I was recently coaching an early career employee (in her second year of employment in a government agency). She had received a promotion and was working in an area with colleagues that she liked and who were friendly and supportive of her development. Her work and her team were perfectly fine. And that was exactly the problem. While there was nothing wrong with her job, I could sense that there was something missing for her.
If you’re in a growth phase of your career, one of the worst ways to feel about your current work is ‘fine’. Fine means that you’re comfortable. And unfortunately deep, transformative learning doesn’t happen when you’re comfortable.
In fact, (assuming that the workplace isn’t completely toxic and you’re not being subject to bullying or harassment), ‘not fine’, ‘difficult’, ‘challenging’, ‘frustrating’ can often be a preferable description because where there is discomfort there is learning. It may be learning about how not to handle certain situations/dynamics, or the kind of behaviours you wish to avoid, or self-learning about the kinds of work/people that (don’t) energise you and paths that you don’t want to follow (in early career often it can be easier to work through a process of discovering what you don’t want to do, rather than being focused on finding exactly what you do want).
If, however, you’re in a phase of your life where career growth is not your priority, then ‘fine’ is absolutely fine! Stability, support, sufficient challenge to prevent boredom without being too stressful, good workplace conditions are all great things to seek in your work when your growth and learning is focused elsewhere in your life – perhaps caring responsibilities, further education, personal development, health, other (non-work) projects.
But I work primarily with graduate employees in the first few years of their career, and with few exceptions, these are motivated, intelligent, engaged individuals who have entered the workplace with the ambition and drive to learn, grow, and to make an immediate impact. So, if this is you, or someone you know, listen closely to how they describe their experience at work. ‘Fine’ (or variants of) is a red flag to watch out for!