This may or may not come as a surprise to you, but you are going to change employers more than once over your career; this is the reality we live in today. Sometimes that change will be by choice and sometimes that change may be unexpected or out of your control (i.e. your job is made redundant or the organization you work for closes it’s doors, etc.). Unexpectedly feeling like you have to look for a new job (or suddenly having to) is a difficult circumstance, one that is both stressful and demanding. For some it is indeed a crisis. Yet, there are opportunities hidden in this circumstance that allow you to take stock of all that you have and all that you are, giving you rich context to inform what to pursue next in your career. Take heart, doing this requires courage.
Often when we are looking for a new place to invest our skills it is from a place of discomfort; there is a need to find the next role quickly and return to an acceptable balance the levels of comfort and control you want in your working life. But what if instead of putting your career eggs in the basket of “doing something” by immediately shopping for that next job, you stayed here for a moment and sat with your discomfort, easing into a period of contemplation to inform your next career step? As Zen Teacher John Tarrant said in his article It Would Be a Pity To Waste A Good Crisis “The beauty and nobility of your life may be more visible to you if a dark contrast is available”. What does thinking about what is uncomfortable have to tell you about what you need? How can it allow you to make much stronger choices in where you go next? Here are some examples:
There are many other examples of ways that discomfort comes to visit us in our working lives, you probably have a few that came to mind for you as you read that list. Objectivity plays a keen part in figuring out what your next step should be…listen to yourself, what do you have a yearning to do that you aren’t able to do at work today? Or maybe it has more to do with the communication or leadership style you prefer… either way, you can’t do a thing about it until you sit and identify what you need moving forward.
Without knowing what you need in your next career move (or place of work) your ability to engage with (and be motivated by) your work is diminished. However, giving yourself the time to digest what you have experienced in your career so far, and listen to see where you would really like to go next allows you to be intentional in both what you look for and how you approach finding your next career opportunity. Give yourself the gift of time when looking for your next career move; it may feel counter intuitive, but it is time well invested (and the only way to make good use of a bad circumstance).
How To Intentionally Plan Your Career
Throughout our careers we have a tug-of-war with the reality of our lives. “Am I being paid as much as my peers? Is this work interesting enough for me? Can I work these crazy hours and still care for my family? Am I being recognized or sought out for my expertise?” The reality is that you are an evolving, growing human being whose needs and abilities will continually change over time. Nothing stays the same forever, not you, not the demands of life outside of work and not your employer (or the labor market landscape in general).
It is up to each of us to build a healthy relationship with our careers; to stay attune to what we need, what is changing, and to be open to the unfolding relationship between who you are today, your personal life and your working life. For some this means meticulous planning, for others it may be “going with the flow”…most of us fall somewhere in between. Know this, people who are intentional about this intersection between life and career often experience less strife and anxiety and are more able to relax into their work with balance and wellbeing.
Looking for some of that? Here are 6 key items to consider before sitting down and planning for your career:
Keeping these six points in mind while contemplating your career will support a healthy and realistic approach to career planning that allows you to be intentional in your approach, making strong decisions that create wellbeing throughout your entire working life.
There it is, that horrible feeling that you may have to look for a new job. You’ve had a bad run of experience at work. You are starting to question if this employer is able to meet you where you are in your career, or you are hurt by actions (or inactions)…you are getting that sinking feeling that optimism cannot carry you through this last round of disappointment. We’ve all been there and you are not alone.
This is a very vulnerable place to be, changing employers is something that happens to people every day, but that does not make it a light decision or easy to do. Objectivity doesn’t always figure into this process when we are carrying difficult emotions about a place we spend 40 or more hours a week at, but it is necessary to ensure you are making a strong decision for considered reasons rather than reacting to what may be a series of temporary (or possibly preventable) bad experiences. This first step, contemplating whether or not it is time to leave, is an important one and so is taking the time you need to reflect and consider what may really be going on for you right now at work with a willingness to realistically see what is happening, getting to the bottom of your disappointment, checking for other viable options with your current employer.
What follows are some things to think about to help you remain objective as you determine what is best for you and your working life wellbeing:
There may be other questions you should ask yourself that are not on this list. Think about what they could be and write them down (answering them). You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to make the right decision based on facts and not feelings – which includes looking for other work when the working relationship at your current employer’s has become unsustainable (i.e. persistently and negatively impacting your well being). However, if after working through the list of questions you’ve decided you want to make this work better for both you and your employer, create a list of actions you will undertake to address the areas of concern you have in your working relationship, building respect and trust together through open and skillful dialog. Don’t expect that your employer will be the one to do something simply because you’ve made your concerns known; this is a partnership of which you are 50% of the equation (step one is open dialog to see what is possible, but know your employer may not be able to address everything on your list, nor will they be the only one who may have to make changes to make this work).
The truth is there is no such thing as a perfect employer; don’t despair, there are many wonderful employers out there who make a positive difference to people in their working lives but along the way there are always bumps and scrapes as the hard edges of reality are present everywhere. Organizations exist to produce specific results for clients, and as such are often imperfect at achieving that end-state AND providing the optimum working environment for everyone. Only by being objective and committing to work with your employer can you be a part of the solution that allows you to sustainably stay where you are (when that is what you ultimately want).
How To Manage Your Expectations
Expectations are a daily part of our landscape; I walked into my kitchen this morning expecting to get a coffee, and that everything I needed to make it would be there. I am sipping a hot cuppa right now (and loving it). There have been mornings when I’ve not been able to make myself a coffee because someone else drank all the milk, or I wasn’t paying attention to my coffee supply. Those mornings are harder than they need to be, even though forgoing my coffee first thing in the morning is really not the end of the world. Those mornings are harder because I have an attachment to one particular outcome and (dare I say) I see it as an entitlement, which when disrupted creates feelings of frustration, sometimes even anger, which then go on to influence my day if I do not bounce back from this initial disappointment. In other words, I make a big hairy deal about it and in so doing leach negativity into the start of my day. What is interesting here is I am the one doing it to myself, so that means I always have the choice to not react in this way when I cannot have my precious coffee (preserving the wellbeing in my day).
However, if I were to head into my kitchen every morning with no expectations at all of what may or may not be available for me to caffeinate myself, I leave myself open to possibilities, like a nice black tea or a cup of hot chocolate. When I am open to the possibilities of my well-stocked kitchen (for there are always options on hand) then not having a coffee does not produce a hardship in my day at all (not even a blip), even when my preference is for coffee. The difference here is my expectation. One example has me attached to only coffee and the other has me being open to a range of options. It never ceases to amaze me how such a simple thing such as awareness of our expectations can make a consistently positive difference in every day. And this doesn’t stop at coffee, this can be applied anywhere.
What makes us expect things? At work we form “emotional contracts” with our manager and our organization through both written and unwritten agreements. Contractually we know we will be paid accurately and on time; this is an example of a written agreement that we have an emotional connection to that could be defined as an expectation (and a reasonable one at that). Unwritten “agreements” usually fall into the category of expectations as well, such as “I have worked overtime for you for the past four months to help make us successful, therefore I will get a bigger bonus this year than last”. You can feel the implied emotional contract in that expectation. However, what we actually control in that scenario (getting a bigger bonus) is very little as employees don’t provide input into company-wide bonus budgets or have significant individual influence on things like the economic viability of the company, markets, etc. that effect an organizations’ ability to pay out performance based bonuses. Never the less, we build emotional contracts with all sorts of things at work we don’t control, forming the basis of expectations that may or may not be able to be met (i.e. “If my work is perfect I’ll get accolades!”, “If I say ‘yes’ to everything I will be well liked”, etc.). Experientially we don’t get our expectations met all the time, so you’d think we’d figure it out and become less attached to outcomes we don’t influence or control. But we don’t.
Expectations are something we all carry, it’s how we hold ourselves and each other accountable for things that have been promised or that are needed. But they are frustrating as well, they work in a spectrum influenced by other variables; expectation + need = requirement, expectation + want = entitlement. When the common denominator is expectation, we don’t always allow ourselves to accurately see something objectively or realistically (being discerning about need versus want). Expectations are inert (not the source bad or good feelings) until you add them with something else (a promise, a need or a want). Let’s look at this another way; expectation and hope are related emotions, and in this example hope is usually thought of as a very positive emotion, and expectation less so. Yet they are two sides of the same coin, hope being something aspirational and expectation being something contractual (remember the emotional contract we form). It’s choosing to frame this openly for ourselves, using both expectation and hope, that can help us to better manage our emotions. “I hope I get a bigger bonus this year because of all the overtime I’ve worked, but I recognize there are many other factors at play that have nothing to do with me, but might mean my performance bonus won’t be any bigger than last year.” In choosing to be less attached to a particular outcome, you can realistically look at what is in your control, which helps you to be less influenced by negative, energy sucking emotions than an unchecked expectation would otherwise allow. This gives you emotional options (a whole beautiful range of them), while recognizing that you do have desires and wants. These options are key to sustaining your wellbeing, whether it is in the workplace, or starting your morning off right.