During this strange, unsettling time, it’s been uplifting to hear people say that maybe this unprecedented global challenge is an epic reset button – for society, for humanity, for individuals. The universe is forcing us to take stock, check our perspectives, and make some changes. This is not to minimize the suffering and loss that is occurring, but when we collectively come out the other side of this – and we will – life can’t go back to the same old, same old.
The virus lockdown has thrown a roadblock into my quest to create a more unique and satisfying career. I can’t visit reforestation projects in coal country or do an info interview with an educational travel operator. My boots-on-the-ground exploration will have to wait a little while.
But thankfully I’ve already done the internal exploration. This is the most important aspect of a career transition. Talking with a friend who’s a personal coach, we agreed that many people aren’t aware that self-exploration is critical when making a career change. Because in order to be truly happy in our work lives, a job should fit who we are, not just tasks that we’re capable of doing.
So if you’ve been thinking about making a career change, this is your window of opportunity to get started. Set aside some time from binge-watching and stress-eating and virtual-barhopping to ask yourself an important question: “Who am I?”
When you have an answer to that question – in all its many dimensions – you’ll have a better sense of the direction (or directions) you want to move in. You’ll have a framework for active career exploration and creation.
There are many ways to tackle this weighty three-word question. Ask yourself things like:
What’s really important to me?
What experiences make me happy?
What do I want to be remembered for?
What aspects of my jobs have I enjoyed?
What section of a bookstore am I drawn to, and why?
If I could do anything in the world for work, what would it be?
Keep asking questions. Approach this from every angle you can think of to get more insights into yourself. Write the answers down; this is not something to think about in the shower for a quick minute. And take the time to really mull and ponder. You and your life happiness are worth the effort!
Get some outside perspective too. Ask friends and colleagues for a few adjectives they’d use to describe you, preferably good ones. Look at old letters of recommendation. Recall any past performance reviews. Accept what feels right, and set the rest aside. The goal is to discover and own who you are, to embrace all your assets and wear them proudly as you pursue new paths.
Draw on formal resources as well. Take a self-assessment test such as the Enneagram or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. For years I thought my approach to work was unrealistic and maybe even a little bratty – until my INFP Myers-Briggs profile description matched my attitudes exactly. It was great to not feel alone in my mindset, and to see the unique value my type can offer a workplace. Look online for lists of core values, personal traits, and other descriptors – and check off the ones that fit you. Then maybe rank them. Do whatever helps you to better understand the information... and yourself.
I’ve used these approaches and after sifting through all of my notes, I have a true sense of what I want, how I want my career path to unfold. It’s unconventional by many standards, but it’s who I am. I even came up with a mantra for my career and life going forward: Explore. Discover. Share. Enlighten. Empower. Inspire. I can’t wait to shed the current corona shackles and manifest this mantra every day.
Of course, you don’t need to create a mantra or some way-outside-the-box career. If at the end of your self-exploration, the ideal path for you is a traditional job in a traditional setting – as long as it fits you and will keep you happy and satisfied, that’s cool. But be honest with yourself. Don’t compromise or be afraid of going for the gusto. Don’t think that being happy in work is self-indulgent. This is our one life, and we know now that everything can turn in an instant.
The world and our lives will eventually return to normal. But it will be a new, and hopefully better, normal. So take this downtime to ask "Who am I? How do I want to live the rest of my one life?" And then... go out and live it.