Q: I’m a national sales manager at a medium-sized company. I rose up the ranks, overcoming every obstacle to attain my success. I make a wonderful salary, am respected by my peers, and have a good reputation in my industry. My next career move would be to become the president of a smaller company or senior officer of a larger company, but I know that this isn’t a path I want. To be honest, I’m 35 years old and absolutely bored and feel that my success is empty. Close friends and family members laugh, and they say they wish they had my problems. But how can I find new mountains to climb?
A: It sounds as though you enjoy climbing the mountain a lot more than the view from the top. Frankly, your situation isn’t that unusual. Many people experience a sense of “Is this all there is?” once they've accomplished what they set out to do. Your feeling of dissatisfaction is a signal that you need to find another challenge.
To get out of this rut, begin by pinpointing exactly why your career was exciting in the past. Is it because you overcame incredible odds? Produced order from chaos? Introduced a new product line? Penetrated a new market? Built a winning team? If you can determine the basis for your motivation, you're more likely to reproduce a situation where you can use it again.
Give your company the first shot at your new sense of purpose. Propose a stimulating project that carries only a small amount of financial risk. Your enthusiasm (backed by your reputation and track record) may prove contagious with higher management.
If your organization doesn't share your excitement after several months of gentle persuasion, look around your industry. Many of your company's competitors would likely be very interested to hear your ideas.
If you don't want to take your ideas across the street, you have two other alternatives: Continue to find new projects where you are as a sales manager, or start your own company and keep it relatively small and close to your customers, so that you can experience the joy of building a business from scratch.
Of course, you can also stay put and continue to be unhappy. But by staying put, you'll likely continue to live in the same malaise that’s common among managers who have forgotten that work can be more than just a way to fill time and make money.