Preparing for Your Next Chapter
As one year gives way to another, many people begin thinking about new directions. It’s a natural time to take stock, think expansively, and make commitments to something better. That doesn’t mean it’s comfortable.
Recently, I had lunch with a friend who had sold her business. She was firmly stuck in the in-between, leaning toward taking some time to do something – but what? Her future is wide open, which can be an exciting, yet scary, notion. The change is on her terms, and still hard. More often, we’re forced to make a transition due to a job loss or a life change. Any transition – positive or negative, expected or unexpected – can leave you unmoored.
Most of us have transitions, or even chapters, in our careers and in our lives. How should one go about preparing? You want to find your footing, but you also want to make sure you’ll be standing in the right position.
While it may be tempting to move on to the next easy thing, you do yourself a disservice if you rush too fast. Instead, use this time to be clear about what you do want so you can make the best decisions when opportunities present themselves.
Know your priorities.
Spend some time getting clear about the future that you would like to create. What are you looking for that you don’t currently have? Do you want more time to spend with your family? Do you want more financial security? Are you dreaming of starting your own company? Do you crave more freedom to pursue your creative interests? Figuring out what your priorities are is a critical place to start. Know what you truly want, then you can feel confident taking the next step.
This is a phase of finding purpose. Many of us jump into jobs that become careers, almost unwittingly. We may be good at what we do but not enjoy it. We may hate the kind of environment we’ve always worked in. Now’s the time to whiteboard what’s possible rather than what’s probable. Don’t limit yourself right at the start.
Once you figure out what you truly want, ask yourself, what am I willing to give up in order to achieve these goals? Sacrifice and compromise are a part of any career shift, so be aware of what’s at stake before taking any plunge.
Do a little exploring.
Once you figure out what you want to do, spend time doing a situational analysis to gather context and data. Meet with as many people as you can to learn how to best chart a course. Ask for introductions to their colleagues who can provide even more context.
It can help to make a spreadsheet of options so you can keep your notes in one place, and track your progress.
Don’t be afraid of a trial period.
If we’re leaving a career that feels permanent, it may be most comfortable to replace it with something similar. If you can afford it, consider doing some jobs as trials so you can experience them first. Even if you’re looking for a complete change, such as semi-retirement, you can still do activities on a short-term or project basis to see how they fit.
The key is to give yourself walkaway permission.
You may have thought you wanted to write a book, only to find you don’t like the writing process. Or after taking one class, you could decide you didn’t want to get that PhD after all. You might take a job at a startup and learn that you miss the structure of a large institution. It’s all part of the learning process. Stay loose, and keep learning as you go.
Set up inspirational reinforcements.
Psychologist and author Shannon Kolakowski suggests that in order to successfully navigate these tricky life transitions, you need to be able to rely on your support systems. She advises, “Make an effort to stay connected; keep in touch with your family…volunteer or get involved in an organization…Find people who you can really talk to; whether it’s a trusted friend or close family member, being able to share how you’re really feeling can be a tremendous source of strength for you.”
If you’re a reader, buy a few books on managing transitions so you have a broader perspective on how others navigate a similar process. Transitions by William Bridges is a classic one. Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, based on a course they teach at Stanford University, is a recent book that’s been well-received.
In other words, know that while you may be the one who has decided to embark on a new journey, you don’t have to go it alone.
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