As a career transitions coach, more and more women have been asking me how to get started making a career change. Usually they are mid-career – and often very successful – and they worry about taking a big risk. They talk about the need to balance career satisfaction with the realities of family and financial responsibilities. Plus, they don’t want to “throw away” all of their successes in the pursuit of something unknown.
Because a career transition can sometimes seem like driving off a cliff “Thelma and Louise” style, I suggest five steps to ease into the process:
1. Identify what's behind your desire for change. Get really clear with yourself about what is prompting the desire for change. Sometimes office politics or long hours may be dragging you down. Or you have a vague feeling of being in a rut from doing the same job for years. But it’s never enough to want to move away from something bad; you must also define what you are moving towards. Before you make any change, take some time to think about what’s motivating you.
2. List the most important outcomes you want. Depending on where you are in your life and your career, you will be seeking different outcomes. Perhaps you want to climb the ladder and make more money. Perhaps you want a short commute. Perhaps you want a job with more flexibility to spend time with your kids. Knowing this in advance will help you select a new career that fits with your lifestyle and long-term goals.
3. Leverage what you've already done. A big mistake that women make when thinking about a career change is believing they have to start from scratch. Instead, keep in mind your transferable skills, like "good at managing people" or "enjoy complex data analysis." You will likely find that your best strengths and talents will serve you well in all sorts of careers. You don't necessarily have to take a big risk to make a big change.
4. Build a group of cheerleaders. Identify key friends and family members who agree with your plan of a career change. You may even want to find a mentor, another woman who has recently made a career change. Explicitly ask your cheerleaders to support the change you are trying to make and to help you keep up your resilience and courage during the tough times.
5. Take a deep breath and make a small change. Change is hard! Sometimes the first small change is actually the biggest of all. So, take a deep breath, have faith in yourself, and get started walking your path towards a new career.
Have you ever thought about your life as a novel that is constantly unfolding around you? You are the lead character, the protagonist on the hero’s journey to accomplish meaningful goals and live the good life. Over the course of your adulthood, the plot thickens and grows as you meet new people and start new adventures. The small stories of your daily life shape who you are and combine into larger stories that give you identities like “leader” and “parent.”
Lately people have been telling me that they are looking around at the stories unfolding in their career and they wonder how we got there. It’s like finding yourself in the middle of scene, playing a role that doesn’t seem to fit. When there is a gap between how you see your identity and the realities of your daily work life, it creates an internal tension and a state of disconnect.
One of the keys to getting out of a bad chapter in your career is to cast yourself as the author of your novel as well as the protagonist. As a coach, the work I do with career transitions clients is informed by narrative identity, an approach that believes we construct our identities through the stories that we tell ourselves and others about the experiences we have in our lives. In this model, your identity is not fixed, but open to change and reconstruction based on the choices you make and the stories you want to be able to tell. Just like the protagonist in the novel, many things about you stay the same as you travel through life, but many changes will happen as well. Becoming the author of those changes puts you in the position to write the story you want to live.
The New Year has become a symbolic time when we reassess our lives and make commitments or resolutions. This practice is narrative identity work in action – we are saying “I want something new in the story of my life.” If your resolution for 2014 is to write the next chapter in your career story, consider Foresight Coaching's new career transitions program that incorporates narrative identity and positive psychology. The eight week program includes weekly one-on-one coaching and activities that guide you through:
· Identifying your natural strengths, motivations, and values
· Creating a personal career biography
· Articulating how you can serve yourself and others through your work
· Removing barriers to living your story – within yourself and your environment
· Getting started writing and living your next chapter
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a complimentary 30 minute phone call to learn more about the program and writing your next career chapter in 2014.
Much of our work-related stress stems from difficult interactions with coworkers and clients. A colleague of mine recently told me a story about how she had been asked by the head of her department to prepare a presentation for the administrative team meeting. She got about two minutes into her talk when the department head interrupted her, changed the topic, and moved on to the other agenda items. She never got to finish her presentation, and felt dismissed and disrespected in front of her peers.
How do we recover from this type of work-related social stress? We cannot control other people or their behaviors. And as much as we would sometimes love to put a big “Do Not Disturb” sign on our office door, avoiding everyone is not a long-term solution.
When your workplace social threat level rises, the best strategies for recovering are self-management habits that decrease the impact of the event on your mood, motivation and productivity. Healthy habits for managing your stress will strengthen your resilience so you are less disturbed by bad interpersonal interactions going forward. Try these three proven strategies:
Emotional labeling. When social stress happens, our body’s natural survival mechanisms kick in and we start to feel emotions such as anger, hurt, and frustration. Rather than ignoring your emotions or snapping at your coworker, close your eyes for a couple few seconds and acknowledge that you are having a natural response to a stressful situation. Non-judgmentally label the emotion as specifically as possible. Then, give yourself permission to move on. You will find that you recover more quickly from the stressful event.
Laugh about it. After a stressful event happens, we have the option of interpreting it in a variety of ways. Do you retell it in your mind – and to others – as a horror story or a comedy? You might find that work-related interactions that were incredibly stressful at the moment can become hilarious stories to tell at dinner parties. You will feel better about yourself and the other person when you can laugh at what happened.
Get some (mental) space. One of the keys to reducing work-related stress is to mentally detach when you are not at the office. Studies show that people who spend their evenings and weekends engaged in hobbies, exercise, and social activities have lower job-related stress. The more you spend time doing activities you find pleasurable and rewarding, the more resilient you will be during times of stress.
Do you feel safe at work? When asked that question, you might think of physical safety. But as our jobs have switched from physical labor and manufacturing to office and customer-service oriented jobs that require a high level of inter-personal interactions, workplace safety has become more about social and emotional safety.
Social stress is the brain and body’s natural response to threatening behavior by other people or undesired interpersonal interactions. Examples of social threats in the workplace include: getting unsolicited feedback, a micromanaging boss, peer bullying, hostile tone e-mails, and being excluded from decision-making that affects your job.
The body’s responses to social threats are biochemically the same as its responses to physical threats. The same parts of the brain activate and the same “fight, flight or freeze” responses trigger hormonal and physical changes in our body. However, when we are in a threatening work environment, we often don’t have the option to escape the threat. We might want to run away from an angry customer, but we can’t. So, the unprocessed stress builds up in our bodies and becomes anxiety, the chronic expectation that something awful will soon occur. Anxiety is the largest growing mental health diagnosis in the U.S., and the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 80% of our medical expenditures are stress-related.
Work-related stresses cause not only physical and emotional harm, but can also lead to disengagement and decreased productivity. A Gallop poll from this summer showed that 70% of currently employed adults are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at their job. Similarly, a recent monster.com survey says that 60 percent of workers experience stress in the workplace on a daily basis. In the same survey, 81% of working adults want to find a new job, and they say respect and appreciation are the things they want the most in a new job (more than better salary or benefits!).
At our workshop during the OD Network conference last weekend, Dr. Sharon Liu and I unveiled our Social Threat Advisory System, a visual modeled after one developed by the Department of Homeland Security. We asked participants to rate their current level of workplace threat. Take a look at the graphic associated with this blog and place yourself on the social threat scale.
In the coming weeks, the Foresight Blog will provide a series of brain-based techniques for overcoming social stress and revitalizing at work. Help is on the way!
This week I gave a workshop called “Your Emotional Business Plan” to a group of up-and-coming women entrepreneurs. We discussed how traditional business plans ignore emotions. They include elements like market strategies, competitive analysis, operations, management and finances. And yet, the emotional aspects of business can be just as essential to success as any of those factors.
In the book The Start-up of You, LinkedIn founders Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha suggest that in today’s economy “everyone is a small business” and we can all take an entrepreneurial approach to managing our careers.
So, whether you work for yourself, a major corporation or a non-profit, you need a plan to manage the emotional ups-and-downs that come with every career. An emotional business plan is a written document that will improve your emotional self-awareness and self-management by articulating the emotions that are holding you back and making plans to increase courage and resilience so that your career can flourish.
Here are five reasons why you should write an emotional business plan.
1. Fear of failure is holding you back. Fear of failure keeps us from starting a business, growing a business, and entering untested markets. In more traditional jobs, fear of failure keeps us stuck in that “dead-end” job we’ve been doing for years. With an emotional business plan, you will identify the reasons underneath your fear of failure and articulate steps you can take to be more courageous.
2. You secretly feel like a fraud. Don’t we all feel like a fraud at one time or another? Also known as “imposter syndrome,” when we feel like an imposter or fraud, we devalue our own expertise and the unique contributions. It’s often difficult for us to speak clearly and specifically about our value – and put a monetary amount on it – because we have been raised to be humble and not brag. Writing an emotional business plan will help you articulate your worth, for yourself and your clients.
3. Ignoring your emotions doesn't work. Successful entrepreneur Chip Conley’s book Emotional Equations reminds us that, “one of the simple truths about life is that the more we ignore our emotions, the more likely they are to wield a powerful influence over us.” If you are harboring emotions but ignoring them – say pretending like you are not scared to send the draft of your book to a publisher – than those emotions will take an even greater control over you. Surfacing these feelings in your emotional business plan gives them less power.
4. Bad is stronger than good. In all realms of life, negative events have a stronger sway on our overall mood than positive ones. For example, people are more upset about losing $50 than they are happy about winning $50. And the effect of the negative event tends to stick with us longer than the effect of the positive event. To counteract this, your emotional business plan should include elements about how you are going to cope with foreseeable negative events as well as strategies for enhancing the positive experiences and giving them more weight and sway over your mood.
5. Your customers/clients make their decisions based on emotions. When we pretend that emotions are not a part of business, we are overlooking a crucial element: most people make purchasing decisions based on emotions. Your emotional business plan is not just about you, it’s also about the emotional needs of your clients and how your services or products are going to meet their needs. Whether you are a solo entrepreneur or employed by a multi-billion dollar corporation, your business will be more successful when you tap into your customer’s emotional sweet spot.
Sometimes the applications of your own research come to you in the most surprising ways.
Last week a colleague, David Elliot, who is familiar with my work on imagined conversations in the workplace sent me a story about how he used it in practice. He was in Boston training a group of 20 young political advocates on how to make a pitch to the media. His organization, Fair Share, is launching an advocacy campaign against federal education budget cuts.
As any good communications professional would do, he prepared a script or “pitch” for the young advocates. Scripted pitches help advocates make key points when they are talking to reporters. During the training, they broke up into small groups and the advocates-in-training rehearsed their pitches with each other. As he walked around listening to them practice, he noticed their pitches sounded flat. They sounded as if they were reading a script they had memorized.
So he brought them back together into one large group and challenged them. He told them about my work around imagined conversations and assigned them the task of spending the next 48 hours having imagined conversation involving them and the reporter they would be pitching the following week. Advising them based on what we know about visualization and conversational preparation, he suggested their imagined conversations include aspects like:
- How will your voice sound?
- How will you change the script in order to put it in your own words, in order to "own" it?
- How will your voice rise and fall as you make key points?
- How will you handled unexpected questions from the reporter?
My colleague let the trainees know that these kind of imagined conversations prior to important speaking events are a way that we can rehearse the scene and improve our confidence. Mental preparation, he reminded them, helps us to improvise in the moment to make our best pitch for what we believe.
As a researcher, I’m inspired by this application of my work. These young advocates are getting ready to speak out for what they believe. Good luck advocates-in-training! May your real-life pitches be as successful as you imagined!
The last Foresight Blog posting about de-cluttering your career suggested that the How Did You Spend Your Time? worksheet can guide you in discovering time wasters as well as identifying ways to cultivate time building habits. Are you sticking to the commitments you made to reduce time wasters and focus on your priorities?
When we attempt to make changes in our lives, the most common reasons that they don’t stick are social pressures and internal habits. In the workplace, social pressures can be the constant barrages of e-mails, days full of endless meetings, people stopping by your desk unexpectedly, and new assignments. No matter your job, you will likely have pressures from your coworkers, colleagues and leaders to accept work that will clutter your day and, ultimately, your career.
The issue of internal habits is more complex. Often when our career has gotten cluttered, there are good reasons within our psyche as to why this has occurred. And it can be emotionally challenging to make major, or even minor, behavior changes. The brain's natural inclination is to behave in the same patterns and habits we have been practicing.
To maintain your clutter-free career, try these four strategies to persist in the face of social pressures and the pull of internal habits:
Say no before you say yes. While it’s great to add new activities that are in the service of your career priorities and goals, do so only after you have eliminated a few time wasters. Whenever you add new things, also say no to activities that are not working for you.
Put it in writing. We are much more likely to keep our promises to ourselves when we put them in writing. And don’t just include the overall goal; also add some specifics about how you’ll know whether you are on the right track. For example, write down your goal of carving out more time at the office to do writing and creative work, and note that you’ll implement it by blocking two afternoons a week on your calendar.
Keep a reminder in your environment. Identify an object that reminds you to de-clutter. It could be anything from a photograph to a small toy to a post-it note with an inspirational saying. Place the object where you will see it multiple times during the work day as a reminder of the commitment you’ve made.
Appreciate yourself. Because our minds naturally remember our successes less powerfully and vividly than our failures, keep an ongoing list on your smart phone of all the times you honor your commitments to yourself. Check in with this list when you need a boost of confidence and appreciate how well you are doing at maintaining a clutter-free career.
Remember the first Foresight Blog posting, when I invited you to join me for big ideas in small bites? Last week’s Third World Congress on Positive Psychology was an overflowing buffet of big ideas about how to live our lives with more meaning and fulfillment. Since the conference, friends and colleagues have been asking me for a summary of the highlights and new research findings. While I can’t possibly fit all the big, juicy bites into one blog posting, below I summarize three talks that most inspired me. For those of you who live in Los Angeles, later this summer I’ll be giving a free workshop about how positive psychology can help your business flourish. E-mail me at email@example.com to receive more details about this event.
As with any good conference, the kick-off keynote presentation was a thought-provoking speech by one of the founders of the field, Martin Seligman. His talk was about prospection, which he defined as mental representations of the future, and he challenged the audience to think creatively about the positive benefits of envisioning the future. He suggested that past-based thinking tends to be negative, the present is fleeting, and the future is the home of hope and meaning. Because of our ability to hold a positive future outcome in our minds, we sacrifice happiness in the moment to achieve meaning in the future.
Another inspiring speaker was Chip Conley, founder of one of the most successful boutique hotel firms in the country, who used positive psychology to generate optimal experiences for hotel guests and employees. He said that companies have gotten smarter about their environmental footprint, and now is the time to get smarter about their “emotional fist print.” Conley argued that toxic work environments create emotional fallout in all aspects of life and the leader’s job is to manage the emotional pulse of the organization.
A theme across many sessions that I attended was the importance of relationships in every aspect of life. As a big fan of storytelling, I opted to attend the talk by Hollywood movie producer Lindsay Doran who spoke passionately about how the great movies that we think are about accomplishment (Rocky, Dirty Dancing, The King’s Speech) are actually about how the relationships in our lives are transformed during our pursuit of accomplishments. In other words, the accomplishment that movie audiences most care about is the ability of our relationships to survive and thrive in spite of our struggles.
What does all of this mean for our day-to-day lives at home and at work? My best takeaway is: if we want to feel meaning and fulfillment in future, cultivate positive relationships and positive emotional experiences in the present. What’s your takeaway?
An earlier Foresight Blog posting introduced the idea of imagined conversations that we have in our minds with people from our real-life, including our coworkers. During these imagined conversations, we are talking with our boss, peers or subordinates about all sorts of topics related to actual situations at work.
Many people have asked me whether work-related imagined conversations are helpful or harmful. My response: it isn’t that clear cut. Having conducted research on the topic and talked with many clients about their actual imagined conversations, my conclusion is that they can be helpful or harmful depending on the situation.
For example, in my research the majority of the people said that they felt negative emotions during their work-related imagined conversations. But, importantly, a sizable portion experienced mostly positive emotions (21%) or a mixture of positive and negative emotions (18%). In order to shed more light on the positive aspects of imagined conversations, I took a closer look at the stories told by the people who experienced positive emotions.
In June I presented the results of this data analysis at the 3rd International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) World Congress. The findings suggests that we may be able to do our jobs better when we imagine conversations with our coworkers. People can flourish at work by invoking imagined conversations that feel emotionally positive, nurture relationships, and support accomplishment of one’s job.
Specifically, the people who mentally rehearsed work-related conversations in advance of a difficult conversation reported that they developed more conversational options, were more prepared, and had a sense of greater competence to perform their job. Imagined conversations helped them feel more confident, focused, thoughtful, organized, effective, and able to achieve desired outcomes. Through imagined conversations they became more in touch with their thoughts and assumptions about their coworkers, increasing their ability to sensitively communicate.
Ultimately, the goal is to have effective, productive workplace relationships and imagined conversations are one technique that can help people accomplish this.
Can you remember a positive work-related imagined conversation, or a time when you felt you accomplished your job better by mentally rehearsing a conversation? I invite you to share your story in the comments section.