Tiffany B. Brown

Two-year itch: Staying motivated when you can’t move

In relationships, we hear about the ‘seven year itch.’ but when it comes to our careers, is there such a thing as a two-year itch?

I first thought about be two year itch after a conversation with an acquaintance about why he left his last job: “After about two years, I just need a new challenge,” he said.

I reflected on my own career and knew what he meant. The longest I have ever worked for a company was four years. I only stayed that long because we were at the height of the dot-com bust. In 2001-2002, it was a lot easier to stay than it was to find a new job.

Perhaps there is something to the idea of the two-year itch.

In her book “The How of Happiness,” Sonja Lyubomirsky explains the psychological phenomenon of hedonic adaptation. Simply put, it’s the tendency for people to adapt to their current situation, and return to their base level of happiness after a life-altering event. Lyubomirsky cited a German study of newlyweds that showed the happiness boost of marriage wore off after about two years.

Perhaps it’s the same with jobs. I posit that the two-year itch is really a return to our baseline levels of happiness and job satisfaction. We start a new job and 24 months later, our enthusiasm and motivation are gone or diminished.

Of course, the easy way out is to search for a new job. Yet in a down economy, that process is much harder. Besides running to a new job every time you feel a little restless isn’t necessarily the best look for your resume.

So you stay at your job, but how do you stay motivated? How do you remind yourself everyday to do a good job and be fulfilled? What techniques have you tried to adjust your attitude?

12 Responses to “Two-year itch: Staying motivated when you can’t move”

  1. RustyTanton says:

    I also used to suffer from the two-year itch, but I've been at my current job four years or so. I watched Amber bounce around from job-to-job after leaving the same place a few years ago. It didn't work out for her and she's back, which I think is a powerful testimonial that it's a better place to work than a lot of others. I would have to want to start my own company or be offered a truly extraordinary opportunity (like working on President Obama's web staff or something) to want to leave. At more places than not, a job is a job.

  2. RustyTanton says:

    I also used to suffer from the two-year itch, but I've been at my current job four years or so. I watched Amber bounce around from job-to-job after leaving the same place a few years ago. It didn't work out for her and she's back, which I think is a powerful testimonial that it's a better place to work than a lot of others. I would have to want to start my own company or be offered a truly extraordinary opportunity (like working on President Obama's web staff or something) to want to leave. At more places than not, a job is a job.

  3. patricia says:

    I've been cutting up my life in two year chunks since I started working I think. I get bored quickly and am constantly looking for what else is coming around the bend. The longest I was with an org has been 8 years, but I had a promotion every two years. A year into each new position, I was already thinking ahead to year two and what I needed to do to get a) more responsibility and b) more money. Two year chunks are manageable for me. I can assess and reprioratize things fairly quickly and yet still have enough time to actually make some progress.

    As for staying motivated, that's hard if I don't get new tasks to work on. So I try to keep busy. Often this meant getting my stuff done as quickly as possible and then branching out to other people/departments to learn about what they were doing. Sometimes this caused a bit of conflict with the supervisor but it was that or sit at my desk and twiddle my thumbs. I hate having to look like I'm busy. I find that more tefious and frustrating than actually being busy.

  4. patricia says:

    I've been cutting up my life in two year chunks since I started working I think. I get bored quickly and am constantly looking for what else is coming around the bend. The longest I was with an org has been 8 years, but I had a promotion every two years. A year into each new position, I was already thinking ahead to year two and what I needed to do to get a) more responsibility and b) more money. Two year chunks are manageable for me. I can assess and reprioratize things fairly quickly and yet still have enough time to actually make some progress.

    As for staying motivated, that's hard if I don't get new tasks to work on. So I try to keep busy. Often this meant getting my stuff done as quickly as possible and then branching out to other people/departments to learn about what they were doing. Sometimes this caused a bit of conflict with the supervisor but it was that or sit at my desk and twiddle my thumbs. I hate having to look like I'm busy. I find that more tefious and frustrating than actually being busy.

  5. misterjt says:

    For me, it's a couple things:

    1. I let people know I'm open to new challenges and go after the ones that present themselves. I'm also quick to take on leadership roles/responsibilities but that's because I generally don't think anyone's smarter than I am.
    2. In the times I've been under-challenged but understand that it's a function of the cycle of the work (i.e. there were lean work times in the reality tv web business), I find non-work hobbies/challenges to fill the time and don't give work more time than it deserves. That's how my first blog got started, why I took on editing at LAist, trained for a marathon, and spent 9 months being a tae-bo freak. They were all projects that either had a defined time span (but high return on that investment of time) or that I could flex when work became exciting again.
    3. Do what you love or be on the path to doing what you love. If your work has particular meaning or purpose to your life's goals, keep your eye on that prize and maximize the opportunity. Without those 4 months at crappy Amp'd Mobile, I wouldn't have been ready for my gig at the house of mouse nor been able to go to SXSW in 2006. That may seem like a short time span but I hated that gig from the first minute I walked through the doors. I'd have quit in the first week if not for a desire to learn some things and go to south by for free.

  6. misterjt says:

    For me, it's a couple things:

    1. I let people know I'm open to new challenges and go after the ones that present themselves. I'm also quick to take on leadership roles/responsibilities but that's because I generally don't think anyone's smarter than I am.
    2. In the times I've been under-challenged but understand that it's a function of the cycle of the work (i.e. there were lean work times in the reality tv web business), I find non-work hobbies/challenges to fill the time and don't give work more time than it deserves. That's how my first blog got started, why I took on editing at LAist, trained for a marathon, and spent 9 months being a tae-bo freak. They were all projects that either had a defined time span (but high return on that investment of time) or that I could flex when work became exciting again.
    3. Do what you love or be on the path to doing what you love. If your work has particular meaning or purpose to your life's goals, keep your eye on that prize and maximize the opportunity. Without those 4 months at crappy Amp'd Mobile, I wouldn't have been ready for my gig at the house of mouse nor been able to go to SXSW in 2006. That may seem like a short time span but I hated that gig from the first minute I walked through the doors. I'd have quit in the first week if not for a desire to learn some things and go to south by for free.

  7. misterjt says:

    For me, it's a few things:

    1. I let people know I'm open to new challenges and go after the ones that present themselves. I'm also quick to take on leadership roles/responsibilities but that's because I generally don't think anyone's smarter than I am.
    2. In the times I've been under-challenged but understand that it's a function of the cycle of the work (i.e. there were lean work times in the reality tv web business), I find non-work hobbies/challenges to fill the time and don't give work more time than it deserves. That's how my first blog got started, why I took on editing at LAist, trained for a marathon, and spent 9 months being a tae-bo freak. They were all projects that either had a defined time span (but high return on that investment of time) or that I could flex when work became exciting again.
    3. Do what you love or be on the path to doing what you love. If your work has particular meaning or purpose to your life's goals, keep your eye on that prize and maximize the opportunity. Without those 4 months at crappy Amp'd Mobile, I wouldn't have been ready for my gig at the house of mouse nor been able to go to SXSW in 2006. That may seem like a short time span but I hated that gig from the first minute I walked through the doors. I'd have quit in the first week if not for a desire to learn some things and go to south by for free.

  8. misterjt says:

    For me, it's a few things:

    1. I let people know I'm open to new challenges and go after the ones that present themselves. I'm also quick to take on leadership roles/responsibilities but that's because I generally don't think anyone's smarter than I am.
    2. In the times I've been under-challenged but understand that it's a function of the cycle of the work (i.e. there were lean work times in the reality tv web business), I find non-work hobbies/challenges to fill the time and don't give work more time than it deserves. That's how my first blog got started, why I took on editing at LAist, trained for a marathon, and spent 9 months being a tae-bo freak. They were all projects that either had a defined time span (but high return on that investment of time) or that I could flex when work became exciting again.
    3. Do what you love or be on the path to doing what you love. If your work has particular meaning or purpose to your life's goals, keep your eye on that prize and maximize the opportunity. Without those 4 months at crappy Amp'd Mobile, I wouldn't have been ready for my gig at the house of mouse nor been able to go to SXSW in 2006. That may seem like a short time span but I hated that gig from the first minute I walked through the doors. I'd have quit in the first week if not for a desire to learn some things and go to south by for free.

  9. I should clarify that I <3 what I do and the folks I work with. But I am feeling that familiar itch. Generally speaking, I hate working, but I've gotten used to eating and nobody else has offered to feed and house me on their dime, so to work I go.

    I'm not looking for a *new* gig either. I'm just trying to figure out how to break through this wall and stay passionate. This is a small company where career growth doesn't really have a path and doesn't quite exist.

    Maybe the better question is: How do you challenge yourself and move up where there is no up? Is it a matter of changing your perspective on what "up" is? Or is the only answer to move on?

  10. I should clarify that I <3 what I do and the folks I work with. But I am feeling that familiar itch. Generally speaking, I hate working, but I've gotten used to eating and nobody else has offered to feed and house me on their dime, so to work I go.

    I'm not looking for a *new* gig either. I'm just trying to figure out how to break through this wall and stay passionate. This is a small company where career growth doesn't really have a path and doesn't quite exist.

    Maybe the better question is: How do you challenge yourself and move up where there is no up? Is it a matter of changing your perspective on what "up" is? Or is the only answer to move on?

  11. misterjt says:

    Interestingly, Zen Matters posted something about motivation today: http://zenhabits.net/2009/06/why-motivation-doesn

  12. misterjt says:

    Interestingly, Zen Matters posted something about motivation today: http://zenhabits.net/2009/06/why-motivation-doesn