“There is no way this winter is ever going to end, as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don't see any other way out. He's got to be stopped. And I have to stop him.” - Phil from the movie Groundhog Day
In the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, an egocentric Pittsburgh TV weatherman who, during a hated assignment covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney PA, finds himself in a time loop, repeating the same day over and over again. After indulging in hedonism and numerous suicide attempts, he begins to re-examine his life and priorities. Following the movie’s tremendous success the phrase "Groundhog Day" has entered the vernacular as a reference to an unpleasant situation that continually repeats, or at least seems to. Sound familiar?
A while back I got a call from the CFO of a large and successful publically held company in our area. He and I had met earlier in the year when I led a strategic planning session for the board of another organization of which he was a member. When I was introduced at the session the introduction included a recap of my career as an executive and the transition I made last year from executive to consultant and professor. He wanted to talk about planning for his transition to the next season of life. He is in his late 50’s and has helped lead his organization through some trying times and some successful ones. He is looking at working 3-4 more years and wants to make the best of those while planning for his next big adventure.
We talked about the things he finds most rewarding in the various boards he serves on as well as the things in his career as a CFO that are especially rewarding. After a few moments of silence as we ate our lunch he made a really insightful observation. “You know something,” he said. “I have just realized that, as I look back over the past five years, I haven’t had five years of experience, I’ve had one year of experience five times.” As we talked it became clear that his greatest concern was that the final years of his career with the company would be more of the same.
We spent quite a while talking about that and we will likely talk more in the future but his epiphany set me thinking about the career trajectories of many people I know, including myself at one time, who find that they are no longer growing in their career. They are good at what they do but they find themselves doing the same thing year after year. They are stuck in a career version of Groundhog Day.
How do you break the pattern and get unstuck? Here are a few suggestions.
Volunteer for something different- Look for places where you can use your time and talents to try out new things. Within your company are there task forces or special projects or programs that would give you the opportunity to both contribute and learn and grow? Several years ago I volunteered to serve as an instructor and mentor in a new leadership development program my company was developing. It turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire career. You may also want to look at volunteer opportunities in your community or church where you can use your talent and experience in new and different ways and continue to grow and learn at the same time.
Learn something new- I know many people who have decided to go back to school or take classes in something that has always interested them. One friend hired an English professor from a local college to tutor him in the literary classics. This may not change the daily grind but you will continue to grow and learn and, in doing so, you may find that you have more energy and passion at work. You may also find an unknown passion that leads to a new career direction.
Give of yourself- A wise friend once told me, “In the end, you only get to keep what you give away.” Giving of yourself to others, especially as one gets older, is enormously gratifying. It was through volunteering to work with my company’s leadership program described above that I discovered my passion for developing and mentoring young leaders. It made my day job much more exciting and ultimately led me into a completely new career and life.
Prepare for your next adventure- Each of the three suggestions above have the potential to open your eyes to what you really want to do next. Be intentional about planning your next move. You may decide to stay put but find fulfillment and challenge through external means such as volunteer work or special projects and task forces in your company. Alternatively, you may discover a passion that leads to a career move or even a career change. I regularly work with entrepreneurs who discovered a passion as a result of boredom at work. They are now pursuing their dreams with a new found energy and passion.
In the movie Phil eventually breaks the endless loop by taking advantage of his situation to improve himself. He uses his experience, having repeated the day many times, to help others in the town. He has time to learn to play the piano, create ice sculptures and speak French. He saves lives, helps townspeople and eventually crafts a report on the Groundhog Day celebration so eloquent that all the other stations turn their microphones to him. When he awakens the next day, the loop is broken and his life is restored, better than before.
You can do the same. If you are stuck at a point in your life or career where you seem to be doing the same thing over and over and going nowhere, take charge and take responsibility. Find new ways to grow, learn and help others. The ending may surprise you.