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Navigating Career Transitions

My friend David recently said to me, “I feel like you’re good at handling career transitions. You should write about that sometime.” Having been through my fair share, I've learned a bit about what to do, what to avoid and am happy to share. I’d begin though by prefacing that a transition is far from easy at moments and I am fortunate to have circumstances that make it easier to navigate. My home is my only major debt obligation and I have no dependents to care for. I believe in today’s fast moving world acquiring new skills and points of view is critical. As one study from Oxford University pointed out, “by 2040, 47% of all jobs that exist today will be vulnerable to automation.” Staying ahead of this curve is key. And yet, as your obligations increase, finding the time and resources to do so can be difficult. The following are a handful of things I try to keep in mind and recommend to anyone if you find yourself in or elect to go through a career transition.

One of the first things to be prepared is the mind game your ego and external environment might place on you. The value we assign to work in our country is high. An easy example of this is when meeting someone for the first time, how long is it before you ask or are asked, “what do you do?” The question is of course not about your favorite pastimes or what you do around the house but of course your work. Side note: If you want to experience what conversation is like when you are not allowed to ask or answer that question, you should sign up for House of Genius. Its a 3 hour event in which you cannot talk about your professional background or experience.

So when you’re in a point of transition, its useful to be prepared for, “what do you do?” You will likely feel more confident and at the same time reinforce to yourself the journey you’re on. It will feel better than simply stating you're unemployed. While a detailed plan is not needed one response I find useful is sharing something I'm excited about. Something I’ve read and am spending time reflecting and how I might apply it. It can also be a new skill I'm developing and its potential applications. If you have the luxury of this time, you must treat it as something to engage with rather than dance around.

Being without a job can feel like a handicap but there is at least one “unfair advantage” it provides you over the average employed person. We all know its easy to get caught up in our work when we have a demanding job and when you layer a commute on top of it along with errands, chores and social commitments, the free time we have shrinks fast. The little free time busy people have rarely gets devoted to professional development. It is instead often sequestered to the infrequent realm of trainings and workshops. The time you have can and should be used to move ahead of people you might historically compete with or in a new direction. There might be new trends in your field to study or a skill you can develop that takes your current experience and builds on it in a new direction. The best visual I can give you for this is a Venn diagram. Take a look at your current knowledge, skills and abilities and experiment with what new skill or concept might be valuable to layer over what you already have? I said to my father the other day that while I do not take delight in periods away from work, when I look back at previous periods, I can indeed see this is when valuable skillsets have entered my toolkit.

The next piece of advice I’ll add combines something my friends Jono and Lauren said into one. Treat being unemployed like a job. Have a schedule and goals, whether its number of meetings, time you get up and things you mean to accomplish. Sure, aimless wandering is bound to happen here and there but the more you stay on track, the more you’ll feel like you’re making progress. My friend Lauren reminded me the other day though that amongst the work of furthering yourself or building your network that I should also make sure I’m taking time to relax or do fun things I’ve been meaning to get to. Once I’m back on the job ferris wheel, that time will indeed be more scarce.

Spend less time on job boards and more time building relationships. Openings can give you a great idea of what is out there and there is no reason to not apply but make the best effort you can to find people who are on the inside. You want to avoid being a number in an application stack when at all possible.

Finally, despite ease I may have found at moments in a career transition, there are moments that are not fun. There are days I second-guess the decision and my value. Will I ever get out of this? Do people think I’m lazy? Am I lazy? But when done right, this is what putting in the hard work to evolve yourself looks like. You can absolutely do it while holding down a full-time job and believe me, I’m not at all urging against it. But there are ways to leverage all that extra time if and when you decide to or find yourself pushed into the metaphorical pool.

Go Forth Boldly

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