Thousands of professionals are stuck in unhappy careers because they have a misguided belief that if they start exploring a new career, they’ll lose everything that matters to them. They worry that they’ll risk losing hard-earned money, status, title, flexibility, their place in their field because of years of experience, and more. It’s fear of loss and of giving up the “security” of their current paycheck and benefits that keeps them paralyzed, as well as an inability to put their finger on exactly what they would want if they could make a change. (Most have no clue what that would be).
The truth is that nothing outside of yourself – including a job – is truly “secure.” It’s only what you carry within yourself – your insights, ideas, talents, experiences, perspectives, capabilities, and the contributions you’ve made and will make – that are able to bring true security in terms of being able to continuously make a good living in rewarding work in these rapidly-changing times. Many jobs will become completely obsolete in years to come, so we need to understand how to remain relevant and our work viable. And any of us (including me) who were promised big, long and lucrative corporate careers by our bosses and leaders only to be laid off or fired afterwards know how true this is.
If you hate your career and want something different, get moving towards making important changes today. Don’t wait. To start on the path to creating a happier, more rewarding career, understand that it’s in the simple, doable microsteps that you can take every day that will create huge change. And you don’t have to lose or risk anything by engaging in those. You’ll only grow more confident, authoritative and marketable in your work if you do take these steps.
Here’s what to do first, on this order:
Get to know yourself like never before
Conduct a thorough assessment of your entire career and what you learned from it, before you make any moves or decisions. Devote several hours this week to taking meaningful, deep stock of exactly where you have been, where you are today, what you want to leverage and let go of in your career going forward. (Click here to download my free Career Path Self-Assessment survey to help you with this exercise. It’s a list of essential questions that every professional needs to answer before they make any decisions or moves. I wish someone had asked me these questions 30 years ago because if I’d answered them honestly, I wouldn’t have made the huge career mistakes I did.)
Before we make any changes or take action, we have to understand ourselves and our situation (and how we got there) with much greater clarity and awareness. Doing this self-assessment allows you to think about every job you’ve ever had — what you loved and hated about it, and what you learned from it and what you might want to leverage going forward. You’ll also identify your standards of integrity, non-negotiables, values, desires, past achievements that made you proud, and your longings for meaningful, happy work.
Once you do that, you’ll have a much better sense of what you really want. And you’ll be braver about what you will say “no” to going forward.
Thousands of professionals I’ve coached and trained believe that they have to have all the answers to what they want before they can begin talking to people, networking or using their skills in a different way. It’s simply not true, and that belief keeps you from connecting with the very people who can help, and from “trying on” exciting new directions that you could engage in today without even changing your job.
Start talking to everyone you know and just share that “I’m in an exciting new juncture right now where I’d like to leverage my skills in (X) to support organizations that do (Y).” Immerse yourself in learning and talking to others, to start brainstorming new directions. Have a dinner party or get-together with the 10 people you respect the most, and have each of you share one thing you’d like help with. Ask for help and take it. (Here’s more about how asking for help the right way will transform your career).
And go out this month and engage in the act of contributing meaningfully to an exciting new project, cause, volunteer effort or hobby today that will get you moving in a new direction that feels thrilling to you. It doesn’t have to be the answer to a new career – just DO something exciting and see what you learn and gain.
Try it on
If you already have an idea of the new direction you want to pursue, don’t quit your job and leap to that yet. Try on this new job/direction/career in every possible way – behaviorally, financially, spiritually, emotionally, physically, etc. – to understand the living reality if this new work. Intern, volunteer, consult in this new direction so that you experience first-hand the living identity of it to assess accurately if it’s a great fit for you. Don’t make the painful mistake I did (when I left corporate life and became a marriage and family therapist before understanding the true reality of that life) of wanting something so badly that you ignore all the signs that this new career won’t work for you.
Develop your own ideal job description
Build out your own ideal job description in writing (just like those job descriptions you see on LinkedIn or on company websites) that describes the role you’d dream to serve in. Flesh it out completely with qualifications, experiences, and outcomes you want to support. Then start sharing that with everyone you know, verbally and in writing.
Don’t stay locked in a vacuum – ask for help
You can’t build an amazing, rewarding career all by yourself. You need other people to help you. Learn how to build a powerful, uplifting support network and community, and get moving toward demonstrating your thought leadership and value to this network.
First, understand that you can and should start “attracting” great hiring managers and others to you by demonstrating your own thought leadership, perspective and experience. Show off your “chops” and the thought leadership and value you bring to a new organization or role. Use LinkedIn’s publishing platform to start blogging regularly on topics that you have a unique perspective on. And start curating and sharing valuable posts and articles from others who are doing work you respect, and comment on that work. Get out there in a bigger way and attract interested parties (and hiring managers who’ll respect and appreciate your viewpoints) to your network.
Right now, start connecting with people you admire and respect both online and in person, and build a mutually-beneficial mentoring or support relationship so you can have inspiring professionals in your corner who can serve as your “board of directors” of your own personal brand. Then leverage all that they know to help you land the exact direction that will fulfill your needs and wants.
Take each of these steps and thrilling career growth and change will begin to happen in powerful and joyful ways.