09.19.2016 / Blog Posts Career Corner
Peering out of the window of a skyscraper in New York City at the people hurriedly rushing to their jobs, I felt a sinking feeling in my gut. Just moments ago, I was one of them, and this had been my routine every day over the course of my career: dash to work to do a job that, even on the best days, felt like I was spinning my wheels. Deep down I knew something needed to change; I just couldn’t put a finger on it. I sat back in my chair, looked around at the white walls of my office, then back toward the window again. I thought: Is this really all there is?
At that point, I had a secure job in advertising backed by advanced degrees, I was making a good amount of money, and I was positioned to keep moving up within my company. To others, I had “made” it—but to me, I felt disconnected and disappointed day after day.
Wow, I thought. I was only five years into my career, and I could already sense that I was headed for crisis. Perhaps you can relate? Or fear that one day you’ll find yourself at that point?
Many of us start out our careers with lofty ambitions, high expectations, and optimistic pursuits, yet somewhere along the line we hit a lull of confusion, frustration, and feelings of failure. Although the stereotype is that this crisis hits folks in their mid-40s, it is also known to happen (as was the case for me) in your 20s and 30s. As a career coach to people of all ages throughout the years, I have seen this happen many times to individuals who were able to successfully navigate their way through it.
If you’re feeling on the brink of a job crisis or in the midst of one right now, you’re definitely not alone, but there are things you can do to help prevent or mitigate the event. No matter where you are on your professional journey or what age you happen to be, here are four steps I’ve found that will help you avoid the dip or get you through to the other side.
1. Take Time to Build Your Foundation
The best careers are built on a critical foundation that will stand the test of time and can weather the inevitable pitfalls you’ll encounter—things like your core values, passions, and strengths. Unfortunately, many of us dive straight into a job that we think looks good on paper and don’t take the time to build this foundation, which can lead to upset down the road.
But it’s never too late to go back to the basics. If you’ve never gone through this process or it’s been some time since you did, start by blocking out some quiet time to hone in on or revisit a few important things about yourself:
- What are your core values? Or, in other words, what matters to you most in life? Identifying your values can feel overwhelming, but there are plenty of resources to guide you along the way. Two of my favorites: the free core values workbook offered by Dawn Barclay of Living Moxie and Danielle LaPorte’s resources for finding your “core desired feelings”—essentially another way of identifying the same thing.
- What are your strengths? Sure, you probably know some of these offhand (hello,interview question prep), but sometimes it can be most helpful to get other people’s impressions of you. Try asking 10 friends, colleagues, or mentors what they think your three greatest strengths are, and you’ll likely start to see some patterns. And, truthfully, the answers might surprise you—often our strengths are the things we do so innately that we don’t even recognize them as something special.
- What are your passions? For some, this might seem like the easiest to answer, but a lot of people struggle with it. If you’re not 100% sure, ask yourself questions like: When do I find myself in the zone, both at work and in my personal life? What skills or talents come most natural to me? What gets me out of bed in the morning? What did I love as a child that still excites me?
Collect your answers to these questions in one central place so you can start to see a clear vision of yourself. Consider your current job satisfaction (or lack thereof), and see how this foundation relates. If you realize that key aspects of your situation aren’t aligning with your values, strengths, and passions, that’s a clear sign that it’s time to start making some changes. On that note:
2. Make Choices Based Off Your Core
Whenever you find yourself at a crossroads in your career—be it about accepting a new job, taking on new responsibilities, handling a conflict at work, or anything in between—remember to return to your foundation to help guide you. This way you’re not making decisions based on whims or out of stress, but on how you intentionally want to build your career for the long haul. Here are a few questions worth asking before you make a choice:
- How does this decision align with my core values, strengths, and passions?
- How do I truly feel about the decision I am about to make?
- How would the person I want to be handle this situation?
- How would I feel tomorrow if I make this choice today?
For example, I worked with a woman who was offered a promotion at a higher salary, but the new position would increase her already intense travel schedule. While she was excited about the idea of moving up, she was conflicted about spending more time away from home. She was able to assess her decision more thoughtfully, with her values and professional aspirations as a guide, and decided to negotiate the terms of her promotion to an arrangement that was mutually beneficial. She is much happier with her decision, and her employer gets to grow the company. Win-win!
Without this level of clarity, you may make a decision that will disappoint later on. When making choices from your core, you can even start small: As you face day-to-day decisions, like whether or not to delegate a task, do a quick gut check about whether it aligns with your core before proceeding.
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