Note from Art: I’m hosting a free webinar/mini-course on 7/21 at noon central: How to Get Unstuck & Take Control in Your Career. If you are reading this after the date, drop me a note and I will send you the replay link.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve thought about doing something different in your professional life. While many people daydream about the work, only a tiny percentage do something about it. My goal is to help raise that percentage. Here are some steps and tips to help you move out of your head or off the couch and into action.
Seven Steps to Jump-Start Your Career Reinvention Project
1. Don’t Talk Yourself Out of a Career Pivot from the Start
Almost everyone thinks about the challenges of changing directions in their careers and immediately adds in negative filters:
- I can’t do this now.
- This is risky.
- My friends and family will look at me funny.
- Why would anyone hire me to do that?
- I’m too (old, young, experienced, inexperienced)…
- I don’t have time
- Add yours…
These negative filters are typically strong enough to keep us tethered to whatever we’re doing currently that no longer feels right. They push our ideas and drive to do something different into the realm of daydreams and fantasies. And as one client offered, “We grow comfortable being miserable.” That’s not a great way to spend the time of your life.
I encourage individuals to list why they believe they cannot pivot and then ask them to do something radical and suspend those filters. Yes, you need to give yourself permission to explore. You’ll have time later in the process to look at the risks; just don’t let the negative soundtrack running through your mind keep you from working on designing your next career step.
2. Perform a Personal Audit (with a bit of help)
In my coaching and Career Reinvent Boot Camp programs, I work with individuals to tune in to some critical elements about themselves, including:
- How others perceive their strengths.
- The situations where they are at their absolute best in their lives.
- The situations where they find a state of flow.
- Their backstory and the through-lines that stand out across their lives
This is both a reflective exercise and one that draws on the observations of others. The results are essential to finding a compass setting for exploring a wide range of options.
Yes, the work feels a little…squishy. Yet, tuning in to your unique strengths and identifying moments and situations where you are at your absolute best offer critical guidance for ultimately selecting a new option.
You’ll be tempted to skip this self-discovery step. Please don’t do it.
3. Cast a Wide Net for Possible Options and Keep Those Negative Filters Turned Off
A healthy career makeover process allows time for divergent thinking about your options. Keep those negative filters turned off and go crazy with ideas. Don’t place any filters on your ideas, no matter how radical they might seem. One of my radical ideas—open a BBQ Shack, makes me smile every time I think of it.
Don’t hold back on the ideas. Bring a trusted partner into the process, share your self-discovery work with them and ask them to join you in generating even more ideas.
I encourage individuals to create a visual list—something as simple as sticky notes listing each idea. This idea-wall is a great place to hang out with an occasional cup of coffee, adding new ideas. It’s also the place to capture those fleeting thoughts before they jump out of mind.
4. Gently Add Back the Right Filters for You in Your Situation
I love the divergent thinking exercise above for generating ideas. It’s a great and necessary starting point for your career reinvention process. Eventually, however, you need to narrow the field.
To do this, introduce the filters vital to you. Note: the negative filters coursing through your mind at the beginning of this exercise need to remain in the parking lot. It’s time to replace them with the right filters for you in your situation.
These filters include items such as:
- I’m interested
- I have the skills
- I can acquire the skills
- Short-term income potential
- Long-term income potential
- Work-life fit
- Geographic fit
And many others. I’ve completed this exercise with hundreds of professionals, and no two lists of filters are identical. They must be tailored to fit you and your situation.
5. Evaluate Your Ideas
A crucial part of the exercise is evaluating each idea via your filters. I guide individuals on creating a simple rating system. We use a spreadsheet to score each idea against the different filters. This process helps you identify those feasible ideas that fit you and your circumstances and risk tolerance versus fun fantasies. In my case, the BBQ Shack or food truck makes my big list, but it never survives the filtering exercise. (Hey, that may be a good option for you. It just doesn’t work out well in my personal rating system.)
While this process doesn’t make your decision for you, it forces you to think carefully about each idea and gives you a tool to suspend or exclude some ideas while allowing others to rise to the top. Remember, your goal here is to build a smaller list of eligible career pivot ideas for exploration.
Sidebar: it helps to have that trusted partner who can challenge you on the ratings. In my coaching work, it’s common for me to ask questions that challenge individuals to think deeply or differently about their options.
6. Have Fun Exploring—Just Get out from Behind the Screen
After working through rating and ranking your ideas, it’s time to explore a select few options. Don’t worry; the list isn’t going anywhere, and you can always come back to others that don’t make the first cut for exploration.
Our tendency in this world is to do most of our research from behind a screen. The best research happens via direct observation and interviews. This requires a little bit of courage and a lot of networking.
In a recent cohort of my Career Reinvent Boot Camp, one of the individuals worked through the process above and came down with a list of options he thought were the most feasible. The group pushed back and asked, “Have you considered consulting because everything about you, your background, and your interests screams consulting?”
He had not considered that option, and with a bit of networking help from one of our Career Reinvent coaches, he was soon talking with the founder of a boutique consulting firm. A month later, he had interviewed executives and partners at multiple consulting firms and received two offers—one of which he accepted.
Yep, that’s how it happens. Your screen and the various social tools might be a starting point, but nothing beats direct communication and engagement.
7. There’s Another Stage—Experimentation
If you think back to the negative filters I referenced earlier in this article, most of these are about fears and risks or fear of risk. The entire process I’ve outlined helps individuals de-risk the situation to a manageable, informed level. There’s another step in the process–experimentation–that both minimizes the risk of making a poor selection and helps you assess the actual time or financial risks moving forward. This step is experimentation.
I’m a fan of designing intelligent experiments to prove or disprove hypotheses before making the jump to a new role. Stay tuned for ideas about how to create and run these experiments in a subsequent article.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Shifting careers is a kinetic process. Spending time contemplating “next” ultimately gets you nowhere. Get off the couch or out of your head and into action. Follow a process. Start by pushing out the negative talk track in your mind, and then have some fun working on the most important project in your life: you.