‘Lost Generation’ Finding its Way (Commentary by Jeffrey Wood)

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“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” – Psalm 30:5.

It’s that time of year when golf and the lake call out to the office-bound executive. Yard work can even seem more fun than dealing with a difficult project or spreadsheet.

Combine seasonal wanderlust with a pressured economic market and everyday distractions can bleed into detachment.

Maybe it’s Baby Boomer syndrome. Maybe it’s the groggy, self-evaluating hangover that always follows excess like the economic rush Northwest Arkansas partied on in recent years. Maybe it’s just old-fashioned burnout.

Whatever the case, increasingly we’re hearing from executives who feel disconnected at work. Call it mid-worklife crisis.

Particularly for those company leaders who have already accomplished a lot, and who expected to be coasting into a retirement countdown right about now, the slowdown in the economy has caused some to look for affirmation.

Many ask, “What’s the point?” “What have I been working so long for?” “Don’t I deserve to be enjoying myself by now?”

Like Ernest Hemingway’s “lost generation” of disenfranchised American writers who are romanticized for blowing off work for play, the result can be a whole lot of lost productivity. (The term, “lost generation,” was actually coined by novelist Gertrude Stein. Hemingway took it mainstream in his novel, “The Sun Also Rises.” Leave it to a man to take credit for a woman’s idea.)

For our “lost generation” of despondent leaders, most have a deep desire to re-engage but some struggle with finding the drive to do it. If you find yourself in this category, understand a few things first.

It’s normal. You’re not alone. And you still have a lot to contribute. For most, it probably simply comes down to that “F word” we’re not supposed to say. Fatigue.

Traditional American work ethic says roll up your sleeves, get your head in there and scratch and claw and don’t look up until you’re 65. And even then, here’s a broom because you might as well be useful in retirement. I happen to agree with that work ethic, save for one caveat.

Two weeks’ vacation per year does not recharge anyone’s batteries. A couple of retired Wal-Mart executives who are friends put it something like this: “For companies like Wal-Mart, where the pace and stresses are so enormous, one of the company’s biggest challenges is figuring out how to help, particularly senior talent, recharge so they can keep going. And honestly, a month off doesn’t really do it either.”

But unless we’re going to become France and all shut off our computers and sit around smoking and complaining, business has to find a way to reinvigorate key people within the traditional spectrum.

Locally, there are a number of companies that offer curriculum on corporate learning and culture development. Some of them include: The Soderquist Center in Siloam Springs, Seasons Venture International, McKinney LIFE Adventure Center and Howard Mohorn & Associates in Springdale and Fayetteville’s Executive Communication Consultants and Johansen Consulting. NorthWest Arkansas Community College and the University of Arkansas also offer professional development programs that can be helpful.

In the end, however, it comes down to squaring off with you.

A class or program can really help point you in the right direction, but it’s up to the individual executives to reconnect with the passion that got them going in the first place. Virtually everyone who supervises people inherited that task as a function of being promoted. And as all managers know, people and people problems are the most draining aspect of their job.

Try restructuring some of your responsibilities for awhile. Learn to delegate, and dig into the reasons you entered your field. Particularly for the machismo male, it’s also important to articulate your mindset to a peer or professional. So get over yourself and do it.

More so than anything else, it’s usually about feeling valuable again. That can come from finding new ways to contribute, even if that means – heaven forbid – learning some new ideas from Gen Xers and all this new fangled technology.

Whatever it takes, deal with it head on and get in there and get cookin’ again. We need you.