Are your struggling with making changes in your career and professional life? Is it more difficult or taking longer than you expected?
This article offers a simple tool to increase self-awareness and overcome common obstacles for professionals during career and work-life transitions.
Career Transition & Career Change
Differentiating between two words that we often use interchangeably – change and transition – is one way to make sense of your experience. Here is the distinction that Leia Francisco, my colleague, mentor, and author of Writing Through Transitions makes.
She uses the word change to describe change events. Examples are life changes such as graduating, moving jobs, losing a job, relocating, or becoming a parent.
On the other hand, Leia applies the word transition to describe what you experience as a consequence of one or more change events. Transition encompasses your personal responses and internal experiences. Your experiences of transition are unique to you.
External Change Events and Individual Transition Experiences
Why does this distinction matter? Here’s why.
Change and transition often occur at a different pace. For example, if you are laid off unexpectedly, you may go to work in the morning as an employee and leave that same day as an unemployed person. You’re now in a career change.
The impact of this change event can’t be predicted just by knowing the event. Depending on your situation, your priority may be to find another job as quickly as possible. But even if you find another position quickly, that doesn’t mean that your transition experience is over.
Distinguishing change and transition helps you make better choices about how to respond and what will be helpful. Unexpected job loss is a very different experience from a planned career change. What you focus on and what works best is different.
Responding to an external change typically requires a problem-solving approach such as goal-setting, planning and executing a plan. For example, if you’re laid off, your first priority might be to find work as quickly as possible.
On the other hand, this action-focused approach won’t help you handle your transition-related challenges such as feelings of confusion or how to deal with anger, loss or disappointment.
Career-related changes can happen quickly. Events may be outside of your control. The process of transition can take longer. But the good news is that you can do things to influence your personal experience.
Navigating Transition Experiences
Sometimes we sail through changes in our lives. Other times we struggle. When we’re having a difficult time, it’s not always clear where the challenge lies.
Say, for example, your goal is to find a new job. You find yourself spending all your time on the internet. By the end the day, you feel disheartened. You’re not making progress. You feel stuck. So what’s the problem? What should you do?
We have many possible explanations for these types of struggles. Explanations such as resistance, fear, anxiety or lack of courage. The problem is that these types of explanations tend to amplify the things that are not working. If we explain the biggest obstacles in terms of something that is “wrong” with us, we’re likely to stay stuck.
Not very helpful. Here’s a different approach to make sense of your experience and to generate new possibilities.
Gain Clarity by Describing Your Unique Career Change Experience in Words or Images
Rather than focus on the problem or how to overcome some deficit, try this simple self-reflection activity instead. Get clear about your experience. Shift from “in your head” to “on to the page” through a process of description. Depending on your preferences, you can do this in words or images.
How to Use the Power of Words
If you want to use words, find a name for your experience. Maybe there’s an analogy or metaphor that resonates with you and captures where you are. Here are a few examples to spark your own ideas.
- Riding a rollercoaster
- Clinging to a raft
- Surfing the ocean
- Digging a tunnel
Finding a name for your experience allows you to take a step back and invite a different perspective. The important thing is to choose a description that is personally meaningful to you.
How to Find or Make an Image of Your Career Change Experience
A second option is to use images or sketches rather than words. For example, you can do a quick image search and search and select one that resonates with you. Don’t analyze. Go with your intuition when you’re choosing. As you look at the image, make a few notes on what it means to you at this time.
If you prefer, sketch your change experience. No particular drawing skill is required. The key is to make marks on the page in a way that is personally meaningful for you. Use lines, shapes, symbols, objects to represent your experience.
Find a Way Forward by Reflecting on What Your Description Means
Now that you have your description in words or images, what do you notice? Is there something surprising? What new ideas come to mind? Ask yourself what you most need right now. How are you feeling? Is there a problem to be solved? Do you need information or resources?
Describing your experience clearly is the first step to more awareness. Your description doesn’t have to be complicated. It just needs to makes sense to you. Representing your experience on the page is a simple way to gain a new perspective and access your creativity. Clarity will help you choose where to go next.
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.