Finest Motivation to Work

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Reader’s Question

I lost my job a few months ago and since then I’ve been unable to find the motivation to do, well, anything. I realized today that maybe what I thought was a pattern of behavior at the office actually applies to my whole life. Namely: I flounder unless put under stress or a lot of responsibility. It appears counterintuitive to me, but I noticed it starting with the first job I ever had where I was only a lowly employee doing the smallest amount to get by. I felt listless. I was still a decent employee though, and eventually I was made manager — and as soon when i felt like I had get a grip on over something, everything changed for me personally. Almost overnight, I suddenly cared about what I was doing, works extra hard, and was really associated with all aspects of it. I loved it and I really blossomed right into a stellar employee. Any job ever since then has been the same: unless some one is really counting on me to handle something important, I can barely do any such thing.

My partner makes enough to support us and I’ve never really been in a situation where my monetary contribution is imperative. I hadn’t realized that perhaps it’s causing me to feel useless, and thus my life is lacking the obligation I crave.

The largest problem for me, though, is that recognizing the problem doesn’t help. It doesn’t help even though I know basically just forced myself to look for work, a volunteer position, or Whatever would promote those feelings of responsibility then I would start to shift back into my normal self. I simply can’t seem to care. So how do I break the cycle? And why do I not just thrive under pressure, but want it?

Psychologist’s Reply

It sounds as if you’ve discovered how stress is very much like an ocean wave. Like surfers, we search for the optimal wave that isn’t too weak or too strong to greatly help get us to shore — upright on our boards. When stress is too high, we can frequently get consumed by the wave, or knocked off our steady footing before reaching our goal. Sometimes we just avoid the strong wave altogether for fear of falling and failing. On the other hand, when stress is too low, we usually don’t have the momentum to attain our goals, and the wave fizzles out too soon — which it seems you are experiencing.

I think you’ve done some really effective reflecting, however , and are starting to notice the patterns and your needs for an ocean with bigger waves. It’s not something within you, but instead the interaction between your needs along with your environment that aren’t matching well. I also suspect that the circumstances of how your last job ended — not by your choice, it seems — may be which makes it even more difficult for you to find the energy to care.

Try Online Counseling: Get Personally Matched

Often when people lose employment, it can feel much like grief. The multiple losses experienced with a job loss, such as loss of structure, accountability, social connections, and a place to go every day, can be significant. When we experience a loss and are grieving, we often don’t feel like ourselves. We feel more sluggish, tired, have changes in appetite, feel isolated or have difficulty reaching out to others. Combining these difficulties with the pressure to discover a new job can be even more debilitating. In these situations, it can be helpful to consult with a trusted friend or a mental doctor to process the loss, to engage in greater self-care, and to find methods to set the pressure to find a job aside until you’ve worked through what the job meant and what it means not to have it now.

After going through the grief process, it may also be helpful to find someone who specializes in vocational counseling — many counseling psychologists have had training in vocational assessment and development. A well-trained professional could work with you to explore your interests, abilities, and values to find a good person-environment fit for you that will be more inspiring and motivating. Work is definitely an integral part of our lives and our identities — and exploring to find something meaningful and satisfying may be worth the time and energy for you personally now. Knowing more about your self and how you might thrive on a bigger wave could be useful as you explore potential career paths.

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All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. Originally published by Dr Elizabeth Chamberlain, PhD on and last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on.

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