I have been very privileged to coach many interesting people through important career transitions – mostly mid-career professionals, executives and working parents. These might be people who have achieved tremendously in a certain industry, and want to entirely rethink the direction of their professional life; or people who are looking for new opportunities after moving to a new country; or people who want to leave the corporate world and launch their own businesses; or even people who just want to leave their current job but don’t know exactly what they want to do next.
How prioritising mental preparation creates the foundation for a sustainable and fulfilling career change
In most cases, when we meet for the first time, most of my clients bring their CVs into the conversation. No matter where they come from, how experienced they are, or the type of career change they want to trigger, they all use this document as a badge of honour for what they have done so far, even if they want to embrace something completely different. In all these interactions my answer is the same: “Your CV might be great, but it’s not relevant for the work that we need to do – at least, not yet.” This often catches them by surprise because they see their employment history as an important anchor that should drive their conversation about a career change.
My intention is to shift their focus from what they have done and from the external world, to what they consider important, what they want to do and their inner world. I believe that every career change should start within. If you want to make a sustainable career change there are six steps that you should follow to lay the foundation for a meaningful and fulfilling change – and this should certainly come before updating your CV.
An ideal career transition should be sustainable and tie in with who you intrinsically are. Why? Because when what you do is closely related to who you are, that’s when you strike the lottery of career fulfilment. But the internal work is not an overnight process – it’s not easy, and requires planning, reflection and dedication. The deeper you go internally the more likely you are to make a successful career transformation that will bring you excellent results externally. That requires total focus and commitment, but the pay-off is hugely rewarding and completely transformational.
These are the six steps that will take you there:
#01 – Expect and manage the fear factor
According to John Fisher’s 2012 Process of Transition and Personal Transition Curve (which I recommend anyone going through a transition to explore), fear is the third factor you will experience during a transition, right after anxiety (questioning if you can handle the change) and happiness (seeing glimpses of change).
As exciting as the prospect of a career change might sound, the fact that you will most likely be trying something new, walking through unchartered territory and stepping outside your comfort zone, will mean that you may well be plagued by both real and imaginary fears. You will almost certainly question yourself and your ability to pursue your dream. Will I be able to do this? What if I fail? Maybe I don’t know enough about this? Perhaps it’s too hard and I shouldn’t bother trying?
The truth is, all of us as human beings face moments of self-doubt and fear. But we all have one important thing going for us, and that is a CHOICE!
You must be aware of your power to choose. The power to choose to ask empowering questions, rather than those that increase your fear. How can I make this transition a success? What are the first steps that I can take to get closer to my goal? Is there someone who has already done what I plan to do? What can I learn from that person? What other challenges have I managed to overcome and how? How can I tap into those resources in my current transition?
You yourself can initiate this transition from feeling disempowered to feeling empowered, by simply getting into the habit of asking yourself these types of questions whenever you experience any fear. These questions will begin to open new doors for you. They are empowering and will shift your perspective from a path of no or little hope to a path of endless possibilities.
#02 Create an inner allignment plan
A career change can be an opportunity for transformation and reinvention and an excellent opportunity to reconnect with yourself and to realign. Consider this period between deciding to change and starting to focus on a new job or venture – the transition period – like a pit stop in the race of life. During pit stops cars get quickly taken care of by expert mechanics: they get refuelled and cleaned, they have worn or damaged parts replaced with new ones, and they stay parked until they are ready to return to the race track.
A significant career change – despite the emotional turmoil, despite the moments of insecurity and stress – can be a great opportunity for a personal pit stop. What should you be focusing on during this time? My suggestion is to create an inner alignment action plan focused on three main areas: your body, your mind and your soul. Accept that because of the change you will be quite unsettled and often distressed (especially if you are someone who likes to be in control and appreciates routines), and knowing the next steps in this period of uncertainty can be challenging. Your inner alignment action plan is your transition anchor. You recognise that things will be complicated, uncomfortable and messy, and you will use the plan to stay grounded. The inner alignment action plan will help you stay in control, know what you are doing and why you are doing it, and stay focused on a positive outcome. How? In these three ways:
Take Care of Your Body: This one is very simple – embrace an exercise routine so that your body stays active, and this will support your mind. Exercising regularly, staying in contact with nature or simply committing to go for a solo phone-free walk every day will help you re-energise and stay focused. Plus, during a major transition, a lot of things are unclear. As creatures of habit, most of us like certainty and predictability. By adopting an exercise routine specifically for this period, you will give yourself this certainty and predictability – it should be an activity that you can control and that has positive outcomes.
Take Care of Your Mind: Create a transition journal – this will help you embrace the journey and stay focused on the destination. You can write about why you want to change, the job or career you aim to start working on, and the actions you are taking to get there. Write about the challenges and the opportunities, and end with a note of gratitude to yourself for all the efforts you are making every day. Why do you want this transition? Knowing the reason and reviewing it daily will sustain you throughout the journey. You should also focus your journaling on the things you like doing, and the things you dislike; the things that fuel you and the things that drain you; your hopes and dreams.
Take Care of Your Soul: Concentrate on what is around you. Get rid of daily distractions. Embrace moments alone and in nature. Try and stay quietly focused, alone in silence, looking around at beautiful things. The goal is to feel inner peace and to give your inner voice some attention – let this voice speak to you and guide you.
#03 – Your strenghts, your values, your joy
A career change gives us all an excellent opportunity to completely reinvent ourselves, to rewrite our life rules and to embrace a new path, to dream different and very big dreams, and to choose that spark inside that drives us and makes us very good at something. It’s not always easy to identify the best way forward, but there are effective methods of discovering this, which help us recalibrate, refocus and engage with our values.
Personal strengths assessment tests are a great way to help us reconnect with ourselves. By working through them we can tap into what comes naturally for us to do. There is an array of tests available to help us learn more about our strengths – examples include Strengthfinder 2.0, 16personalities, MBTI and Tony Robbins’ DISC assessments, though there are also many others.
Knowing your values is another important anchor in your transition, and there is also a wide selection of values tests that I would invite you to explore – examples include the Work Values
test, Your Core Values test or Values Profile assessment among many others. What are the things you stand for? What are the most important things in your in life?
Lastly, and as simple as it might sound, what are the things that give you joy? For example, if you are fuelled by people, and love to help others to improve their lives, is the career you’re pursuing allowing you to express that?
So why are these three steps so important? Because doing something that brings you inner joy, plays to your strengths and is aligned with your values is a simple recipe for career happiness.
#04 – Visualize and map your future
This step is often underestimated yet is tremendously powerful. Visualisation is the ability to project yourself into the future and imagine your ideal life – two years from now, five years from now, even ten years from now. When I suggest trying this to my clients in a coaching session, they often look at me in a puzzled way, because they don’t know where they will be next year(no one knows, for that matter), and find it very difficult to visualise their lives in the long term. However, even if it is hard at first, I recommend attempting to visualise how you would like to see yourself in the medium to long term, with a time frame that works for you and you feel comfortable with.
Why is visualisation important? Because it enables you to tie in the decisions you make today with a long-term vision you have for your future. For example, a very dear friend of mine who is an amazing photographer was struggling to decide on a few areas to focus on – individual portraits, family photography, children’s portraits, lifestyle images or bespoke products. She wanted to simplify her professional offering but couldn’t decide how.
I asked her what she would be focusing on in an ideal world if everything went according to plan and she was the best photographer in the world. Guess what? She immediately had a crystal- clear vision of the three main areas she wanted to focus on.
Projecting into the future and visualising can give you clarity in the present. If there were no restrictions and an employment fairy dropped from the sky to give you your dream job, what would that be? Let’s expand on this. Where do you want to live five years from now? What do you want to be doing? Where are you working? Where do you live? What do you look like? For this exercise, I suggest you sit or lie down in a nice, comfortable place that is conducive for reflective daydreaming. Put some meditation music on, close your eyes and just imagine your ideal life … where do you go? If you aren’t used to this, the first time might seem strange. But with practice, your images and desires will become clearer, and you will start having glimpses of your desired future. Do this as often as necessary to get a crystal-clear image of your dreams.
Once you have a clear vision of what your ideal future looks like, it’s time to map it out. Write it down so that you are clear about your goal, then start sketching out some ideas for action. So imagine, for example, that five years from now you want to be managing your own organic shop. What needs to happen one year before that? Maybe find a space for the shop. And two years before? You might need to have a good network of organic suppliers and clear distribution agreements. And before that? You get the idea. Mapping means planning the steps that will get you from where you are now to where you want to be.
The ideal path you aim to pursue might require you to grow as a human being and expand your skill set. One of my clients who switched from the corporate world realised that in her future vision she saw herself helping others through coaching.
So she had to bridge the gap between her current self and her future self, and for her, that meant enrolling on a course to gain a coaching certification. Put simply, bridging the gap means that you are upgrading yourself. What should you be learning in order to reach that goal of yours? Read books, watch videos, develop your skills. You have visualised and mapped out your future, so now you need to assess what kind of resources you need to reach that. Bridging the gap is about finding out who you need to become and how you need to grow in order to achieve your ideal future.
#06 – Find a goal achievement partner
I always recommend working through a career transition with a synergy partner or a goal achievement partner. This can be a family member or a friend who can support you unconditionally. The ideal partner shouldn’t judge and should be encouraging. He or she should challenge you in an empowering and kind way and should allow you to question things. Fundamentally, this person should be there for you with open arms when things go badly and cheer you on when you are pursuing your goals in full swing. This person should be able to tell you hard truths in a kind way.
I can assure you of one thing: if you take the time to focus on these six steps to guide your career transition, you will become extremely aligned with yourself, and more aware and connected with the deeper part of yourself that drives you. You will become so clear-sighted and so motivated that when you meet people, you will be able to share your story in a powerful and engaging way.
Only now, after doing all this mental preparation, should you start thinking about updating your CV and your LinkedIn profile. If you work on yourself first, people will be much more engaged and fuelled by what you are trying to do, and will be more likely to support your endeavour. Your CV becomes secondary and YOU become centre stage.
Are you considering a career change? Have you switched jobs recently? Have you used any of these strategic steps? Have you experienced any doubts or fears? If so, we would love to hear from you– let us know your thoughts and what have you learned so far. Or, if you are happy in your own career but know someone who might be considering changing their career, and you would like to encourage and inspire them, please share this article with them. Thank you!