Feeling Obsolete and in the Way?March 30 , 2022

Refinding your mojo at work.


  • Eighteen months of pandemic stress, uncertainty, and upheaval have taken their toll on society’s collective and individual mojo.
  • People who cling to outdated versions of what energizes them should rethink their strengths and how they benefit a work team.
  • Rediscovering the unique experience and perspectives a person provides colleagues can bring a renewal of energy.

Q: Every time a new idea or initiative comes up at work, it just makes me tired. I feel like I’ve done it all a hundred times before. I feel like I’m the grumpy old person who’s always saying, “That will never work” and “We’ve tried that before,” and I know my colleagues — most of whom are younger than me — are getting frustrated. I worry that I’m obsolete and in the way, but I’m also terrified of finding something else at this point in my career. I feel paralyzed. Help!

A: You, my friend, have lost your mojo. You aren’t alone. Eighteen months of pandemic stress and working under unfamiliar and uncertain circumstances — not to mention unprecedented upheaval in many people’s lives — has taken its toll on our collective and individual mojo. The much-touted Great Resignation is genuine as so many of us desperately try to get our groove back.

However, before you start practicing your “take this job and shove it” exit dance, it might be worth exploring how you can get your mojo back within this role.

One idea is to re-visit your energizing strengths: things you are both good at and enjoy. It’s this last piece that’s critical: enjoyment. We all have things we are good at — often skills sets we’ve spent years building — but that we find tedious or draining. I’m wondering if you, like many mid-to-late-career professionals, are stuck in such a mojo-sucking space.

One of our mistakes with more (ahem) experience makes is to cling to outdated versions of our energizing strengths. For example, early in my career, my superpower was analysis. Give me a database of Home Depot locations with related census tract data, and I would reverse-engineer their location strategy. I loved that stuff, and I was good at and rewarded for it, and it got me where I am.

But while I still find it relaxing to spend an hour or two playing with data, analysis isn’t my jam anymore. My analytical skills are outdated, and I don’t enjoy it the way I used to. It’s time for others to take that on, so I can focus on contributing what I’m good at and what I enjoy. It’s that combination — what you’re good at and what you enjoy — that’s key to finding your mojo.

So start thinking about your energizing strengths and how you might apply them to support the team meaningfully. Put Happiness to Work has a detailed chapter on how to find your energizing strengths. It starts with using a traditional strength-finding tool like Gallup’s CliftonStrengths and then takes you through a process of prioritizing those strengths by how much energy they provide when used.

Once you’ve discovered — or updated — these energizing strengths, think about how you could apply them in your current role. You may not be in a position to rewrite your job description completely, but knowing them gives you a direction to lean toward when you have a choice.

And don’t be limited to only the strengths that come up in these surveys, either. We’ve all got superpowers that are unique to us and this time in our career. Here are a few examples of energizing strengths you may have developed as a mid/later-career person. Perhaps you find you are both good at and enjoy one of these, or maybe it will inspire insights into some related strength you have.

  • We’ve seen a lot of initiatives fail. Can you take the lead on post-mortems to make ideas stronger before moving forward? (Pro tip: be explicit that you are taking this role as a service to the team, not as a devious plot to kill all innovation. Otherwise, your colleagues might write you off as an irredeemable Eeyore.)
  • We know that a good idea never stands on its own merits (much as we might like it to). Can you help boost your team’s organizational agility, identifying who needs to be on board and what they need to hear to be supportive?
  • We know how people work. Can you help your colleagues identify and address the human undercurrents — the conflicting emotions, interpersonal dynamics, egos, and insecurities that surround any group of humans — before they derail your team’s work?
  • We’re good at the big picture. We’ve seen some stuff. Can you take a coaching or mentoring role, even if it’s unofficial or undercover? (Make sure you focus on supporting them in solving their problems by sharing different perspectives or ideas. No one likes to be told what to do, even when they ask for advice.)

If after giving it the proverbial “college try,” this effort doesn’t reactivate your work mojo, you may have exceeded your shelf life in this role, and it is time to move on. You may realize there’s no space for your energizing strengths in your current role, or you may be ready for something new. But you can rest easier knowing you tried to make it work. Those energizing strengths, when integrated into your resume and cover letter, can help you find a new role that brings your enthusiasm back to work.

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