Career Transition Touchstones

Transitions are not comfortable. Wouldn’t it be nice if career changes were mapped out for us in neat little how-to packages with “start here and go to there” instructions (complete with arrows and signposts to keep us on track)? Sorry, it’s not that easy.

Hundreds of books and time management gurus contribute to that discomfort because they say we must have a plan if we are to be effective. Certainly, a plan is necessary when trying to accomplish something, but what if you’re not certain about which career to choose?

The first stage of any transition is an awakening or “aha” stage which could involve either a sudden flash of insight about what you want and don’t want or a nagging “do something different” feeling. Ironically, this first stage also calls for an ending. Before something new can begin, something old has to end. That something old could be a job, a career, a way of thinking or maybe your old self.

Saying a mental goodbye to any of the above will be difficult, no matter how attractive the “new” seems. A key question is “Am I willing to let go of the way things are now?” Leaving one career for another involves the loss of part of your identity. It will also probably involve a loss of status and (initially) a cut in pay. If a return to school is required, you’ll be facing financial and schedule changes. Any substantial change means giving up the familiar to gain the new.

Stage I tasks: Consider what you need to let go of before you can make a change. Tell others that you are considering a career change and ask for feedback. Ask friends and family: “What do you see as my strengths? What do you think would be the ideal career for me?”

The second stage of a transition involves major uncertainty. You will run into questions like:

  • What do I really want instead?
  • What do I do next?
  • Which direction do I go?
  • Do I have enough information to make a good decision?
  • How do I accomplish all of this?

Instead of rushing to answer those questions, the main task of the second stage is paying attention. It’s a time of floating, treading water, collecting and preparing. You’ll probably have to spend more time here than you want, but you must allow yourself that time. We are an impatient, “gotta-have-it-now” society. The ambiguity of this stage gets our Inner Critic going with thoughts like:

  • Why can’t I get it together?
  • If I werent so [fill in the blank], I’d know exactly what I want.
  • Why didn’t I get it right the first time?
  • It’s too hard. I’d better stay where I am.
  • Do I really want to start all over again?

You must accept the uncertainty. It’s frustrating, but this second stage is the time for noticing, gathering information and forming ideas BEFORE you begin taking action. Don’t focus on achieving results; concentrate on investigating and exploring possibilities. This requires patience in being uncomfortable with the unknown. Forcing yourself to make a decision or take action too soon may create regrets.

Stage II tasks: thinking, writing (it helps to put your thoughts on paper), reading, researching, talking to people who are doing what you think you want to do.

The third stage is the new beginning and moving forward. You’ve collected some information and assembled options, and you’re ready to take some action. Now is the time to obtain whatever information you don’t have, set goals and schedule what to do next.

Stage III tasks: What other information do I need? What are the next steps? When will I begin taking them?

Keep in mind that the second stage is the hardest. This is where thoughts of making a transition usually fail. When the goal is uncertain or achieving it seems overwhelming, we get stuck and give up. The second stage requires a balancing act. You must sit with the uncertainty, but not get lost in it. How do you know the difference? It is different for each person, but here are my indicators: When I am actively being in the unknown, I feel a bit disengaged from my usual activities. This tells me that my mind is working on a question. Its kind of like a computer program running in the background. I’m able to work on other tasks, but I notice a slight slow down – a small drain on my system resources.

On the other hand, when I get lost in the uncertainty I realize that Im wallowing in it and ignoring the question. I’ve disabled my “noticing, paying attention” feature.

There is another element to any major transition. It requires trust. Trust in yourself and in the future as you navigate through the fear and doubt that are normal parts of change.



by Jane Allen

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