OMG! I have been a really bad blogger not writing anything in the whole of this year...! NOT good.
So we are in July now and I wondered what might have happened for YOU between my last blog post that talked about handling the stresses of a career change in 2015 and now.
7 months later, where are you at with your career change plans (or intentions or dreams)?
What challenge(s) have you encountered along the way? What has been or is still stressing you out that seems to be an immovable block in the way of the big leap?
What is the one thing you wish you could change or knew in order to move forward with your career change (and being less stressed with it)?
I would really love to hear and will do my best to address those issues you mention. Please comment below or on Twitter (@Miz_Purpura) using the hashtag #askMaria4careers in your tweet and I will aim to get back to each of you individually within 24 hours with a reply.
Obviously if you are happy to share any successes around your career change this year, please do so as well. This will be encouraging and inspiring!
First of all: Thanks to all who at some point during 2014 took the time to visit my website and read any of my humble attempts at writing!
I wish everyone a fabulous transition into the new year!!
In 2015: let's all be more present and less consumed by things like work, routine and social media, let's all be more human and seek those rewarding connections life is all about, let's all be more self-aware and seek true understanding of who we are and why we act the way we do in order to reach a new level of a more fulfilling life, let' s take time to identify what it is we really want and need and be brave enough to pursue those things, let's all take time to simply contemplate, let's watch out for each other, let's be silly and laugh more, as one can never laugh enough, let's be real and vulnerable. At least this is part of what I wish for 2015!
How to cope with the stresses linked to a career change
If the thought of going back to work after the Christmas break creates a sensation of huge discomfort or even anxiety for you the way it did for me 2 years ago, it means: the time for action has come. Analyse what it is that creates this negative affect and whether or not you can take actions for these things to change at your current workplace, and if not 2015 might be the year for a career change.
Fact: research shows that those happy with their career are more than twice as likely to thrive in other areas of life (health, relationships etc.). Considering the amount of time we spend our lives working this is not too surprising. Then again, this finding does question the common idea of simply doing any job to pay the bills, seeing work as an unavoidable burden whilst separating your “actual life” from it and finding happiness outside of work. It seems as if our overall wellbeing can be significantly enhanced when we experience wellbeing at work.
This is encouraging for those of you out there who hate their job (let’s call it what it is) and are considering going down a new career path. A career change can be particularly draining though due to the increased investment of time, effort and financial resources, as well as the uncertainty of the unknown, let alone the “Where to start, I am overwhelmed-” and “FOF (Fear of failure)”-syndrome.
During a career transition no matter at what stage (whether you are trying to figure out whether or not to stay in your current job/industry, you are trying to find out what career really suits you or you already took the plunge and are retraining) it is important to keep up good levels of overall wellbeing to carry you through challenging times of instability and change. Going through a career change, from contemplating one through to actioning it, can be stressful. The good news is: it is in your hands to what degree!
First of all, here is the latest definition of stress: “stress occurs when perceived pressure exceeds your perceived ability to cope” (Palmer, S. 2013, founder of the Centre for Stress Management).
The word “perceived” in above definition is key here, because it indicates that it is our take on events that determines stress levels, not the events themselves. As Epictetus said: “We are disturbed not by things themselves but by the views we take of them.” The key to reducing stress hence lies in our mind and this means we gain control back. The ability to reframe is a powerful one in this context i.e. seeing situations from different angles. “I have no clue what I want to do” can become “I have the privilege to explore and chose from a vast range of options.” Even though too much choice can paralyse, we often forget the empowerment that goes with choice; careers are much more linked to legacy and inheritance in other cultures for example, leaving individuals with little career freedom.
Now let me share a few (by me) tested stress-management tips with you that are particularly useful when facing a career change. My biggest advice to you when going through a (potential) career change is:
1. Manage your thinking!
a) Put things into perspective. You feel like a change is necessary but somehow you have doubts?
Try this exercise:
First visualise how the rest of your life would look like if you did not change anything. Imagine the effect on you and the people close to you year by year until the end of your life and notice how it makes you feel. Notice the regrets (if there are any) and the things you’d be saying to yourself.
Then visualise how the rest of your life might look like if you undertook a change. Imagine how you would feel, look and sound different, imagine all the (potential) benefits to you and your close ones in the short and in the long run.
Have an inclination now?
b) Feeling stupid for not knowing where you stand? Especially at “your” age? Thinking you should have figured things out by now and/or you must find a new direction asap? Free yourself from should/ought to and must!
Have you ever been in a situation surrounded by people, for example in a training course, a staff briefing, a talk you attended etc., where you thought something or you had a question about something, but didn’t dare to voice it out of fear of being inadequate and afterwards realised that others were thinking the same? Remember that feeling of relief linked to that realisation, how validated you suddenly felt? This is exactly the same. There are many more people out there in the exact same situation than you think; dissatisfied with their jobs, clueless about what kind of career move would actually make them happy. The question is whether you want to belong to the silent sufferers or those who dare to take action. You have felt constrained for long enough. If you continue to put pressure on yourself thinking in ‘musts’/’shoulds’ and ‘ought tos’ you are not doing yourself a favour! Listen to yourself and the effect when you say these words! Things that you “should” do put you down and aren’t very motivating. The sound of things that “are good for you” however, changes completely; these things sound more appealing. For example: “I choose to reduce my spending, because it will help me finance a happier career” sounds different from “I have to cut costs ”; so much more of a restraining feel to it!
For those who feel comforted by statistics, here is another noteworthy one: In average we change career (! not jobs) about 3 times throughout life. That necessarily means you are not alone, plus it also goes to show that people change careers even at later life stages. Who says we have to have things figured out by a certain age anyway? Free yourself from constraints or you’ll end up in a vicious cycle of negativity! Also, not to discourage you, but statistically speaking an actual career change (not just swapping jobs) takes between 1-7 years, so don’t be too hard on yourself!
c) Once you embark on a new career journey you might find yourself asking: did I make the right decision? Will it all work out? Accept uncertainty as well as your fallibility as human being while taking ownership for your actions!
Surely you are learning loads of new useful things. Even if you were to not end up working in what you thought was your new dream career, you will acquire useful new knowledge and transferable skills along the way making you overall more “employable”. Also, and probably most importantly: you’ll get to know yourself better in the process. As human creatures we are constantly in the making!! (Noticed the reframing?)
Also de-awfulise! What is the worst that can happen?? You invested some more time and money into finding what is right for you and found that you didn’t find it the first time round? Doesn’t sound like this will spark wars or kill you, does it? I once saw this quote and really liked it: “Life is not a straight line. It is ok to have curves in it.” (unknown) So don’t place unrealistic demands on yourself of creating the perfect path in no time, this can actually be counterproductive. Remember to reframe: There is no failure, only feedback! Everything you do will bring you closer to your goal one way or another!
I am sure you have heard loads about mindfulness by now, as it has been trending for quite a bit, and rightly so! The reason research found that it not only increases concentration but also helps even with depression is that it helps you focus on the here and now. Anxiety comes from reliving past stresses and anticipating future ones. Mindfulness, a secular meditative practice, helps you become aware of your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgemental way and manage these to be more resourceful in the present! You might find it especially helpful if you are going through (career) changes; why not give it a go? The Mental Health Foundation created a dedicated online portal for mindfulness with an online course (cost £60): http://bemindful.co.uk/. Here you can also download free exercises: http://www.freemindfulness.org/.
2. Financial worries – how to deal with them
Ok, money issues are often THE big stress source especially before or during a career change. You wonder how to pay your bills while paying for getting retrained, if you leave your current job. My advice: make sure you know you have enough money coming in for survival and whatever you plan to do BEFORE you do it. Might seem obvious, but that is the best way of managing your stress levels around this! You basically have the following options:
- You can try to work reduced hours as to make your work compatible with exploring new options in a part time internship or with that part time uni-course that will qualify you for what you really like.
- You can try things on the side in the evening and on weekends.
- You can try to get your employer to grant you a sabbatical
- You can save up enough money that lets you feel comfortable to take the plunge and quit. After exploring a bit you might want to envisage part time work or freelancing (even in your old industry) to finance your way through to your new dream career (the option I went for)
3. Manage the process!
In order to feel on top of things and hence keep the pressure within acceptable measures, schedule in concrete dates in your diary on which you check in with yourself. We can easily get carried away exploring and exploring without taking note of what we learn or reassessing where we stand with regards to our overall goal; provided we clearly defined it and broke it down, of course. If you now think: “But I have no clue what I want, how will I have defined a goal?” Make that your goal: finding out what it is you want. Come up with concrete and time-bound steppingstones of HOW to achieve that (what things you want to explore, who you want to talk to etc.)
Make sure to make time to check whether you are on track or how far off track you are in relation to what you set out to achieve. Assign yourself timeframes. Once you know your destination, this habit will help you keep focused on the overall goal. It will also help you be aware of what you are doing things and enduring potential sacrifices for.
4. Additional tips you might have heard before, but are not to be omitted when it comes to managing stress levels and ensuring wellbeing:
a) Do the things you love and that energize you! (Cannot stress this enough!)
b) Exercise, when not overdone, not only is good for your body; it releases happiness hormones and adds substantially to your wellbeing, moodwise too!! I personally can tell how lack of exercise usually creates inertia in me, whilst a regular workout (usually in the form of dance) helps me maintain a positive outlook on life even in challenging times!
c) Make sure you have a supportive network, distance yourself from stress carriers!
Others can often pass on stress either by their behaviour (e.g. rushing around like a headless chicken) or simply by passing on their beliefs. I remember when I was about to tell my Dad about my quitting my secure and well-paid job with nothing else in the pocket apart from a few savings...I was rather nervous...Then, surprisingly he simply said that I probably knew what I was doing and that it’ll be up to me to figure things out. That was it. No telling off, no “are you crazy?” - discourse. He displayed utter faith in me and my decision-making (or at least pretended to). Now, unfortunately we aren’t always surrounded by this kind of limitless belief in us. Expect people to question your decisions and actions and be clear that the only person’s approval that counts is yours (if you have family commitments it is a slightly different story, of course, and it will be important to negotiate the impact of your decisions). If auntie simply cannot get why you would prefer to venture with building your own business over sitting in the office 9-5, that is fair enough. Listen to everybody’s concerns, once! Acknowledge them, then turn around and don’t look back (figuratively speaking, of course, as this wouldn’t work with flatmates, for example). Don’t allow for doubters to project their fears on you! If you consider the validity of those concerns and are still fully aligned with your new endeavours and career path, then you will find a way to achieve your goals, realistically. Even if you cannot see the doors on the sides of the tunnel you are about to go through, that does not mean they are not there!
If you’d like additional support with your career change in 2015, feel free to get in touch!
I don’t know about you, but I often read great inspiring quotes (on Twitter mostly) and find it a shame that most of the time they don’t seem to make their way from my short term into my long term memory. When I find some of these remarkable quotes on Twitter, that somehow seem to speak to my soul, I usually mark them as favourites to be able to return to them. Recently I reviewed those quotes and created a quotes-board with those that really resonate with me and have been especially relevant in the past year for me. The ones I really wish to keep present with me are now pinned on the sloped ceiling over my bed. Every day I try to be guided by some of these deeper life-enhancing principles. I thought I’d share my top 11, as I find them very empowering:
1 . “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't - you're right.” Henry Ford
This is definitely a top one for me. The first time I heard it during a seminar at uni, I had to meditate on it to unlock its deeper meaning. It points at the all-determining power of the mind. I learned about the extensive power of thoughts for the first time last year during my self-discovery in the context of cognitive behavioural psychology and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). We are what we think and we become what we think about - and it is true (I can tell from my own experience)! Foremost it is our thoughts that determine whether we will succeed or not. If we don’t even conceive XYZ, we cannot bring it about and make it appear in reality. It is our mindset that shapes, that makes reality. There is an intricate link, more than one would imagine. This is a very liberating thought freeing one from external constraints and placing the main power of shaping who you are on yourself and your thoughts.
2. “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Another great insight that resonated very well with me and that I came across for the first time in the form of another quote from Herminia Ibarra: “By far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change careers is to delay taking the first step until they have settled on a destination.” I was only contemplating a career change back then and hesitating whether to take the leap precisely because I didn’t see the destination ahead. But this made me realise that you cannot wait in life to move forward until you see everything clearly laid out in front of you. Another metaphor that exemplifies this beautifully is the one of a dark tunnel: You might even have a goal in mind, but you haven’t figured out how to get there and the dark tunnel ahead is rather daunting. Well, only once you take the first step and dare to go through the tunnel you will be able to see the doors that are on the sides of the tunnel, as you go along, all representing different opportunities. You don’t need to see the end of the staircase or the whole of it, all you need to do is dare to take a first step of action and this will set in motion the rest; that, which you are not foreseeing to start with.
3. “There is no failure. Only feedback.” (Robert Allen)
This one I already talked about in my last blog entry. Having this as life approach is extremely liberating, it takes a lot of pressure off of you. Makes you more courageous and get closer to discovering who you really are.
4. “A secret to happiness is letting every situation be what it is instead of what you think it should be, and then making the best of it.” Unknown
It might sound like a commonplace and yet it is such a wise and difficult thing to do in everyday life where we allow ourselves to be frustrated by all those things (small and big) that don’t go our way. I am especially guilty of this, as I am not good at embracing change and accepting when things turn out differently as anticipated. I am also very analytical and tend to overthinking. I often feel upset because internally I am bouncing off what would have been if, I think about what could have been and what should have been, rather than channelling my energy into accepting things the way they are and taking things at face value. This has been especially relevant in the past months for me with regards to accepting how certain things in my life turned out instead of dwelling on them, sounds familiar, huh?
5. “Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of travelling.” (Margaret Lee Runbeck)
Closely related to above. Love how this quote stresses that happiness is not something that lies in the future that you ought to reach out for. We too often think of happiness as an object instead of something that we create internally.
6. "Don't hate, it's too big a burden to bear." - Martin Luther King.
What I like about this one is how it focuses on the negative impact that negative emotions towards others actually have on YOU. Something one can easily lose sight of when wrapped up in anger or even hatred. Directing strong negative emotions at others can only consume you and won’t bring about anything good for you. It is healthier to find a way to let go and be at peace.
7. “When you lose something, don't think of it as a loss; accept it as the gift that gets you on the path you were meant to travel on.” (Unknown)
This is a wonderful example of reframing. I am sure most of us have experienced how losing someone (not as in death!) or something (that partner, that contract etc.) turned out to be a blessing retrospectively speaking. This quote is a good reminder of this. Sometimes we become what we are meant to become by not getting/by losing what we want at a certain moment in life. Of course, if we only knew what these rough patches are good for in advance it would make life easier, but then again, life simply isn’t always easy. The “blessing in disguise” philosophy gives hope in difficult times.
8. "All things are unfolding exactly the way they are supposed to." Unknown
This quote is a logical continuation of the previous one and I found it recently very consoling when certain people “opted out” of my life and my life in general was a bit chaotic. A very good mantra indeed.
9. “Be strong enough to let go, and patient enough to wait for what you deserve.” Unknown
Too often we settle for less than we deserve without even realising, simply because subconsciously we don’t think it is likely something else even better will come along. Sometimes we simply cling to something despite it already being lost and waste time and energy mourning over it when we actually deserved better. I have always had difficulties of letting go (of habits, of people); it requires strength and patience to sit things out rather than hanging on to something that doesn’t fulfil you and maybe even proves unworthy of you anyway. Sounds obvious, but the really hard bit is becoming aware and accepting that, what you are wishing to keep in your life, cause it seemed good in the past, is actually not what you set it out to be. Maybe not any more, maybe never was. This might be the relationship with your workplace, with which you simply fell out of love or a person that ends up demonstrating he/she does not appreciate your worth.
10. “What I'm looking for is not out there, it is in me.” (Helen Keller)
I SO relate to this one, as I have become aware during the last year of introspection to what degree I have been dependent on external approval, on different levels. At the same time it hit me that the only person’s approval I need to testify to my self-worth is mine. Once you attach more weight to your own judgement, needs and requirements you feel more empowered and are truly paving the way for creating your happiness by and for yourself without the need of anyone else doing this for you.
11. “You have more options than you think you do.” (Bruce Van Horn)
Simple, but powerful. I like this reminder, cause I realised that I am someone that gets easily stuck in Either/Or and All-or-Nothing-Thinking, thus limiting options for myself. Especially in challenging times we often only see the constraints brought about by things rather than the different variants of reality. Lateral thinking and thinking outside the box – skills that are highly useful in such a context. But even the less creative ones among us (like me) can expand their viewpoint by letting go of fixed ideas and sequences and timeframes, by sitting back and trying to look at a situation from different angles, perhaps with a friend or a coach.
What do you think of above and what other quotes do you hold dear as guiding principles of your life?
The tension between employers’ expectation to see a ‘clear career plan’ and the uncertainty we face as part of our human existence
Don’t we all dread this interview question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?” The fact that it is still one of the questions we prepare ourselves for in a job interview demonstrates the expectations out there: we ought to have a clear idea of how our professional future should look like and how to get there. If you don’t have a realistic but ambitious and clear-cut goal as part of a well crafted career plan, you lack the necessary drive. Really?
Individuals in the working world seem under constant pressure to know exactly where the career journey is meant to go, what the next steps will look like on the career ladder in order to be successful. But how realistic is this demand? Does it not create a tension with the real life contingencies we all experience as part of the human condition?
In fact this stance is often not only counterintuitive but also counterproductive, especially if you find yourself at a career crossing at which you feel like you might need a change of direction, but can’t precisely grasp where to.
Wanting to be sure that you take “the right decision” before going out there and doing something can be the most paralysing thing in the world and kill your reinvention!
This is one key learning I take away from my own experience with career change:
1) allowing yourself not to know the answer before you act can be very freeing.
I started to simply explore different options moving away from the pressure I used to put myself under to find THE right alternative to what I had been doing.
(That is how I found the courage to try myself out as Zumba instructor for example, a challenge that helped me grow. Of course, I was in the lucky position to have some savings that helped me to focus on exploring new options after leaving my old job; it is also true though that we can all try new things out aside as well and find ways of looking into other professions whilst in a full time job.)
I agree with Herminia Ibarra author of “Working Identity” who says: “By far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change careers is to delay taking the first step until they have settled on a destination.”
I found this idea to be a great help in reducing the pressure of "making the right decision” and a way of getting around the phenomenon of ‘analysis paralysis’ (comparing and analysing different options with the aim of finding the optimal solution to the point that we feel paralysed and unable to make any decision whatsoever). Especially nowadays with so many possibilities to choose from, we can easily feel overwhelmed and get stuck in no-action mode, not taking any action at all.
There is no failure, only feedback.
One of the principles of neuro-linguistic programming is very helpful too in moving forward and daring to take action despite the uncertainty that often inherently goes along with our decision-making:
2) There is no failure, only feedback.
Adopting this philosophy can be incredibly empowering, because fear of failure is one of the things that holds us back the most from trying ourselves and new things out.
Regarding my Zumba-instructor qualification: I was not sure if I would be good at this, but I decided not to make it about that and just go for it. I’d learn from it one way or another. If it was going to be something I could discard, it would only bring me closer to what really was for me. I ended up having my own classes and loving it!
Action leads to motivation and produces more action
Sometimes we simply cannot motivate ourselves to actually do something and procrastinate instead. Research psychology shows that paradoxically enough
3) action leads to motivation and produces more action
(see Kearns, H. and Gardiner, M. (2011) Waiting for the motivation fairy Nature 472-127). The important thing is to start somewhere (anywhere!) and the rest is a knock-on effect.
Now, many theories like NLP and Business theory state that having clear and concise goals is a fundamental condition for actually reaching them (think of the SMART goals-rule: Specific, Measurable, Achievable/Ambitious, Realistic, Time-bound ). But finding them can be a goal in itself and on that way we should really not be so hard on ourselves, as this is likely to actually defeat the purpose.
I am certainly not dismissing planning altogether; I am quite a planner and list-fan ;), ask my friends! I just believe I found a healthier, more flexible approach to planning when it comes to career choices. One that helps me to develop with more freedom: It is ok to start walking even if the ultimate outcome is not clearly in sight. I trust that the destination will manifest itself along the way and the feedback I get from my experiences helps me modify the plan as I go along. After all, according to chaos theory no one can predict the impact on our lives and careers caused by the well known butterfly effect: a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere far away can bring about unattended consequences for you right here.
The point that we cannot foresee all of the possible factors that will influence our career and how they will influence it, is beautifully laid out in this youtube clip, check it out:
I personally have found myself on a very exciting journey since I left my full-time job in February 2013 and I am happy to have taken the plunge. I’d like to invite you to accompany me along, not for the sake of it, but because I intend to share useful insights I came across along the way and that, I believe, could potentially be of benefit to you too.
This blog is intended to be a pool of inspiration around careers, interpersonal communication and how to handle life’s stresses. So, do check back in from time to time and by all means, please do engage and leave comments. I’d love to hear about your opinions and experiences.