Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Building Your Best and Happiest Career”
When I was in my most unhappy period at the end of my 18-year corporate career, I was the definition of “stuck.” At age 40, I had spent many years slogging through jobs and promotions, trying so hard to land a senior role that I could love and feel I was great at, to work with people I respected, toward outcomes that mattered to me. But I failed.
By the end of those 18 years, I was lost and deeply unhappy with my career. Worse than that, I faced debilitating crises including serious chronic illness, sexual harassment and gender discrimination, feeling extremely isolated and burnt out, narcissistic leaders, toxic colleagues and zero work-life balance that led me to miss precious time with my young children that I couldn’t ever get back.
Finally, after a brutal layoff in the days following the tragedies of 9/11, I did get moving. I said “ENOUGH!” to what was hurting me in my life and career, and I changed it. I became a marriage and family therapist and then a career and leadership coach, and launched my own business focused on outcomes that deeply matter to me.
But before finding the courage to make those critical changes, the core problem I faced was that I was clueless as to what else I could do for a living that would earn what my family needed and not require me to start completely over. And frankly, I didn’t understand myself or recognize my own unique talents and abilities or how I could leverage them differently. I didn’t understand what a career “pivot” could look like, or what steps would be important in opening new doors to great new directions.
I had already worked so hard that I didn’t want to “blow it”—make a huge mistake and fail big again, and lose everything in the process. I felt I was out of time and options.
So I did the worst thing anyone can do if they want to change careers or pivot to a new direction—I did absolutely nothing in the way of change or growth.
I didn’t network or explore new avenues. I didn’t talk to inspiring people who were doing great things that made my heart skip a beat. I didn’t attend conferences or workshops that could teach me new things. I didn’t learn a new skill. I did nothing to change my situation. In fact, I didn’t even accept a great new job that was offered to me because the salary was less and I worried it might bring more of the same pain and conflict I experienced in my current work.
So, what is THE worst thing you can do if you’re unhappy in your career and want to change it?
The worst thing to do is to wait until you think you have it all figured out and have “all the answers” before you make any moves or pursue steps that will help you grow beyond who you are today.
Real progress doesn’t just magically happen. Nothing will change if you wait until you think you know exactly what you want to do before you take any steps toward your own development. And success won’t come at all if you’re so desperately afraid of failing and losing everything that you won’t even consider exploring (in risk-free ways) some new directions.
In order to get unstuck, you can’t wait until some magical revelation or event occurs that will solve all your problems.
Instead, you have to begin to get moving now, and start taking brave, empowered micro steps unlike those you’ve ever taken before that will open new doors for you, and help you see that there are indeed more options available to you than you currently recognize. Confidence doesn’t suddenly strike. It’s in the consistent execution of these brave (and usually intimidating) tiny steps that will guarantee you will grow the confidence, self-trust and self-esteem you need to make a positive change.
If you’re unhappy in your career but have absolutely no idea what else you could do that would earn good money, below are four empowering steps that you can take right now:
#1: Explore making a pivot
Start identifying new areas or fields you’re keenly drawn to, and explore how you can apply your existing skills and talents to these new directions.
As an example, let’s say you’re a sales director for a telecommunications company and you’re really good at and enjoy sales but can’t stand working in telecom.
Let’s say too that you’ve always loved international travel and every chance you get, you’re off exploring distant cultures and lands. If that’s what you’re passionate about— having travel experiences that change you—think about how you can potentially shift to a new sales role focused on selling or promoting cultural or international experiences, perhaps in the travel, education or hospitality fields.
Ask yourself: Where can I leverage what I already know and do well, but in a new direction that I’m passionate about?
Talk about it: Start talking to anyone you can think of who might have some good ideas for you or contacts to explore how you can continue doing what you’re great at, but pivot to a new direction that you’d be thrilled to support.
#2: If you believe you want a completely new career, narrow down three directions that you’d like to explore and “try them on” in risk-free ways first
Many mid-life professionals who come for career coaching are “broken down” in their work and think they have to chuck their careers completely to be happy. But they often have no idea what they would do instead, or they have fantastical ideas of new directions that they think they want.
In actuality, they often don’t have a true understanding of the professional and living identity of these new roles they’re considering. And their lack of clarity about the new directions keeps them locked in paralysis – the “swirl” as I call it.
To get a clearer sense of directions you might like to pursue:
Take a step back and identify fields and areas of interest you’ve always been drawn to since you were young. And think about all the natural talents and skills you’ve had that may have gone underground that you can now bring forward.
Do this key exercise that I share below in my TEDx talk “Time to Brave Up.” Write down the “20 facts of you” – the top 20 outcomes or accomplishments that you’re most proud of in your life. Then dimensionalize all the skills and talents that allowed you to achieve that accomplishment. This is a list of talents and abilities that you’ll want to amplify and bring forward in the next chapter of your career and professional life.
As a part of this process of bringing forward your natural skills and talents that make you uniquely valuable in the world, take these steps:
- Understand yourself more deeply, and identify what you really value, enjoy and cherish in life
- Brainstorm a full list of your skills and capabilities and research new career directions that need these skills
- Explore what it would take to get more training and experience in one or two of these exciting fields that light you up to think about
- Read about the college or post-graduate curriculum and other certification training offered in these areas and assess how you feel about pursuing additional learning
- Make sure you’re not just “running away” from your career because you are broken down it and have deep emotional challenges that seem to repeat over and over. Typically that experience is not about your “career” per se, but more about how you’re operating within your career.
- Talk to 10 professionals who are engaged in these interesting fields, to get an unvarnished, real-world perspective of what’s involved in succeeding in these roles
In talking to others about what you’re thinking about, here’s a tip.
Tell them about your idea of what you’d like to pursue, and ask these two questions:
Do you have any ideas for me?
Is there anyone you know who might be helpful to speak with?
These two questions are powerfully generative, and you’ll be given a great deal to think about and new contacts you can speak to who could be very instrumental in the next chapter of your life.
Finally, for any career change or pivot, take a long, hard look at your finances, and wherever possible, do what’s necessary to build some savings for a “career growth fund” that will allow you some flexibility to explore a few new options (without chucking your current job).
Ask yourself: What are the outcomes that I want to support in my work and how can I leverage my existing skills to further those outcomes?
Talk about it: Narrow down three possible directions you want to learn more about, and connect with people on LinkedIn and in your personal network who are doing this work (or know people who are), and get their feedback.
#3. Ask for some support for this process
We can’t build an amazing career alone and in a vacuum. It’s just not possible. You need inspiring and empowered people in your life to help you stay motivated, energized and engaged in the process of growth while you commit to exploring some new directions. And you need not only mentors but influential “sponsors” and “ambassadors.” These are people in your life who think the world of you and what you do, and also have clout, influence, and connections to open doors for you that you can’t on your own.
Find an accountability buddy, mentor or supporter who can help you develop—and stick with—a concrete plan for exploring and trying on a new career or a pivot that will make you happier. It takes time and commitment, but one thing is certain: if you don’t get on the path to exploration, nothing will ever change for you.
Ask yourself: Whom do I know that might be a great mentor or coaching buddy for me as I engage in this process?
Talk about it: Reach out to a few good friends or colleagues who love what they’re doing professionally and have taken brave and powerful steps to get there, share what you’re hoping to do, and ask if they might be open to providing some informal mentorship for you.
#4: Address your power and confidence gaps now
Finally, if you want to build a happier, more rewarding life and career, you most likely have to do some stretching beyond who you are today. It takes bravery and also self-confidence to know (and believe) you’re worthy of more joy and fulfillment and to act in ways that will pave the way for that.
Sure, you can make a career change or pivot, but for it to unfold in a way that will bring you joy, success and emotional reward, you need to close your power gaps and engage in self-growth, now.
In the process of writing my latest book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss, I conducted a survey for folks to identify if they were facing any of the 7 power gaps my research uncovered. A staggering number of professionals studied (98%) had a least one gap and 76% indicated that were facing Power Gap #6: Losing Sight Of Your Thrilling Dream For Your Life. This gap describes the condition of our having had an exciting vision for our lives and work when we’re just starting out, but then losing that dream in pursuit of “success,” money and other things that take us away from what we truly want.
Here’s more about that gap and how to overcome it:
In the end, if you’re ready for a new professional life, don’t stay stuck in paralysis and confusion. Just get moving. Update your LinkedIn profile with what you’ve done that you’re most proud of and include mention of your outside passions as well. (Check out the free articles and resources at the bottom of my LinkedIn support page for help). Start talking to new inspiring people about what they do for a living. Reach out to former colleagues, professors, and bosses, and others you respect and admire and tell them what you’re thinking about. Attend a conference, workshop or class that excites you and builds your toolbox.
Just start exploring new possibilities in a risk-free way. So often in life, just one brief conversation or new idea can open an amazing new door that will change your life forever.
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For hands-on help to build more confidence, success, reward and impact in a career you love, join me in a Career & Leadership Breakthrough program, including my upcoming 8-week coaching & training course The Most Powerful You, starting May 10th.
Also, check out my latest book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss and listen to my biweekly podcast Finding Brave for ongoing support and inspiration from expert guests who offer fantastic growth tips and strategies to explore.