Think small and do something big: changing my career and worklife

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A few weeks ago when I visited my osteopath he remarked on how virtually every person who lay on his table during January and February was complaining they didn’t like their job or wanted to change their career. Even allowing for the post-holiday blues, it’s a reminder of the career anxiety epidemic we have on our hands. 

It’s a big part of the reason why I’m launching a career development and training practice that helps people better navigate a 21st century career.  

The demands of a rapidly evolving work culture, technology led shifts in business, and a desire for meaning are changing the shape of work.

We’re moving roles and changing careers more often, which brings lots of opportunities for us to learn different skills, explore divergent paths and discover new things.

But it can also create anxiety.

More and more, the responsibility of finding success and happiness at work is down to us as individuals. While the best organisations will back us on this, it’s increasingly up to us. 

 My own answer to ‘what’s next?’

A little over 12 months ago I embarked on a different path. A six-month sabbatical and some travel crystallised my desire for change. The time away from work gave me the courage to explore and take the next step. And so I set myself up in a portfolio career working as a marketing and digital strategy consultant, with a side project developing a coaching and training practice that would help people thrive in the new world of work. 

Here I am about nine months later – I’ve furthered my education, got some consulting under the belt, run two successful pilots of a career change program, gained a handful of coaching clients, and have some workshops in development. 

I thought I’d share a few things that have helped (and hindered) me on the way to creating a different work life.   

Think small
One of the things that really stops us from moving forward and keeps us in jobs for too long is that career change can feel overwhelming. Letting go of our history, identity and security born from years in a career can feel very daunting. And we often don’t quite know what to do, or where to start.

Like many people, I’d been thinking about making a change for some time. I enjoyed my work but I wanted to do more of the things I’m passionate about, and on my own terms.

It took me a long time to make the decision. Too long really. Because I was afraid, attached to the status of my job, and I wasn’t sure exactly what to do next. 

But as one of the participants in my career change program said: 

“I was thinking that jumping over the career precipice would send me into freefall, but now I realise it’s more like stepping off with a parachute, it’s a much softer landing and I feel less anxious about it. “

Finding ways to take small steps to test out possibilities can make the difference between thinking about a career change, and making one. So, whether it’s seeking out new people in your network, finding a mentor, starting a side project or getting a micro credential, identify a potential next step and take it.  

Embrace not having all the answers
When I first decided not to return to full time work I felt like I had to immediately come up with the solution. What was I going to be? What would I tell people? A big part of career reinvention is remaking your own story, but it was too early in the piece for me to do that. I knew I wanted to do work that made a difference to people, and drew on many of the skills I’d gained in my career but I was still figuring out what that looked like. 

As soon as I let go of having all the answers, and my story became less about a solution and more about exploration, I found my confidence and voice. I was taking small, deliberate steps towards the kind of work life I wanted and didn’t need to pretend to have it all worked out.  

What’s really helped is applying Scott Adams’ style of systems thinking instead of goal orientation. In my case, my current system is built around a continued commitment to experimentation in my worklife. 

As Adams says:
“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do.”

This a helpful way to be when you’re thinking about career change – ask yourself what kind of person you want to become? Then start with identifying possibilities, actively testing them and making sense of the results.

If you’re interested in how I might be able to help you take the next step in your career – whether it’s a step up in leadership,a step towards the person you want to become at work, or a step out into a new career or business, look out for more details on my coaching and training practice in the next couple of weeks. Or get in touch at richardson.e.kate@gmail.com

 
Kate Richardson