Do You Suffer from Sunday Night Syndrome?

Imagine it is Sunday evening: not too early, not too late, mid-evening. You start to feel it. It is familiar to you because you feel it around this time every Sunday evening. It starts  small: a vague feeling of unhappiness. You try to ignore it—it is barely noticeable at first. But over the course of the evening, it continues to grow until you cannot ignore it (or deny it) any longer. You are depressed. It may not be one of the medically recognized depression types, but its symptoms are just as real: pervasive sadness, loss of appetite and difficulty falling or staying asleep

There are two sources of unhappiness you can experience from a job: systemic and inherent. Systemic unhappiness is caused by attributes of your job that have nothing to do with how you spend your day. Maybe you hate your commute, or you hate your boss, or your co-workers, or you do not make enough money. You can actually have systemic unhappiness and still enjoy your job. Systemic unhappiness does not cause Sunday Night Syndrome. What you need to if you experience systemic unhappiness in your job is to find the same job—if the one you have makes you happy—only with different circumstances. You need to change the source of the systemic unhappiness.

The Sunday Night Syndrome, on the other hand, is inherent to your job. It is unhappiness you experience as a result of how you spend your day. The feeling, deep inside, that you are wasting your time, your are unfulfilled, and this is not why you are here. You are selling out for a paycheck and it is taking its toll.

I experienced Sunday Night Syndrome back in the late 80s. That is when I coined the term. I had been working at Hughes Aircraft Company (now Raytheon) as an engineer for nine years by then. My first five years there were great because I was a design engineer. It was a time before PCs, so I spent my days in a lab with an oscilloscope and a soldering iron making things, and it was fun. Then they promoted me to project engineer. I suppose they called it project engineer because manager of minutia was already taken. To make matters worse, we were over-staffed. I used to joke that we had twenty thousand people doing the work of ten thousand. That was back in the days of Cost-Plus military contracts when a bigger payroll meant bigger profits. So, even if I did not have viable work to do for forty hours a week, I still contributed to the bottom line. To say I was bored would be an understatement.

There is only so much unfulfilling boredom you can take before your body lets you know something is wrong. You can lie to everyone else, but not to yourself. The overwhelming feeling of depression you face every Sunday night at the thought of going to work the next day can morph into self-loathing. You hate yourself for the situation you are in because you know two things beyond doubt: your choices are the reason it is happening and you are the only one who can get you out of it.

I knew I had to get out, but I was not the kind of person to just quit a job without something to fall back on. I found a compromise. I requested a six month leave of absence (without pay) and it was granted. I suppose my managers at that time also knew we had too many workers, so granting me the leave of absence was probably a relief to them. I was single, with no bills, modest rent and a few bucks in the bank, so I could afford to go six month without a paycheck. In my mind, I had just quit my job, with the option to return.

The first thing I did during my leave of absence was to get part time job tutoring math. It got me out of the house and the money helped. That part time job morphed into a full time job tutoring. I was not making nearly as much as I had been in engineering, but I made enough to get by, and more importantly, I was no longer suffering from Sunday Night Syndrome. And when my six months were up, I confirmed what my managers back at Hughes Aircraft already suspected: I was not coming back, ever.

When I was working at Hughes as an engineer, what I really wanted to do was sales engineering, but I was thwarted at every turn. I suffered from the classic Catch-22: I could not get a job as a sales engineer without sales experience. Having not been born with sales experience, I was stuck.

After a year of tutoring I tried my luck again at seeking employment as a sales engineer. This time I was fortunate to find a company that was willing to train me—no prior sales experience needed. The job had three requirements: 1) had to be an engineer—check; 2) had to have contacts within Hughes Aircraft (they would be my customer)—check; 3) had to have not worked at Hughes for at least one year (that was the rule for selling into Hughes)—check, check, check.

By quitting my job I had unwittingly set events in motion to create an opportunity for myself I could not possibly have foreseen at the time. I got what I thought I wanted by giving up what I knew for certain I did not.

I am not going to tell you to quit your job—not in this economy. But I will tell you that life is short, and if you suffer from Sunday Night Syndrome then you are paying a dear price for whatever it is you think your job is giving you. All I can do is leave you with the famous quote from Steve Jobs’ Stanford University commencement speech:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. … Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

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I Wish the Resume Would Die

I have probably had about thirteen different jobs in my adult life, and they have run the gamut. I was self employed, formed a two-man partnership, worked at a three-person startup, a few mid-size companies and one or two of the Fortune 500. In thinking back, it occurred to me that I never got a single job as a result of submitting a resume and waiting for someone to call me back and schedule an interview. Some jobs I got did not require a resume, but the ones I did get that required one, the resume was always presented at the time of the interview, like at a job fair. I had a chance to downplay (overcome?) my resume with a good interview.

I am an above-average communicator and I would like to think a pretty good interviewer, but I absolutely suck at writing my own resume. I am genetically deficient in whatever chromosome is required to catalog and quantify my own accomplishments. One of the reasons I struggle is that almost everything significant that I have ever accomplished working for someone else I accomplished as a member of a team.

Resume experts will point out that you have to frame your accomplishments in terms of the bottom line: how much did you make the company or how much did you save the company. Hey, I am an engineer. I don’t save money or make money, I spend it. I work with a team of engineers, we test stuff and hopefully it works. Not much to put on a resume.

The system we have in place today, submit your resume in response to a detailed list of job requirements, does not work. And the main reason it doesn’t work is that most employers do not know how to specify a job’s requirements. I remember one time seeing a job opening for a program manager. The job required a minimum of 18 years of program management experience. Do you know what they call a program manager with 18 years of experience? Retired. Eighteen years? Are you kidding me? If I needed brain surgery and the brain surgeon told me she had only been performing brain surgery successfully for five years I would let her operate. Who came up with eighteen years? Did they do a study and discover that program managers with seventeen years of experience generally didn’t cut it? If you have been doing your job for 18 years you are more likely in need of a career change than a job change.

The only thing the requirements-resume duopoly of insanity has done is to foster a cadre of people who have learned how to job the system by seeding their resumes with key words. Keywords meant to mimic the requirements that target the obvious, but not the valuable. I cannot help but think the day Bill Gates started Microsoft he probably could not have gotten a job at IBM—didn’t meet the requirements (probably 18 years of programming).

Sometimes the prefect employee comes with an imperfect resume. How many of us would get an interview for our current job if we had to submit our resume? It seems to me there are much better ways to find employees.

Why does any employer hire anyone? To solve a problem. You are not an employee, you are a problem solver. If an employer wants to find their next great employee they should not post the job’s requirements, they should post a problem. Or a test. Or solicit some creative work. See who responds.

It takes nothing to fire off a resume, but it takes some initiative to do a homework assignment. Requiring a challenging submittal would eliminate all but the most enthusiastic candidates. And it would do something else.

I do not know how many job openings there are on right now. Let’s say there are two million. Do you know how many of those job openings list as requirements “good communication skills?” Two million! Everyone wants an employee who can communicate. Can you learn that from a resume? Probably not. But you can learn it by requiring it as part of the submittal.

And if the employer finds a candidate who responds to their posted problem with enthusiasm, good communication skills and a creative solution, does it matter any longer what is on their resume? Of course not.

I think it is time to put the resume out of our collective misery and start using the new technology available to us to find better and more efficient ways to match employers and employees. What do you think?

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Life Dealt You a Bad Hand – So What!

It’s not about winning the battles, it’s about never giving up. ~ Unknown

More and more I find myself using poker as a metaphor for life and success. I have never played poker, and I certainly would not do it for money, but I find myself mesmerized watching it on television. It is fascinating to watch people try and solve partial-information problems. They know what cards they have and they know what cards are on the table. What they do not know are the cards the other people have. And in that situation they have to find a way to win the hand.

If you watch professional poker long enough you will probably come to this conclusion: to win a tournament, to actually eliminate everyone else, you have to be good AND you have to be lucky. Skill alone will not do it. While the top-ranked players do win from time to time, they get eliminated far more often. No matter how good you are, you have to have a little luck along the way. But luck alone certainly will not do it, because luck always runs out. If you want to keep winning, at some point you are going to have to win when luck is not on your side. Professional poker players find a way to win when they are not dealt the best cards.

When they get a lousy hand of cards, great poker players do not automatically throw in their cards and forfeit the hand. What they do is think to themselves, “How can I win this hand in spite of these cards? How can I make something out of nothing?” And that is where the metaphor for life comes in.

Everyone can win the poker hand with a royal flush just as everyone can succeed in life when everything is going their way. The trick is to find a way to succeed even when everything is not going your way. To find a way to win even when you have lousy cards. And the first step to doing that is to believe you can, just as the poker player does. And they do that by asking themself the empowering question from above: How can I win in spite of this?

At some point in their life, everyone gets dealt a crappy hand, just as in poker everyone eventually gets a 2-7 off suit. There is no way around it. Maybe you will you get fired. Maybe you will get dumped. Maybe you will get foreclosed on. Maybe you will have lousy cards. So what! You know what to do. Try to win in spite of it. You may not win the hand, but ask that question often enough and you are bound to win you share of tournaments.

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