Navigating The Ebbs and Flows of a Working Life

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I’ll be honest with you – sometimes I just want it to be easy.

There are days when I don’t want to ask myself if a gig I’m taking has integrity to my professional mission statement. I don’t want to hustle every day to earn my keep while doing something I love. I don’t want to stress something that I love to do by monetizing it.

There are days when I miss writing as a hobby, my blog as a hobby, and my dreams of being published were still dreams. When I wonder if I have any words left in me to put down on paper, or anything of value left to say.

I used to think that these days were signs of weakness, that they were a reflection of something dark within me: that I was a charlatan, an impostor, a fake, a phony. I used to think that days when I felt like this meant that I was full of it – I didn’t believe in my own work. That I was a hypocrite.

But the more I live, the more I talk to other Uncommoners, the more I observe people adapting and thriving in this tumultuous world, the more I realize that these days are nothing of the sort. They are just days. They are just part of the ebb and flow of a working life.

One of the things I didn’t realize when I first started out on my own Uncommon Life 5 years ago was how heavy the mantle of career ownership can feel at times. How being so engaged and aware of your profession and its relationship with the rest of “your life” can be exhausting and depleting.  It requires a level of focus and commitment that is almost impossible to maintain on overdrive, no matter who you are or what you want from your working life.

Looking back, I see that there have been times of great intensity and times of reticence; times of just-you-try-to-drag-me-away-from-my-computer and times of don’t-force-me-to-sit-back-down-and-work.  There have been renaissances and dark ages, or as the wonderful Kammie K said, ebbs and flows.

And they are totally normal.

Everyone experiences these ebbs and flows.  And they sometimes stink. The flows – when you are highly motivated and driven in your working life – are amazing. For me, they are always periods of prolific content production and ideas and actions.  When it’s flow, I feel confident, capable, and purposeful: I have a vision and plan and am loving every minute of executing the plan.

But when ebbs happen, you feel demotivated, fed up with all the hard work, and dream about the easy life. Ignorance does start to feel like bliss, and you can regret having that revelation about making more out of your working life. You look at your friends who never experience that eureka moment, and start to see them has having it so easy, so carefree.

What is really challenging or unnerving about these ebbs is that it is hard to tell sometimes whether an ebb is really an ebb, or an indication that a significant change needs to be made. Are you just in a natural state of ebb, or are these feelings of hesitation and resistance a sign that you need to change course?

I recently met a woman who had changed companies 4 times in the last 3 years; when I asked her why, she said that while she had come in enthusiastic and motivated, she eventually had settled into a period of disinterest with all of them. To her, that disinterest signified she was in the wrong place, and so she made a change. The high of enthusiasm returned, and she felt fabulous – and then the reluctance returned. Hearing her story, it was pretty obvious she was chasing the flow feeling.  But could I blame her? Flow is filled with certainty, ebb is filled with doubt.

The question is, what can any of us do to determine if we are in a normal state of our working lives, or if a change is in order? How do we navigate the ebbs and flows without sticking our heads in the sand and ending up right back in the same position we were in before we had our career revelations: miserable with our jobs and yearning for something more?

As far as I’m concerned, this is still an open question.  The best strategy I can recommend is when you’re feeling “ebby” take a moment to write down what excited you about the path you chose to begin with and ask yourself if those things still move you. I have found that even when I’m in an ebb state, I can acknowledge to myself that I would rather do the work I’m doing that anything else, even if I’m not engaging with it entirely at the moment. If I didn’t feel that way, then I would have to assume that it was more than just ebbing.

I chose the picture that accompanies this post because for me, it just set the perfect mood for thinking about ebbs and flows.  Kammie is a genius, because that is really the best way to describe the oscillating feelings, the pendulum of normal emotion in a working life.  It is the feeling of lying on the beach, right at the tide point: all of a sudden, the wave tumbles over you, encompassing you and overwhelming you with positive feelings of flow. And then slowly, it draws back, ebbs away, leaving you alone and cold, until the flow rushes over you again, surrounding you with purpose.  It is on this tide point that all Uncommoners live their working life.

Have you been aware of feelings of ebb and flow in your working life? I would love to hear about your experience and how you’ve navigated it!

Here’s to your Uncommon Life,


Written by Nacie Carson

Nacie Carson is a the author of The Finch Effect (Jossey-Bass), founder of The Life Uncommon, and CEO of Working Life Media, LLC.

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