What happens when a successful professional feels like they are in the wrong place at the wrong time? Their work begins to lose meaning, and they no longer look forward to going to the office. The challenges and accomplishments of the past seem unconnected to the present day. Their career discontent grows slowly.

I see a lot of clients who have taken two or three years to work through various stages of career discontent before taking action. They finally realize that it is time to stop complaining about their job and do something concrete to make a career change.

What does career discontent feel like?

These clients often report that their dis-ease with their assignment started with a vague sense that something had changed. Usually, this isn’t the result of a significant event like a massive budget cut or being assigned a new boss from hell. The dis-ease is often overlooked for months or even years as financial obligations keep these unhappy feelings at bay. Often they will say, “I should have come to see you years ago.” In the early stages, dis-ease at work is often hard to identify.

You are 45 years old or so and you have been at the job for about three years. Every now and then something happens that makes you feel a twinge that something is not right quite as right as it used to be. Incidents like an underappreciated point of view in an important meeting or a smaller bonus than you expected. But nothing very dramatic happens at this stage.

You are likely to bury your feelings and commit to sticking it out. Why? For the sake of the family or to support your lifestyle or because the idea of finding a new job is literally too hard to think about.

What’s the result?

You may deny your feelings and start to settle for less. You practice a kind of willful underperforming. You stop being ambitious about your own life and begin to cruise along in a B minus version of the life you have hoped for. Executive coach Richard Leider coined the term “rustout” to describe the situation. Rustout is like a low-key nightmare that isn’t so bad that you wake up automatically. To wake yourself up, Leider says that you need to stare deeply into the feelings that come up when you start to ask yourself, “is this all there is?”

The good news is that if you start to face it squarely, there are resources available. I am likely to hear from clients that they are ready for change but not yet sure of the right direction. Finding that direction requires a willingness to invest in oneself and to make the change from a state of “rustout” to a meaningful and satisfying new career.


Peter Sherer is a nationally recognized career coach who offers clarity and confidence to mid-career and senior executives in transition. His rigorous assessment tools enable his clients to identify a meaningful assignment that uses all of their skills and experience in just two short days. Learn more and get in touch with Peter today.