Remember New Year’s Day? It was a little over five months ago. You may have set some personal goals for 2014—resolutions—and by now they’re completely forgotten. Six months from now, we’ll all be looking forward to 2015 and the new things that year will bring. We’ll set some resolutions, and by June 2015 we’ll probably have forgotten them, too. And, so, the cycle repeats.
Humans have operated on a cycle of birth, growth, learning, death, and rebirth since time immemorial. Those cycles are baked into our personal, professional, and organizational systems. Some cycles, like New Year’s resolutions, happen annually. Others run on a different time frame.
We all have personal cycles. We might go out on Friday nights every week, or routinely do some exercise on Sunday morning. Many of us go to sleep and wake up around the same time each day. We get settled into our personal routines, and they become our ‘normal’ way of doing things.
Once a cycle has become ingrained, it can be hard to change. I met a Commissionaire once who joined the Corps simply because he needed something to do. Several years earlier, he had retired from his previous career with the intention of sleeping in each day. His body had become so used to getting up at 6 am that he continued to do it post-retirement. So, he sought out a new job to keep with his long-held routine of getting up early and going to work.
Cycles exist in our professional lives as well. When we start a new job, we climb a learning curve. They call us neophytes, newbies, plebes, or perhaps just the ‘new guy’. We’re learning the job as we do it. We have to ask many questions.
Later on, though, we gain competence. Others start coming to us with their questions. We learn the systems that our organization uses to operate, and we discover how those systems interact. Given enough time in a role, we become the expert.
At some point our expertise becomes routine, and we become bored. We seek out new challenges and new roles. When we start a new job, the cycle repeats and we become a newbie again.
Organizations follow the same patterns of growth and decline. In the 1990s there were two rounds of organizational contractions in the federal public service, known as Program Review 1 and 2. Those were followed by a long period of growth, which more recently has been followed by another contraction: Budget 2012 and the current political targets of smaller government.
During an extended period of contraction, it’s all too easy to think that growth will never return. We get mired in the stress of the daily grind and forget about the long-term patterns. But:
-When we fall asleep, we can be fairly certain that we will wake.
-When we start a new job, we know that we will eventually reach the top of the learning curve.
Even as an executive, it’s difficult to influence the organizational cycles—they’re bigger than any one person. On a personal or professional level, though, if you realize you are reaching a state of decline, then you can take steps.
Maybe it’s time to make a change or seek out a new challenge. Set a new goal, learn a new hobby, or take on a new job. Take some educated risks. Even if they don’t give you the results you expect, the change will bring you that challenge, that energy, that revitalization that comes from starting the cycle anew.
With the upcoming summer and holiday time, be sure to take some time to breathe, to relax, and to step back from the day-to-day. Your body, your career, and your family will thank you for it.
George Wenzel was a journeyman public servant and is now working at a not-for-profit – pursuing his passions in what will be his fifth career. He recently completed a two-year secondment to the National Managers’ Community as the Alberta Regional Coordinator. You can find him online at http://about.me/georgewenzel, http://www.govlife.ca, and on Twitter @georgewenzel.