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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We tend to think of time as a limited resource. We say things like, “there are only so many hours in the day” and “I’m already working 24/7.” But what would it feel like to think of time as something flexible that we can build and expand?
Consider the difference between activities that are time wasters and those that are time builders. Time wasters are things that happen throughout your day that take precious time away from your priorities. Time wasters include technology disruptions like instant messages or Facebook, drop in visitors, telephone interruptions, unproductive meetings, meetings that go over their allotted time, multi-tasking, putting things off until you “feel inspired,” and all types of procrastination.
By contrast, time builders are strategies, habits, and activities that you purposefully integrate into your life to manage time and focus your attention. Time builders include making to do lists at the beginning of the day with your priorities in mind, designating 60 to 90 minute blocks on your calendar for uninterrupted productive time, organizing your desk so that you can easily find what you need, setting reminders in your Outlook calendar, and doing your most challenging work at the time of day when you feel most awake.
One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that time wasters and time builders are different for each person. If you are a social media strategist, spending time on Facebook may be a time builder for you. The point is: discover and reduce time wasters in your life while also identifying and cultivating time building habits.
If you completed the How Did You Spend Your Time? worksheet, now is a great time to revisit it with the idea of time wasters and time builders in mind. A technique I suggest to my coaching clients is to literally X out items from your worksheet that were time wasters. This will help you visualize how often they occur in an average week. Next, put a circle around time builders to show yourself times in the week when you were able to organize yourself to build time for what you love.
Check the Foresight Blog in the next couple of weeks for the final entry in the De-Clutter Your Career series which will provide strategies to keep your career de-cluttered going forward.
De-cluttering your career begins with an accurate assessment of how you are spending your time. Just like spring cleaning your cluttered garage or attic, the question is: what is in here and do I need it?
The first blog in the De-Clutter Your Career series introduced the idea of career clutter and invited you to complete the worksheet: How Did You Spend Your Time? This worksheet was intended to help you gain a reality-based snapshot of your life during a one week span.
The ultimate goal is to spend your time – your most valuable resource – in the ways that you choose in order to feed your life’s passions and priorities. While none of us will ever have full control over our time, especially at our jobs, we can probably take more control than we realize. A difference between “being busy” and “being cluttered” lies in having an alignment between how you spend your time and your goals, strengths, and passions. When time and passions are aligned, we can feel engaged and alive, no matter how busy we are. When they are misaligned, we can feel cluttered, overwhelmed, disorganized, and disengaged.
I suspect a lot of feelings came up for you as you were completing the worksheet. You might have thought, “how come I consider myself a creative person but I’m working on budgets most days?” Or, “no wonder I’m not making any progress on my dissertation when I was at the office for 64 hours this week!”
Take some time to reflect on your completed worksheet with the analogy of spring cleaning in mind. When you spring clean, you don’t throw out everything and start from scratch. It’s a process of asking essential questions: What do I need? What don’t I need? What can I live without? Is this serving a purpose in my life?
Check the Foresight Blog in the next couple of weeks for step three in the De-Clutter Your Career series, where I’ll demonstrate how de-cluttering can build time in your life.
No matter the reason a client comes to coaching, it seems that the conversation eventually comes around to the topic of work-life balance. Clients say that their work assignments and to-do lists overwhelm their lives. The endless demands of their jobs drain their energy and creativity, leaving them little time for other life pursuits.
This is career clutter.
Like the TV show Hoarders, I was once a cluttered hoarder in my professional life. I couldn’t say no to anything and I said yes to everything. The nickname for my office was “grand central station,” because there was a constant stream of colleagues coming through. I worked 10 hours per day during the work week (with an hour commute each way), then I’d add another 8-10 hours of working at home on the weekends.
What happens to us when our careers are cluttered? It doesn’t take too long before we start to feel overwhelmed, disorganized, and in that state of mind where we fear there is more to do than can ever be done.
At some point, we make a conscious decision to get it under control. Just like cleaning your cluttered garage, attic or basement, career clutter cannot be resolved in one day. I started with a small step – working from home on Fridays, which immediately saved two hours a week in commuting time. Next I made a commitment to myself to stop working on the weekends and to turn off my work e-mail from my phone during weekends. That helped to de-clutter my brain so I could get some cognitive space from work-related stressors. I decided to delegate more to my subordinates, which often involved the difficult process of letting go of some projects in which I was deeply invested.
It was tough, but two years later I’m much less stressed, more organized, and more in touch with what my priorities and passions are for my career.
Recently a fellow coach, Dana Platin, co-facilitated a workshop with me. The goals of the workshop were to assist clients to de-clutter and organize professional commitments, and identify areas to regain balance, both at work and between work and personal life. Participants completed a worksheet: How Did You Spend Your Time? This worksheet is attached for anyone reading this blog who wants take the first step in de-cluttering their career. For one week, write down all of your career and professional activities, including meetings (scheduled and unscheduled), e-mails, administration, staff management, work on projects/budgets/writing, commuting, networking, trainings, etc.
Check the Foresight Blog in the coming weeks for the next step in the De-clutter Your Career series, where I’ll explain how the worksheet can be used to make decisions about your most valuable resource: your time.