Opportunistic or Deliberate?

Finding a new job and finding a new career are two very different activities. For the former, it often pays to be opportunistic. A friend, former colleague, or recruiter highlights an opportunity, and you decide to jump. However, for career reinventors, waiting or hoping for someone else to show up with your idea for your next professional move is mostly an exercise in futility. Career reinvention is a full contact, immersive, and deliberate activity.

Career Daydreams

Many of us walk around with the idea that we would love to be doing something different in our professional lives. From fantasy careers to hobbies that feel like exciting businesses, these career daydreams are therapy for stressed out people grown tired of the grind.

While passions and hobbies often make lousy businesses, chances are, your daydreams hold some clues to what you might do for your “next.” The difference between those who move beyond these calming thoughts and ultimately into a new career is their willingness to commit to a deliberate process of exploration and experimentation—even while working a grind they’ve grown tired of in their lives.

Flying One Airplane While Building the New One

When it comes to jobs and career reinvention, most individuals cannot afford for many reasons to opt out of a paycheck and spend time finding themselves and their “next.” Instead, they have to earn while they explore, learn, and plan. One of the tired, strategy clichés is: “We’re flying the plane while simultaneously building the new one.” In this case, it’s an apt description.

The Actions Essential for Career Reinvention:

The work of career reinvention breaks down into the following sets of actions:

  • Determination—Yes, I must and will make a career change (versus a job change)
  • Self-Discovery—Here’s how my accumulated wisdom, inherent superpowers, and interests might manifest in a new career.
  • Exploration—Here are the many suspect options I might pursue.
  • Experimentation—Here’s how I’m going to rule out or down-select to those options that meet the criteria of interest, ability, and marketability.
  • Preparation—I’ve decided, and now I need to design a plan to get from where I’m at to “next” on my career steps.
  • Launch—It’s time.

The great news is, you can do much of this work while happily or unhappily engaged in your current job.

Much like seeking that advanced degree or working a side-hustle, you’ve got to invest the time and develop accountability for working through the various activities outlined above. It’s not easy, but it is doable. Also, a side-benefit reported by my clients is that engaging in the work of career reinvention makes the current gig a bit more bearable.

A cautionary tale: I’ve written about this career reinvention process before, but it bears repeating. The actions outlined are accurate, but not necessarily predictable in terms of sequence or timing. Everyone goes through the different phases at a different pace and sometimes in a different order. What separates those who succeed from those who mostly flail is their commitment to due diligence in each of the phases, even while working.

Accountability Partners, Guides, and Swim Buddies

There’s a bias on my part about the need for help with career reinvention because part of what I do professionally is help people with this work. However, there was a time when I did this on my own, and I did it the hard way, costing me gobs of time running down blind alleys and then flailing in the wrong direction.

As some wise person offered, “No one reinvents alone.

Ideally, you find a coach who can help you navigate through the actions. They might label them differently than I do, but they will be mostly the same.

Find an accountability partner to keep you moving. This work is easy to push to the back-burner because it feels intangible and without a deadline.

Find a swim buddy to help check your assumptions and challenge you not to get caught in the mental traps and biases that can push you toward a wrong decision.

Some Soul Searching, A Bit of Screen Time, But Mostly Engaging With Others

There are a significant number of traps that will slow you down or even derail your career reinvention efforts. From spending too much time in your head or too much time expecting to find an answer via a keyboard and screen, it’s important to push away from the desk and engage with others.

The work of exploration involves identifying candidate options.

A creative dance instructor who happens to be a great facilitator needs to explore what it means to help organizations as an innovation process facilitator.

The software engineer who is a rock band musician might have the idea for a killer app to help bands on the move.

The former career civil servant might be an incredible real estate salesperson.

While these individuals can think of all of these ideas, the challenge is to gain insights and intelligence about the reality of the roles. If they fit with interests, abilities, and potentially marketability, they are worth exploring further. Some may be worthy of moving to a more formalized, “experiment” phase.

You can’t do much of the exploration and any of the experimentation work sitting at your desk staring at a screen. Progress and success demand deliberate action.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The work of career reinvention is challenging. Too many of us think about but don’t do anything beyond daydream. If you want to design the “next” stage of your professional life, it requires deliberate action guided by a process. Anything less is a formula for flailing and failing.

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