When your IT job feels hopelessly stale, what's next?

When every workday feels like a repetition of every previous workday, find a way to break out of your rut -- before your rut breaks you

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Dear Bob ...

I'm almost embarrassed to ask your advice about this because it isn't much of a problem as problems go -- except that it is for me.

[ Also on InfoWorld: "Prospective employees: Select your employer as they would select you" | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

My problem is that I'm feeling like I'm getting hopelessly stale -- like I'm stuck in a rut, doing the same thing over and over again (I'm a sys admin, and my colleagues and I are good enough at it that we don't have the fun of fighting fires).

I go to work every day dreading the same old routine, and yet my skills are perfectly suited to the job I have, and I'm working for a good company and like my manager. Even worse, I can't come up with any other career choice that fits your "three circles" test (what I'm good at, what I enjoy, and what other people will pay me to do).

So I feel like I'm stuck, and it's a bad feeling.

Any thoughts?

- Stuck

Dear Stuck ...

A few.

The first: Talk with your manager about the possibility of moving beyond the technology itself. Find a reason and a way to spend more time with business managers and the end-user community, talking about what they'd like to be able to do with information technology that they can't right now, for one reason or another. The technology can get stale. Even when people aren't an endless source of satisfaction or fulfillment, they can be a pretty good source of amusement.

Next: See if a local community college or other adult education institution could use you to teach a class in systems administration.

Or perhaps a local nonprofit could use some help keeping its computers up and running (or could use some help figuring out how it could make use of some computers in the first place). You could get paid for the teaching. You could get endless satisfaction from volunteering. And once you're involved with a nonprofit, you might consider helping out with its nontechnical work. Helping people face-to-face is a terrific way to break out of a rut.

Another: Stop thinking vocationally. Is there a subject you've always been interested in but haven't had a chance to pursue? Now's the time. Take a night class. Join a book club. Sign up for one of those vacations where you help researchers in the field. Contact one of the agencies that organizes walking tours in countries you've always daydreamed about visiting.

Take up tennis or raquetball and sign up for a "ladder" -- a great way to meet people you'd never have encountered otherwise. Ask them about themselves -- more interesting than talking about yourself for both of you.

You didn't indicate your marital status. If you're married (or in a steady relationship), take ballroom dancing lessons together, or take up birdwatching together or what-have-you.

My guess is that you've wrapped up too much of yourself in your career. It might be time for you to explore some other avenues for your satisfaction.

I once heard what I was told was an old Irish saying: "Life's a banquet, and you're invited."

If it isn't, it should be.

- Bob