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How to Jump Start Your Career Change (Even When Your Career Goals Are Not Yet Clear)

16 Nov, 2020

How to Jump Start Your Career Change (Even When Your Career Goals Are Not Yet Clear)

Career Change & Career Goals

Let’s look at career change and how to jump start it even when you don’t have a clear goal in mind in a different way.

At up to 186 feet high and nearly five miles long, the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge is impressive. But for some people, it’s a big problem. Why? Because they feel unable to cross it.

If you’ve never been to the state of Maryland in the eastern United States you might not know that this bridge over the Chesapeake Bay is also rated as one of the 10 scariest bridges in the world to cross. So what happens if you want to get from one side of the bay to the other, but fear is stopping you driving over the bridge?

In this case, you still can do it. How? By using a bespoke driving service dedicated to drivers who want to cross the bridge, but don’t want to drive themselves.

In the same way, if you’re unhappy at work, getting started on the changes you want to make can be daunting.

If you’re looking for a way to begin, this article is for you. It’s always easier to cross a bridge, or even build a bridge when your destination in sight. But what if the other side of the bridge is not yet visible?

What if you don’t even know if the bridge in front of you goes all the way to the other side? For many professionals, the reality of career transition is that when they set out to make a change, they don’t know exactly where they want to go. Yet, you can move ahead.

There is no one approach to getting started on your career change that will work for everyone. Each person’s situation is unique. But regardless of your situation, there is one simple exercise that you can do right now.

It begins with a simple question. The question “What do I want from work?”

This simple question is hard to answer for many people. Why? Sometimes because you’ve never really stopped to consider it.  It’s not unusual for clients to say something like this:

“I took this job because I was offered it. I didn’t really think too much about it”  OR  I’ve never really had to look for a job. I was invited to interview for this one. It seemed fine at the time. I took it and I’m still here.”

So the question of what you want from work is important. But it’s also a place where people get stuck. Some parts of the answer usually come easily.

The obvious things that you expect from work. Money. The opportunity to use your skills. You will have your own list. But is there more?

Try the exercise below to go a bit deeper. Follow these five steps:

1)  Start with the opposite.

Write the question “What do I not want?” at the top of a blank page. Many people find this an easier question to answer.

2)  Make a list of all the things you don’t want in your career.

Set a time for 10 or 15 minutes and write a list of as many items as you can think of. Put your internal censor on hold and write as quickly as you can.

Each person’s list of items will be unique based on your personal experience and self-knowledge. Your list might include skills you don’t enjoy using or work environments that you find boring or stressful. It might include qualities of the people you work with. Write anything that comes to mind related to your experience of work.

3)  Next shorten your list.

Mark the top five or six items that have the most resonance for you.

4)  Find the opposites and generate a new list.

Look through the items on your shortened list. Write down the opposites of your “don’t want” items. This is your new list.

5)  Review and refine.

Read through your new list and check that it includes what you want it to include. The key is to be as specific as possible by considering what the item means for you personally.

Say, for example, your “don’t want” list includes customer service. One person may choose this because in previous roles, customer service involved training staff to handle unpredictable situations. So the opposite might be a work role with less responsibility for staff training.

For another person, the reason for including customer service on their list might be that they work for a company for whom customer service is not a priority. As a result they don’t feel valued in their role and feel that their career is not going anywhere. So in this case, the opposite might be a role with more visibility in the company.

To get the most value from the exercise, go beneath the surface. Don’t discount the items on your list, even if they don’t make sense right away. Be curious about them. Ask yourself why you feel like you do.

Take the time to explore the meaning of the items on your list. Share your list with a trusted friend or colleague who is a good listener and is willing to ask questions that help you deepen your understanding.

Now that you have at least a beginning list of what would make your next position a good fit for you, let’s summarize.

Not knowing where you want to go makes it difficult to get started on something as important as career change. Feeling confused is a common experience during change. But it can also cause inertia. You need a small action to get started.

If you’re not yet sure where you want to go, this one step can help you get unstuck. Rather than trying to figure out what you want in your next position, begin with what you don’t want. This is often easier.

Take a blank sheet, and begin your list. From here, you can clarify what you do want. Beginning with the opposite is a way take the first step onto the bridge. A way to gain more clarity. Clarity that will help you change your career for the better.

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  1. Janice (Jan) Mead

    This is such great advice. Thank you for posting!

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