Sometimes, we come to the end of a chapter of our working lives. You know when this happens to you, although you might spend months or years pretending it’s not happening. Perhaps you have a job that looks fantastic on paper. It might even be your ‘Dream Job’ – something you have strived towards for years or even decades. It might be well paid, prestigious and comfortable. But it no longer lights you up. You’ve lost sight of why it matters. Like it or not, it has become too small.
These moments can be tremendously scary. Often, you know we need to change but you don’t know how. You may see how to change companies, how to change role, how to go after a promotion. But how to discover what you really want to do with your life now… how to find your way out of one industry and into something new… well, that is a harder and unfamiliar journey.
I’ve been through this myself, back in 2005 when I left a corporate career to discover work that felt more meaningful to me. In 2015, when I prepared to become a parent. And again, more recently, after my second maternity leave. As an Executive Coach, I have also guided hundreds of people through these kinds of transformational moments into new career paths, or new relationships with their work.
And I have learned that there are four steps (or moves) you can take, to actively discover your next career chapter.
1. Make Space
Step one involves removing your energy from your current situation, to make space for change. If you’re kamikaze and/or young, free and single, like I was back in 2005, that might mean quitting your current job. But it can also be a more subtle withdrawal: working less hours, and leaving yourself time to explore other interests. Or more subtle still: creating a gap between your sense of identity and your current job, between who you are and what you do. These can often get artificially glued together, which is a barrier to real change.
2. Find new worlds
If you’re looking for transformational change, you’re going to need to meet something new. It’s unlikely you’re going to transform your life if you don’t move beyond your familiar environment and relationships. You’ll just keep meeting what you already know.
Finding new worlds can start with small and simple steps. Reach out to old friends, colleagues from long ago, people you admire, and set up a coffee with them. Read widely, watch TED talks, sign up for an online programme that interests you or has you curious. Chat with someone new at the school gates or on a dog walk, or strike up a conversation in an art exhibition (yes, this is a little harder 2 meters apart and masked!). Let yourself see beyond the world which you’ve inhabited. Don’t go in to the conversation with an agenda. Just go in open, curious and ready to learn something new about life, yourself or the world.
3. Let yourself be drawn into the future
You cannot think your way through transformative change, much as you might like to. There is no detailed map or neat to-do list, which you simply follow. Sorry. It just doesn’t happen like that. You don’t know what you don’t know, so no amount of thinking and planning and controlling is going to take your life from here to there.
Instead, you have to learn to move with instinct. Somewhere in the future is the life you’re moving towards. Imagine it’s magnetic, and you need to let yourself be drawn towards it. How? Well….
4. Take consistent action
You don’t need to know where you are going, to start walking. In fact, the opposite is true. You discover the path by walking. But to move through change, you do need to keep moving.
I like to offer my clients a really simple exercise. Every day, settle in, and ask yourself: what is one action I can take today, to move through change / to move towards my future career or life? Don’t over-think this. If your intuition says to call someone you’ve not spoken with in years, call them. If you feel drawn to sign up for an art class, improv lessons, or an online training, do it. If need to sit under a tree, go for a run or have a nap, trust that. Don’t worry about why you’re doing it, or where it will take you. Just take the next step. And let your future draw you closer, step by step.
Maybe this all sounds simple. And it is. It’s also terrifying, exhilarating, exciting, challenging and courageous. You may like to find a guide (coach, friend, mentor) to support you through the journey. Most importantly, though, trust yourself, trust the uncertainty, and remember:
Traveller, there is no path
The path is made by walking.
By walking you make a path.
- Antonio Machado