Call it “lack of purpose,” Adam Grant would call it “languishing,” in French it’s known as ennui: That sometimes subtle yet pervasive lack of satisfaction with the activities that comprise your life or work. In the workplace:
…Ennui is going through the motions.
…It’s counting down til you can “get away.”
…It’s addiction to stimulants, sedatives, and temporary “carefree binges” on food, sex, TV, alcohol, and drugs.
…It’s the feeling of drabness and claustrophobia at your desk or office building.
…It’s feeling like you’re on a hamster wheel, no matter how much you achieve.
…It’s pushing happiness just over the horizon — to the next achievement, purchase or big break.
…It’s career “cloud cover,” grey skies over your future that never seem to fully go away.
Maybe the best way to recognize ennui is not what’s present, but what is not:
- Days, weeks, and years gone by, absorbed and energized by passion projects.
- The spring in your step to get to work.
- The sense of gratitude and heartfelt pride in delivering results.
- Personally identifying with the value and expressed values of what you do.
- The risks and emotional rollercoasters of caring— a whole lot.
- A sense of aliveness, possibility, and color (because of what you do and/or how you do it — not just because you’re on vacation or got a big raise).
There’s plenty of people who see ennui — consciously or unconsciously — as a “first world problem.”
I absolutely agree. And first world companies are investing big time right now to address ennui at a systems level — e.g. through coaching, professional development, and employee engagement programs.
It’s not that only relatively privileged people suffer from and can afford to eliminate ennui. It’s that they can’t afford to not.
Turning a blind eye to our own sense of purpose and satisfaction means turning a blind eye to systemic issues and opportunities that extend far beyond our individual lives and welfare.
We choose to either wake up, or numb out.
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