Monday, 20 October 2014

Thinking about the next steps in your career? Stop!

 My family used to tease me for my inability to make decisions. Whether I was choosing food in a restaurant (fish or ribs) or which options to take at school (Latin or Art), it was not unusual for me to agonise over the pros and cons, delaying the final decision as long as possible for fear of getting it “wrong”.

Actually, my family’s teasing was a bit unfair. I made many big decisions (which university, which course, where to live) quickly and easily. I know now that I would get “stuck”, not because I couldn’t decide but because my thought process was at odds with what I felt; my intuition or gut instinct.

Going back 7 years, I had a good job and I was ambitious. Thinking about what to do to further my career sounded like this:

“I work for a successful company; I have worked hard for 11 years and am regularly promoted; my skills are needed; I am well paid; my role is secure. Answer - Work harder; Deliver more; Target the next promotion.”

In my head, lots of boxes were being ticked. But the answer my head came up with didn’t feel motivating or inspiring (which is a requirement for me if I’m going to work hard for it). I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happy because, logically, I had everything I wanted! Perhaps I had no right to be unhappy because I should have been grateful to have a job at all?

So what?

If you rely on logic, intelligence and experience to make a decision, you will make sound, evidence-based decisions which will, more often than not, be spot on in a business situation. However, choices that impact your life (your home, your family, your career, your health) draw upon feelings, dreams and values. Ignore them at your peril as their intangibility belies their power!

Back to 7 years ago, I put my logical thoughts to one side and listened to what else was going on;

“I am stuck; opportunities are limited; there is no commitment to change here; I am wasting my time; my skills are undervalued. Answer - Take charge; Stop whining and do something about it!”


In this situation, my thoughts about my career were only part of the picture. I was effectively being pulled in two different directions and, although my intuition made no logical sense, ignoring it was not making it go away, it was just stopping me making a good decision so I became “stuck”.

“Stuck” is not a fun place to be. It is a place you arrive at when you feel you have “no choice”. You may feel obligated or restricted by your responsibilities or your specialist skills or the state of the external job market – all of which feel out of your control or influence. And when you feel that your options are limited or removed, it is easy to lose your spark. 

Pause your thoughts

Your intelligence is unquestionable and has provided answers to career-defining moments in the past. So what’s getting in the way this time?

Your mind is exceptional. It is the ultimate multi-tasking tool. But it can get crowded in there.

If your career development thought process involves innumerable options, potential options, risks and scenarios based on evidence, extrapolation and pure conjecture or if it results in just one option that you don’t like but can’t think your way around, it could be because your thoughts are at odds with your intuition. (I think of it as gut instinct or intuition. Call it what you will, you possess it and it has something important to say!)

What does your intuition say? What is your reaction? What are you telling yourself about what comes up?

Do you mistrust your intuition? Perhaps you judge it as frivolous or irresponsible? I thought mine sounded like a spoiled child. And perhaps, on its own, it is. However, when you are able to combine your logic and your intuition, your opportunities open up and your decisions become much easier.
You have a choice.

Choice is the antidote to being stuck.

It’s up to you whether you choose to listen to your intuition fully or just to the parts that make “sense”. No matter how scary or ridiculous they may seem, ignoring or shutting down the messages from your intuition, does not make them go away.

The key is to make a conscious choice. Feeling stuck is about not choosing – either because you don’t know what to choose or because you don’t feel you have a choice. Making a specific choice, even if that is to stay doing what you’re doing, demonstrates that you are taking responsibility for your career path.

For me, choice meant updating my cv and actively seeking a new opportunity. I secured my dream job shortly afterwards but, actually, the biggest thrill was in making the decision to look in the first place. I had taken charge, stopped whining and done something about it. 

Getting Unstuck

Try these questions to take you out of your thoughts and to access your gut instinct. It helps if you answer quickly and either speak or write the words. Try not to censor yourself or judge what you say/write.
  • Imagine it is 5 years from now and you are happy – what are you doing?
  • If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?

If you feel “stuck” at the moment or are unsure about your career options, get in touch and we can work on it together.

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