When I was in my most unhappy period at the end of my 18-year corporate career, I was the definition of “stuck.” At age 40, I had spent all those years slogging through jobs and promotions, trying so hard to finally land a senior role that I could love and feel I was great at, working with people I respected, engaging in tasks I enjoyed. And I desperately wanted to be a part of a company that was delivering products and services that made me feel I was doing something meaningful with my time. But by the end of those 18 years, it just wasn’t happening. And worse than that, I was chronically ill, exhausted and extremely isolated and burnt out.
The core problem was that at that stage of my life, I was clueless as to what else I could for a living that would earn what I and my family needed and not require me to start completely over. But nothing I pursued in the way of help offered a concrete solution or a new direction that made sense to me. I had already worked so hard that I didn’t want to “blow it”—make a huge mistake and fail big again. I felt I was out of time and options.
So I did the worst thing anyone can do if they want to change careers or pivot to a new direction—I did absolutely nothing. I stayed stuck. I didn’t network or explore new avenues. I didn’t talk to inspiring people who were doing great things that made my heart skip a beat. I didn’t attend conferences or workshops that would teach new skills. I did nothing to change my situation. I didn’t even accept a great new job that was offered to me because I worried it might more of the same.
What is the worst thing you can do if you’re unhappy in your career and want to change it?
The worse thing to do is to wait until you think you have it all figured out and have “the answer” before you make any moves.
Progress just doesn’t work that way. Nothing will change if you wait until you think you know exactly what you want to do before you take any steps. And success won’t come at all if you’re so desperately afraid of failing that you won’t even consider exploring a new direction.
In order to get unstuck, you can’t wait until some magical revelation occurs to you that will solve all your problems.
Instead, you have to begin to get moving now, and start taking brave, empowered microsteps that will open new doors for you, and help you see that there are indeed more options available to you than you currently recognize. Confidence doesn’t suddenly strike. It’s in the execution of these brave (and often intimidating) steps that will guarantee you will grow in the confidence and self-esteem you need to make a change.
If you’re unhappy in your career but have absolutely no idea what else you could do that would earn good money,below are three empowering steps that you can take right now:
Start recognizing what you’re drawn to outside your job, and explore how you can apply your existing skills to a new direction that has the same “essence” as this thing you love
Let’s say you’re a sales director for a telecommunications company and you’re really good at and enjoy sales but can’t stand working in telecomm.
Let’s say too that you’ve always loved international travel and every chance you get, you’re off exploring distant cultures and lands. If that’s what you’re passionate about— having experiences that change you—think about how you can potentially shift to a new sales role that is focused on selling or promoting cultural or international experiences, perhaps in the travel, education or hospitality fields.
Ask yourself: Where can I leverage what I already know and do well, but in a new direction that I’m passionate about?
Talk about it: Start talking to anyone you can think of who might have some good ideas for you or contacts to explore how you can continue doing what you’re great at, but pivot to a new direction that you’d be thrilled to support.
2. If you want a completely new career, narrow down three directions that you’d like to explore
Most professionals who come for career coaching and want to chuck their careers completely have no idea what they would do instead, and that keeps them locked in paralysis.
To get a clearer sense of directions you might like to pursue:
Take a step back and identify fields you’ve always been interested in since you were young
Understand yourself more deeply, and identify what you really value, enjoy and cherish in life
Brainstorm a full list of your skills and capabilities and research new career directions that need these skills
Explore what it would take to get more training and experience in these exciting fields
Read about the college or post-graduate curriculum and other certification trainings offered in these areas and assess how you feel about pursuing additional learning
Talk to 10 professionals who are engaged in these fields, to get a real-world perspective of what’s involved
Finally, for any career change or pivot, take a long, hard look at your finances, and wherever possible, do what’s necessary to build some savings for a “career growth fund” that will allow you some flexibility to explore a few new options (without chucking your current job).
Ask yourself: What are the outcomes that I want to support in my work and how can I use my existing skills to further those outcomes?
Talk about it: Narrow down three possible directions you want to learn more about, and connect with people on LinkedIn and in your personal network who are doing this work, and get their feedback.
3. Get an accountability buddy for this process
We can’t create an amazing career alone and in a vacuum. You need inspiring and empowered people in your life to help you stay motivated, energized and engaged in the process of growth while you commit to exploring some new directions.
Find an accountability buddy, mentor or supporter who can help you develop—and stick with—a concrete plan for exploring and trying on a new career or a pivot that will make you happier. It takes time and commitment, but one thing is certain: if you don’t get on the path to exploration, nothing will ever change for you.
Ask yourself: Who do I know that might be a great mentor or coaching buddy for me as I engage in this process?
Talk about it: Reach out to a few good friends or colleagues who love what they’re doing professionally and have taken brave steps to get there, share what you’re hoping to do, and ask if they might be open to providing some ongoing mentorship for you.
* * * * *
If you’re ready for a new career, don’t stay stuck in paralysis and confusion. Just get moving. Update your LinkedIn profile to include mention of your outside passions. Start talking to new people about what they do for a living. Reach out to former colleagues, professors, and bosses, and others you’ve respected and tell them what you’re thinking about. And attend a conference, workshop or class that excites you.
Sometimes just one brief conversation or idea can open a new door that will change everything for you.
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