I meet people who are many flavors of stuck in their careers. There’s the exhausted, overwhelmed, identity-questioning parent of a six-month-old variety. The golden handcuff choosers who can’t imagine a career they’re passionate about and stick with a mediocre role—the flexible devil they know. Or there are my risk-averse, stability seekers—put it up for a toxic boss and mountains of bureaucracy. I’m still getting paid every two weeks, right?
When I ask each of these people and others what their ideal next role would look like—PhD’s, JD’s and MBA’s notwithstanding—they all say the same thing. I don’t know. They often want me to provide the answer. Friends, I wish I were that magical. There’s still time, right?
Instead of showing up to our session with my tiara and wand (two accessories I truly do own), or coming up with a solution from my personal perspective, I set my client up to discover his or her own answer by focusing on these things:
1. Welcome the uncertainty
I have some news, type-A loves (my people—I get you, I really do.). You may not have an answer or a clear-cut direction to take right away, but you’re going to be OK! Instead of cursing this period of uncertainty, invite it into your life knowing that it is your key to finding something that is not the obvious next choice, something with meaning—a role that makes you feel like you’re in your skin for most of your day (instead of the 5 minutes before a meeting starts). Walk through your life during this time with openness to recognizing clues. When do you feel interested, curious, excited, alive? What were you doing, who were you with and what about that moment lit you up?
2. Create space to reflect and experiment
Brilliant ideas do not appear during overwhelming, over-scheduled, stretched-too-thin times of your life. They simply don’t. If this is how your life currently feels, make some shifts in how you’re managing your time and on what you’re choosing to make a priority. Set different boundaries in your work and at home. Do you really need to do laundry twice a week or binge-watch House of Cards (yes, tough call, but now is the time to make tough calls)? Say no to things and to people that aren’t a top priority for you with my approach to The Inspired No. Block out time in your calendar to get quiet and time to reflect on what you love doing, the clues you found that week, and your career highlights to date. Experiment with new skills and ideas by taking classes, picking up a freelance project and reaching out to the people with whom you want to connect.
3. Do the things you love like they’re your job
Lucky for me as a lifelong self-improvement junkie, I picked up a phrase in my teen years that has always been part of my process during times of uncertainty. “Go towards the things you love and see what happens.” During these times, I’ve volunteered, joined a running group, read the top YA novels of the year, signed up for a Coach Training Certification and started a blog. While some of these things simply gave me more energy and gratitude to keep going, some of them transformed my life. You never know which of the things you choose is going to be the one that makes the difference, but man, are you going to have more fun during the process of finding out.
4. Get honest and vulnerable with your supportive VIP’s
This time of uncertainty is not all unicorns and roses—even for the most enlightened of you. Gather the people who will hold your hand through the rollercoaster, cheer you on for the smallest of wins and even celebrate that you still don’t know—but you’re figuring it out. It takes courage to admit you don’t have all the answers and that you’re sitting with it to see what happens. And in taking that step with your VIP’s and building that bravery muscle—you’re opening yourself up to challenges that are outside of the current set of experiences you can imagine for yourself. If you don’t have supporters, this may be part of the reason you’re stuck. Begin reaching out to people with similar interests and life goals—both online and in real life to begin this shift in building out a team.
When you practice these things for at least one to three months (instant gratification seekers need not apply), your perspective begins to change and instead of looking for clues under rocks—they can begin to dart out at you like you’ve been matched at Wimbledon with Serena. In taking these clues seriously and pursuing them as they appear (or bonk you in the head), you will uncover new, exciting opportunities. Some may feel wrong, strange or better for some years down the line, but others will be there for you to dive into—and deep, right now, with urgency… and you will be shocked that you had never thought of them before.