How Can I Handle the 7-Year Itch?

Losing a little steam lately? Feeling bored or ho-hum about your work? Maybe you’re experiencing the 7-year itch. (Thanks, Marilyn!) It suggests a decline in your happiness and job satisfaction. Maybe it’s time to change things up.

Think about your current competitive advantage. What aspects of your market have changed the most since you started your business? What changes do you find yourself resisting? What skills used to get rave reviews and don’t anymore? Do you still outshine your competitors? Or do you have a sinking feeling that something is passing you by?

Let’s look at the flip side. What do you love doing the most? Where do you get the most satisfaction? What kind of evaluation looks really interesting, even if you haven’t done it before? Are pragmatic choices weighing you down? Focus instead on your strengths, passions, and dreams. Let the rest fall away. Life is too short to spend it doing things you don’t enjoy.

But where will you find a new market niche, especially in these unpredictable, even chaotic, times? It’s like making a great cocktail. Start with dynamic organizations that are successfully adapting to their environments. Add a pinch of best evaluation practice, cool conference topics, interesting public policies, and evaluator chatter on social media. Shake—but don’t stir. Somewhere in this heady mix lie new opportunities for you.

Picture yourself in the middle of this action, a new version of you—more adaptive and fluid, less structured and constrained, a consultant who is innovative, exciting, and sought-after. If you need to develop some new skills to get there, no problem. Webinars and on-line courses are obvious choices but challenge yourself to find other ways of learning. Develop virtual partnerships with colleagues and encourage an exchange of skills. Engage experts for your next podcast or blog. Ask them to write a response to your latest article or to act as a keynote speaker for your client’s next conference. Lead a workshop on a topic you want to explore. Teach a course. Write a book. Just get out there and make your learning stimulating.

To turn this vision into reality, use your evaluation skills. Build a matrix of new market opportunities (x-axis) and your enhanced skill set (y-axis). Select the top two or three hits and create a two-by-two table of existing/new skills crossed with existing/new opportunities. This should give you a pretty good idea of where to direct you marketing energy and your learning strategy. This time next year, when you conduct another self-appraisal, you should be in positive and wildly new territory. Eight years has a nice ring to it—no need to run to the dermatologist. Enjoy doing with you love and thrive instead!

Gail Vallance Barrington

Barrington, G. V. (2012). Consulting Start-up & Management: A Guide for Evaluators & Applied Researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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