What do you see?
Opportunity is nowhere.
Opportunity is now here.
Ok – so don’t feel bad if you saw the first – I did too! It’s just a play on words and it doesn’t mean that you are doomed to a life of restriction because of your pessimistic view on words.
But it’s a fun exercise to use when I am running career workshops. It does highlight a key point about perspective.
This blog is a natural follow on to the series posted last year 6 Signposts to New Career Ideas.
It’s the ‘so what?’
I know my strengths, I have identified my personal qualities, I’ve built my career assets and I know what I really want from my career – but so what? What can I do now? What step do I next take?
The Right Mindset.
Firstly, it pays to have the right mindset. Think the long game. We have multiple careers in us.
Lynda Gratton professor at the London Business School is co-author of an excellent book “The 100-year life”. In this book, she argues that the concept of a three-stage life, i.e. education, work, and then retirement is fast disappearing. One recent survey by the Financial Times highlighted that we should really plan for five careers in a lifetime. Elsewhere, I've seen it suggested that the average graduate coming into the workplace today will have nine different careers in their lifetime. Therefore, the notion that work is becoming more impermanent means that reinvention is both rational and essential. To this end, we're better to think about career possibilities than career plans, to enjoy the process as well as reaching the destination.
Possibilities vs Plans.
This is exciting because it means that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to careers and developing our careers. The career ladder has been replaced with career climbing wall. Moves are no longer just upwards, but sideways, downwards, and indeed backwards with the emergence of the ‘boomerang’ employee who leaves a company only to return with renewed skill and enthusiasm.
It can be tempting to sit around and wait for the perfect opportunity, but to flourish in our careers we need to jump on opportunities, even if they might not seem 100% right. We should test and learn, an approach which means we can constantly experiment and learn from these opportunities, whether they are a success or not.
Possible Next Steps.
In their book ‘Squiggly Careers’, Helen Tubber and Sarah Ellis talk about different types of career possibilities:
The Obvious possibility – the next natural step, apply for promotion, gain new skills, move to another company.
The Ambitious possibility – a natural next step – but just bigger – e.g. a promotion two levels up, or a move to a job that you are not yet qualified to do.
The Dream possibility – if I really could, I would love this job. It might be something similar to what you are currently doing, e.g. a chef who wants to open their own restaurant, or radically different e.g.a teacher who wants to retrain as a psychotherapist.
The Pivot possibility –using the skills and knowledge that you have, but in a different way. E.g. another type of organisation e.g. non-profit vs commercial, or working from home, or full time to consulting etc.
From Thinking to Doing
We build confidence by doing. Sometimes we do well to stop figuring it out and start acting it out. Whether it is a big move or small step, here are eight specific actions that might help:
1. Get another job, a better job. Conduct an effective job search, spruce up the CV and actively job search.
2. Try it out. Have a side hustle. My first ever accountant had a passion for horticulture. Over the years he turned his hobby into a business by running it as a part time side business. The accountancy taking up most of his time in the early years until he was able to build the horticultural business as his main income.
3. Gain the knowledge or skills that you need for the next stage. If you are that teacher who wants to be a psychotherapist, seek out courses that might help you on this path. Attend webinars, talk to people in the job, ask to ‘buddy or shadow’ someone doing the job.
4. Get a mentor, someone who can help. This is particularly helpful if you are looking to grow your career in your current job or industry. If you are looking to make that ‘ambitious’ next step. Carla Harris gives great advice on how to choose a mentor in this TED talk How to find the person who can help you get ahead at work
5. Build your network. Find the people who are doing the job that you want to do. Connect with them. Follow them on social media. Contribute to their conversations. Join online events and face to face gatherings to build a network of people who are interested in the work subjects that interest you.
6. Do it for free. During the COVID pandemic I recall one LinkedIn connection who totally reinvented herself when her ‘day job’ collapsed because of COVID. She was in event management. Key skills in event management include; project management, goal setting and getting things done. She designed online sessions around these skills and offered ‘for free’. As she developed a following, and her own skills, she was able to build a business on the back of it.
7. Make the day job better. This is about getting more of what you want in the job that you have. Lots of us may not have the opportunity to make the ambitious or dream or pivot move. Financial and personal commitments mean that, for now, we need to stay in the job. But job crafting allows us to seek more of what we want in the day job. Every day at work is an opportunity to learn. Ask yourself at the end of each month – what new knowledge did I acquire? What new skills did I develop? What new contacts have I made? We are always growing ‘Me PLC’.
8. Have a career conversation with your manager. Often the next step is in front of our face, but we just don’t see it. Some years back the consultancy company Deloitte had a problem with retention, particularly with their younger employees. What they discovered when they delved into this was that two thirds of the young people leaving did so to do work that they could have done at Deloitte They just didn’t know that they could. What’s more is that they would have preferred to stay at Deloitte.
And if you can’t do any of the above….
Find fulfilment outside of the job. Sometimes work is really tough, check out the blog on this ( It's called work for a reason) and we have no choice, for the moment but to ‘stick it out’. In these situations, it is important that we find refuge and fulfilment outside of the day job.
Have an interest outside of work.
An observation from the 2008 financial crisis was that those who showed resilience tenacity and the ability to bounce back quickly were those who had a strong interest in something outside of work – singing, baking, hiking etc. Taking time out to give the best part of yourself to something that is not your career is something that should be viewed not as a luxury, but as an essential to robust career success.
Just get started. It’s harder than ever to map out the perfect career path. So, make the best start you can and keep tweaking your ideas and ambitions until you find what works for you.
“You can have it all. But you can’t have it all, all at once, right now”.
Think the long game. Think of your career as phases and stages and work on taking the next step that you can, for you, for now.
Thanks for reading.
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