So you've been in your job for a while, perhaps you've enjoyed what you've done, had a few wins, that sort of thing.
Then, one day you notice that things aren't quite as good as you remember them being. You wake up in the morning with a sinking feeling: "oh no, I have to go to work today." The job's the same, but it's just not giving you that sense of fulfillment that it used to.
Perhaps you've noticed that you're not as influential around the place as you used to be. Bosses and colleagues who used to consult you all the time and seek your opinions now aren't doing that so often, or not at all.
Maybe there's been a change of management above you and the culture of the organisation has changed, so that you're noticing clashes with your personal values.
Or perhaps you've realised that you're reaching your use-by date. You're tired and the old drive and enthusiasm that you once had for your work just aren't there any more.
What to do?
If you're like most people, by the time you become aware of the issue it's beginning to bother you: it's on your mind all the time and perhaps you're beginning to feel a bit stressed and anxious about where your life is taking you. You know you can't keep on as you're going, at least not for much longer. You're going to have to do something to change the situation, change your direction, find something new.
But hang on a minute, this is what you know, this is the life you've become comfortable with. Changing direction is going to mean getting out of your comfort zone, stepping into the unknown and trying something different.
Not only that, you've tied your identity to your role or profession. When you introduce yourself, you present yourself as "manager of so-and-so" or "doctor" or "professor" or whatever your title is. How will you cope when you no longer have that role or profession?
Experience will tell you that you can go on ignoring the feelings for a while, but they will not go away and are quite likely to continue to grow until you find yourself in a desperate state of mind, overwhelmed with anxiety or perhaps falling into depression. That's not a pleasant prospect. It would be much better if you recognised the problem early, and did something about it.
If your heart is telling you that it's time for a change, listen closely. Don't ignore it and hope it'll go away, because it won't.
I'm often asked how long one should stay in any particular role, as if there were a rule that governed this. The answer is, as with most questions of this kind, "it depends." It depends on you, what you want to achieve in your life and career, and how well your current role is helping you to reach your objectives. It depends on whether you feel sufficiently challenged by the demands of the role, and whether you feel satisfied or even fulfilled by what you are doing. It depends on the role itself and whether it is static or is changing and growing as the organization itself changes and grows. With all those variables, of course it's difficult if not impossible to put a time-limit on it.
Having said that, as a general rule of thumb I'd say that when you've been in your current role for five years you'll have a pretty good handle on it, you'll be highly competent at doing it, you and your team will be kicking goals, but you'll be starting to feel too comfortable. There are no challenges, or very few. You're cruising. Danger, Will Robinson! You're on the edge of complacency. If you don't make some changes, pretty soon your satisfaction in your job will start to tail off and your performance will start to decline, simply because your heart isn't in it any more.
Always be constantly on the alert for that feeling starting to creep in. If you're ever bored at work and you wish that something more interesting would happen, or you wake up in the morning feeling less than enthusiastic about what's waiting for you at work, take a good, hard look at yourself. Ask yourself, "what's new? What's better? What's next?"
The strongest advice I can offer on this subject is this: do not ignore any feeling that it's time to move on. If (when) that feeling comes up, take the time to engage in some deep self-reflection. Be brutally honest with yourself. And if (when) the answer comes to you that you are indeed done with this role, be proactive in finding, and moving to, a new role that excites you, challenges you, and most importantly, takes you closer to achieving your life and career goals.
There is good news about comfort zones. They are not elastic. When you stretch one, it stays stretched. All it takes is the courage to push against your self-imposed limits. But that's a story for another day.