Although career breaks and work history gaps often happen, they are a frequent cause for concern when it’s time to look for your next opportunity. Read below to discover simple steps you can take to handle worries that you may have so that you feel more confident about moving forward in your work and your life.
Why Feeling Concerned is a Good Thing
Feelings of worry don’t have to be a bad thing. If concern focuses your attention on doing what you can to prepare, it may be helpful. So where do you begin?
Preparing yourself to be successful involves both mental preparation and material preparation. This article focuses on the “inside out” aspect of preparation and describes concrete steps you can take to cultivate a mindset that will help you to be successful.
Begin By Being Clear and Honest with Yourself
This first step is to get clear about how you actually think and feel, not how you expect yourself to respond or others expect you to respond.
Gaps in your work history may be chosen or not. Depending on your situation, you may be dealing with difficult things.
Maybe you’ve lost your job. Maybe you took a job that didn’t work out or your under-employed. Or you experienced health problems that meant taking time off. Or you were caring for a family member.
You know your situation better than anyone else. The context matters. A positive choice to take a career break to care for a child is one thing. The experience of being unexpectedly laid off demands additional resources.
Preparation is important even if the experience is a while ago. Under stress, it’s easy to communicate in ways that are not helpful. More awareness of your own thoughts and feelings enables you to make better choices.
Write It Down: A Surprisingly Helpful Simple Way to Prepare
A great first step is to take a short amount of time for private writing. Write down your experience without censoring what you write. The biggest mistake that career changers and job seekers make is to avoid the issue. An understandable response to challenging experiences. But writing about your thoughts and feelings is a simple thing you can do that have been proven effective in psychological research.
For example, one scientific study of engineers who were laid off from their jobs compared the outcomes for a group who completed guided time-limited writing exercises describing their thoughts and feelings about losing their jobs with a control groups who completed unrelated writing tasks. The group that wrote about their personal experiences of job loss found new positions more quickly. The researchers concluded that access to a structured method of expressing how they felt helped them to process it and move ahead more quickly.
Develop your Self-Awareness
Whatever your situation, describing your career break in writing is a way of increasing your awareness. Maybe you haven’t really shared your experience because of pressure to “be positive” or “move on.” Or you don’t talk much about it because you don’t want to worry those close to you. Research tells us that psychological adjustment to change does not necessarily happen at the same pace as external change events.
Set the timer on your phone and write for around 15 minutes. As you write, pay close attention to your responses. Do any emotions surface? Emotions come and go, but by increasing your awareness, you are taking an important step toward being more mentally prepared. Read back over what you’ve written and reflect on the experience by asking questions such as “What stands out?” or “What do I notice.”
Personal writing is one simple way to listen more closely to yourself. If you don’t find writing helpful, try having a conversation with the right person. Choose someone who can listen in a non-judgmental way, such as a trusted friend, mentor, or coach. The experience of being listened to in this way is a powerful means of getting unstuck and rebuilding your confidence.
Preparing from the “inside out” gives you a good foundation on which to build. Self-awareness is key to the confident communication that will be essential as you move forward. You will identify new opportunities in the context of relationships with others. In the next blog post, look for ideas on how to connect through more effective communication.
Jennifer Bradley helps professionals get unstuck and move forward in their career and work life. She offers individual coaching and consulting, leads workshops, and writes about personal and professional transitions.