Get Career Clarity and Define Your Ideal Next Move
Erin Urban, LSSBB, CPDC, PMI Houston Contributor
“I’m feeling stuck in my career and I’m not sure what my next best step is. I think I need to just find another job but I don’t want to land right back in the same mess again,” said Devon. Just like Devon, thousands of professionals aren’t happy in their jobs, but most are afraid to make a change. They feel stuck but aren’t sure how to get career clarity and define the ideal next move to land a fulfilling job.
As a career coach, I hear a lot about (and have experienced personally) career confusion and disillusion. I even helped my husband develop career clarity and find lasting career fulfillment. He, like so many people, wasn’t sure where to begin and afraid to make a change. He had a dozen reasons why he should stay at a go-nowhere, under-appreciated and over-worked job.
The average person spends more than 90,000 hours in their lifetime at work – why stay stuck in a job you hate?
Fortunately, he’s married to a successful career strategist who made it her business to get him un-stuck! Candidly, I will share with you that: coaching your significant other isn’t easy. While I’ve personally shifted careers 4 times and coach hundreds of professionals through successful career transformations each year – coaching my husband was a new and insightful experience. We both learned a lot and, in the end, his story has a happy ending with a great new role in a better organization.
Are you suffering from career confusion & disillusion?
If you are feeling stuck in your career and unsure if it’s just you, the challenging economic climate, or the weather – a little clarity will go a long way towards creating the right career action plan. Let’s take a peek at some of the warning signs of career confusion and disillusion.
1. Constantly Exhausted – A common side effect of career burn-out, over-working, and/or working outside of your strength zone. I recommend analyzing what is causing your feeling of exhaustion.
2. Frequent Anxiety – Another warning sign that your job isn’t for you. If you feel anxious about going to work or if you are concerned about your job status it can show up physically. If you constantly worry about work to the point anxiety: it might be time for a change.
3. Glass Ceiling Syndrome – Are you hitting your head on a glass ceiling so hard you have a headache? The key here is to find out, through self-discovery, whether this is self-perpetuated or because of your workplace.
4. Lack of Motivation – If you wake up in the morning dreading going to work and barely make deadlines while feeling reluctant to even perform your role: you have a clear case of career disillusion on your hands. This can be because you are misaligned with what you do or who you work for.
5. Decrease in Productivity – Related to feeling under-motivated. Maybe you struggle to generate the interest to meet (or exceed) productivity requirements. Is it because you feel under-appreciated? Discovering root cause is important to defining your next step.
In the case of my husband, he was constantly exhausted and actively frustrated. He wanted to be appreciated for the work he did and have his expertise valued. Regardless of the root cause behind your feelings, it’s important to understand the ‘why’. After all, you cannot improve on something you do not understand!
By getting clarity around what is going on and the root cause, you can avoid common career move traps. Like Devon, you do not want to land in the same mess again! Shifting jobs or career paths takes time, energy, and commitment. Let’s be sure that you are spending the right amount of time and energy on the RIGHT things!
Get clarity on your next career move
Speaking of focusing on the right things – being clear on your next career action is critical. Most people feel stuck, frustrated, or unhappy and immediately start looking for a job somewhere else. If they are unhappy because of what they do, this could end up being a complete disaster. With that in mind, let’s get an idea why you are currently unhappy and what to do about it.
1. You don’t like what you do
The issue: If you like who you work for but you don’t like what you do, it might be time for a career pivot (not just a new job). How can you tell? Let’s pretend that I’m offering you more pay for what you do and it doesn’t really excite you (although more pay is always nice). If you have to drag yourself through your daily routine or you have the nagging feeling that your job is sucking the life out of you, a career pivot may be your best move.
What to do: I recommend getting very clear about what you want to do that plays to your strengths, ignites your interest, and also leverages your expertise. You do not have to start all over again when making most career pivots. It is perfectly reasonable to use your transferable skills to make a career shift.
2. You don’t like who you do it for or with
The issue: You like what you do but you have significant tension between you and your boss and/or coworkers. Perhaps you don’t like the company you work for. Maybe the issues you have is not with your team or your boss – but your organization. Is there a conflict with what your company does and your code of ethics? You may not feel like you ‘fit in’ at work. If you do not feel like you are a part of the community at work, this can be isolating and mentally stressful.
What to do: This situation is fairly straightforward. You need a new job somewhere else! Even if you love your coworkers – if there is no way around a potentially toxic situation with your management, a graceful exit may be the best answer. Sadly, many professionals will stay stuck in these awful situations because fear. Don’t let quitting guilt keep you where you are!
Most people will stop right here, but there is a third potential path. This path is less obvious and even more critical to understand. Lack of career clarity will lead you back to the same old career quicksand.
3. You like the ‘who’ and the ‘what’ but aren’t seeing the career results
The issue: You have no problems with what you do or who you work for (mostly) – but you aren’t getting anywhere in your career even though you have done all the right things. You work hard, you have the right credentials; but nothing moves the needle. It could be glass ceiling syndrome or something much harder to detect.
What to do: I recommend getting clarity around what is actually going on. Sometimes career stagnation happens because of self-sabotage. There could be something going on that is not immediately obvious. We are blind to our blind spots but others aren’t. I leverage 360 feedback tools and interviews to uncover these blind spots for my clients.
If you aren’t seeing the career results you want after putting forth the energy to achieve, I recommend my book: Elevate Your Career – More Impact + More Income. I wrote this book specifically for those driven, experienced professionals who are working hard yet not getting where they want to go in their careers.
Discover your ideal career path
Your ideal career path or career pivot starts at the intersection of your strengths, your expertise, and your interests. While you may be familiar with your expertise and know what intrigues you – your strengths go beyond the obvious. Strengths are not to be confused with skills. You can be skilled at something that you hate to do.
Find Your Strengths:
• Make a detailed list of tasks and work-related functions.
Make a list of everything you do on a daily/weekly basis. Be sure to include not only routine items such as meetings, creating reports, following up with stakeholders, etc. – but special project work as well. The list will be long and that a GOOD thing! You want the list to be as detailed as possible so you can start the process of self-awareness and self-discovery
• Make a list of all your expertise and include credentials.
For this list – these are your core skill sets. Slightly different than ‘tasks’ and daily actions – this list will be comprised of the items you are known as the ‘go-to’ person for. Also, include your credentials and intangible skills – such as “hard worker” or “reliable”. This list will not only play a part in the third step – but it will also set the stage for a more complete understanding of your core competencies when comparing other potential roles that may better suit your strengths.
• Note which items on both lists give you energy and which ones drain you.
Discover where your energy zones are in both lists. While some items may be neutral, you will quickly identify those that you loathe to do or exhaust you. It may surprise you to learn that, just because you are good at something, doesn’t mean you like to do it! Your strength zone is with the items that give you energy and you want to focus your attention there.
Once you have established your strengths, you can leverage this information to extrapolate your next ideal career move and avoid potential career pitfalls. Not every opportunity will bring you lasting fulfillment. It’s a great idea to have a firm understanding of those items that drain your energy so you can make better decisions.
The next question to ask yourself is: what roles leverage your expertise, interest you, and are within 80% of your strength zone? While it would be nice to have a role that is 100% in your strengths, we all must do something that doesn’t thrill us from time to time. It is important to be operating in your strength zone most of the time to avoid feeling drained and potentially burning out.
Create your career action plan
For the final and critical step of defining your ideal roles based on your discoveries – use ruthless research. Connect with professionals in the potential career paths you identified and conduct light informational interviews. Professional organizations and online special interest groups are good resources.
Make sure that your career path is future-proof and has longevity if that matters to you. You can get additional insights by connecting with a certified career coach or strategist like myself. If you are considering a career pivot, making connections in your target field of interest is important, so start now.
Don’t hesitate to use job search engines to discover what employers are seeking in different role types. It is essential that you narrow your focus to a few related roles. If you seek disparate roles, it will be impossible to align your message properly in your resume or on LinkedIn. Have a clearly expressed target for your career growth plan so you can reverse engineer a road map to achieve your goals.
When seeking a career pivot, sometimes the next step is just a step in the right direction. You may need to get additional experience before shifting further towards another career trajectory. If you can find transitional roles, these will help you align with the career path you want and be a catalyst for change.
Regardless of your ideal roles, industry or profession: having career clarity is essential for growth and development (not to mention happiness). You will be able to show up much more powerfully when you are aligned with your career path. It is also more likely that you will be sought out for more opportunities in your Zone of Genius.
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