voice it, are the ones who can see the forest through the trees. Some people just want to get their work done because that’s what they prefer to do.
To the OP, there’s some really good insight and advice here. We’ve all been there before, and it sounds like a change of scenery would do you well. It could be a part-time hobby, it could be a cross-country move. But, it’s up to you to determine. Best of luck.