Three Signs of a Miserable Career Transition

A few weeks ago I was asked to speak to a group of executives in career transition about how to keep themselves engaged and on top of their game throughout their job searches.  While transition is described by many as a “real growth experience” once they have landed, during the search the majority say that “looking for a job is the most miserable job they have ever had”.  At some point, almost everyone finds themselves “miserable” and feeling stuck or unmotivated.

One of my favorite leadership books is by Patrick Lencioni and is entitled “Three Signs of a Miserable Job”.  It is a parable about a CEO who retires earlier than expected after abruptly selling his company.  Retirement is not an easy transition for him, and after moving to the mountains to pursue his passion for skiing, he goes back to work managing a local, rundown pizza parlor. Along the way, he learns a number of lessons about how to engage and motivate people to dramatically improve business results. 

In his book, Lencioni summarizes the three signs of a miserable job on pages 221-222 as follows:

Anonymity:  People who see themselves as invisible, generic, or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing.”

“Irrelevance:  Everyone needs to know that their work matters to someone.  Anyone. “

“Immeasurement:  Without a tangible means of assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves unable to control their own fate.”

Lencioni’s lessons are equally valuable in preventing you from becoming miserable and disengaged during your career transition.  This is the first of a three part series with tips on what to do when you see each of these signs during your job search, and how to avoid becoming the people in the above picture.

Avoiding Anonymity:  There is an old saying that “If you are what you do, who are you when you don’t?” Most executives have put a disproportionate share of their eggs in the career basket, and it is easy to feel invisible when they no longer have a job.  Networking and social situations in general can be uncomfortable for people feeling embarrassed about being unemployed.  Also, executives are not used to people not immediately returning their calls or emails.  Finally, many of their friends were work-related, and they have lost a primary source of community.  A natural reaction is to focus on home improvement projects or individual hobbies, and further inadvertently make themselves more invisible, and ultimately more miserable.

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To avoid anonymity as a source of misery during your career transition, do the following:

  • Develop a concise career brand or identity statement.  When people ask you what you do, don’t lead with ”I am unemployed” or “I am in transition” or “I used to work for…”.  Lead with your identity statement and then mention you are in transition and the specific type of opportunity you are seeking.  For practical help on this, go to  
  • Get involved in groups that will provide a sense of community (e.g. church groups, exercise classes, clubs, volunteer organizations, non-profit boards, transition support groups, your kids activities).  The key is to find a group of people who value you for who you are (not for what you do) and miss you when you are not there.
  • In social gatherings with friends, give a quick update of your status and move on.  People want to know but are uncomfortable asking.  On the other hand, they don’t want to feel that your primary purpose for coming is to “network”.
  • Maintain a healthy balance between social and job search activities.  Career transitions currently are averaging 13 months–They are a marathon and not a sprint.  If you focus all of your energy on your job search, you may burn out.  If you don’t spend enough time on it, you won’t make any progress.



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