There’s a process to reinventing your career. Unfortunately, for those who like things nice and tidy and linear, the process regularly involves pivoting and back-tracking plus navigating the occasional unanticipated course correction. And while there’s no straight line or stage-gate process, the general flow of your career reinvention work eventually passes through these six steps.

1. Determination

Once you decide that more of the same is no longer enough and you rule out like-kind job change, it’s time to begin the process of career reinvention. For many individuals, a job change suffices. For others, it’s time to commit to finding a better way forward in your career.

A rare few individuals know what they want to to do at this point. Most use the decision to make a change as a starting point for their personal, professional reinvention process. Ultimately, you are looking for something that draws upon your talents and interests and is marketable to a viable audience.

Fair warning! Many people view career reinvention as an opportunity to pursue their passion. Just remember, passion and marketability without ability is a disaster and passion and ability without marketability is a hobby.

2. Self-Discovery

During the self-discovery phase, you invest time in discovering (or remembering) what it is that inspires you to be you at your best as a person. Ultimately, it’s essential to drill down to identifying something that gives meaning to your work and that fits with your abilities. I reference this as purpose, and it ranges for reinventors from your life’s ambition to a mission vital to you at this stage of your life. The two are very different and while fulfilling your life’s purpose is a high aspiration, it is hard to manifest for many.

Self-Discovery is the squishiest of the stages of career reinvention, but few get to a destination without wrestling in this category.

3. Exploration

The best way to describe this phase is…well, it’s a time to explore. There’s a bit of ocean boiling and wandering that happens here. The work in the self-discovery phase provides a compass, but even if the direction is North, you’ve got 90-degrees of potential for wandering.

You can manifest the purpose uncovered in self-discovery in many ways, and this is a time to learn more through research, observation, and first-hand involvement. The goal is to begin winnowing down to just a few options that fit well with your perceived purpose at this career and life stage. Of course, our filter of purpose, ability, and marketability is in the background but never too far out-of-sight during this stage.

4. Experimentation

Here’s where we begin adding a bit of science to the mix. You define a limited set of hypotheses on what might work for you and then design experiments (research, involvement, practice, prototyping) in pursuit of an answer. Fair warning, experiments fail, so your stay here may be more extended than you expect. The process of ultimately making a choice is challenging, and best navigated with a guide.

5. Conditioning

I like the idea of the conditioning we do in our fitness programs as a metaphor for the work of preparing to make a major career change. Once you’ve made the decision on what’s next, it’s time to get in personal, financial, and psychological shape. From personal financial planning to business planning, to training and education, scouting, etc., this is a  busy preparation phase.

6. Launch

Much as it sounds, launch is Go-Time. It’s go-time. While some individuals quietly transition into their new professional roles, others take a “Big Bang” approach to let the world know. Some clients have tied their business launch to a book or website launch.

Career Reinvention is More Iterative than Stage Gate

I know from working with a good number of career reinventors that this process is much more iterative than linear. It’s common for individuals to cycle back through exploration and self-discovery, and many people spend time with feet planted squarely in both exploration and experimentation.

Some individuals cope well with the iteration and enthusiastically pursue the learning process. A minority grow frustrated with the hard work, hard decisions and the reality that there’s not a simple sequence through the process. On occasion, individuals give up, succumbing to the insecurity of making such a seemingly momentous leap. For those who see it through, a new professional life unfolds and the term, “exhilarated” is the one I hear the most often when asked about how they are doing.

Success Demands Agility and a Ferocious Appetite for Learning:

The most successful career reinventors are hungry to learn—about themselves and about opportunities that might fit them. They are on a journey of exploration and excited about every turn of the page. It’s as if they are first-hand participants in writing a great story. Of course, perhaps for the first time in their careers, they are writing their own story.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

If you are considering career reinvention, commit to the hard work and expect to iterate. Just keep your focus on the end goal—identifying work that matters to you and getting paid for it.

A guide (my role) is there to point, ask, encourage, challenge, and support. The hard work of coming to grips with who you are and what you will do with your talents and interests is ultimately on your shoulders. It’s a messy, wonderful process with the incredible potential to help you become you at your professional  best.

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For additional resources, check out the Career Reinvention articles at the Management Excellence blog.