Psychologically Checked Out

Posted Monday, February 26, 2018 by Ray Inglesi in Core Themes, clutter

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In my previous career, I spent a great deal of time counseling couples in trouble. The presenting symptoms varied considerably and included such things as infidelity, few common interests, sexual issues, financial problems, tension and disagreement on raising the kids, family/in-law issues, religious differences, job conflicts and the list goes on. The one thing common to all of the above that led to the breakdown in the relationship was poor or non-existent communication.

I also discovered that often, by the time the couple decided to enter counseling, one or the other had already “emotionally checked out.” Oh, they were still physically and legally in a relationship, but they were no longer committed to making the relationship work psychologically. The actual physical separation always came later, sometimes years after the emotional separation.

As a consultant for the past 28 years, I have witnessed the same phenomenon in the business world. Bright, competent and mature professionals often remain in their jobs long after losing their passion and enthusiasm for their work. Why? What happened to these talented and once motivated people? What was missing? What changed? And what were the reasons they chose to remain in a career that lacked the level of satisfaction and accomplishment they experienced in previous years?

These professionals were clearly “stuck”–as stuck as when your foot sinks into a foot of mud. Know the feeling? We’ve all been there at one time or another. The reasons are many and varied, just like the couples who entered into their relationships with the best of intentions but discovered over time that something was missing — the passion and excitement were gone!

When individuals find themselves in this kind of a work dilemma, it is human nature to try to make it work in some way or conjure up a bunch of rationalizations that help them cope with the painful but obvious reality of the situation. Some of the more common rationalizations include:

Each of these is an example of what I call “clutter.” Clutter is a person’s real, but mostly imagined, reason for remaining “stuck.” And clutter is what prevents the person from having “clarity” — and clarity is a critical step toward making better decisions about one’s life and career.

When working with people who are in some way unhappy with their job, I have them identify their clutter from three perspectives. In most instances, these three principles must be in sync if they are to be happy, satisfied and successful in their career.

If one or more of these important principles are missing, you are likely to experience certain discomfort in the form of physical and/or emotional stress. And as the pressure builds, you become increasingly less productive. Most importantly, you begin to compromise your personal happiness and well-being. Forget about any real balance in your life–it becomes very difficult at best!

Now, let me pose a question to you as you read this article. If you had the choice to be happy or unhappy in your life and career, what would you choose? Silly question, isn’t it? Of course you would choose to be happy! Yet, so many people choose to be unhappy and unfulfilled. It is a choice, you know!

Clutter is the culprit! We make ourselves believe there is no way out because we have several important reasons for choosing to remain in our unhappy work lives. And because we choose not to directly address the clutter issues, we begin to slowly but steadily “check out.” Oh, yes, we show up ever day (physically), and we even nod our heads in agreement or disagreement in meetings to give the illusion that we are actually present and interested in what is going on, but often our thoughts are elsewhere. You know that you are not giving 100% of your talents and energies to the task at hand.

My guess is that in every company there are competent, bright and talented employees who have “checked out,” but still continue to collect their “bennies.” The challenge for the leadership and human resource professionals is to find a way to harness the full potential of these “checked out” employees. The challenge to these “checked out” employees is they need to take full accountability for their inertia or irresponsible behavior. Either they must work toward a higher level of productivity or take charge of their life and find a more rewarding career or job!