Many individuals who contact me want to talk through the subject and feasibility of a career transition. They seek perspective on whether the feelings and experiences they currently have toward their work indicate that a change in job or profession may indeed be necessary.
Career transitions are certainly growing in frequency. For young adults in particular, career transitions will simply be a reality of their “career paths.” But regardless of our stage in life, career transitions present us with practicalities to sort through, multiple decisions to make, and a wide range of emotions to navigate as we step into change.
Career transitions can be a deliberate choice. We may seek out new professional experiences, we may look forward to change, learning new skills, and having opportunities to express our capacities in different environments.
Career transitions can also feel inevitable. We may have simply outgrown our jobs. Or opportunities to advance and move into new roles are no longer possible in our current work environment.
Still other career transitions can be imposed on us, the result of job loss. The abrupt change and additional stress can be especially destabilizing.
Reflecting on work
I want to share 4 topics of reflection, each of which has come up in conversation with clients as they contemplate whether a career transition may be necessary and whether they are ready to embark on one.
Lack of structure and support
Until we are actively engaged in a job or career, until we have direct work experience, we rarely reflect on the amount of structure and/or support we may need or want around us.
Structure and support can mean different things depending on the individual and the nature of the work.
Some of us are quite comfortable with minimal structure, we flourish designing and organizing how and when we do things. We enjoy having different responsibilities and can confidently navigate frequent changes on any given workday.
Others of us require, and flourish equally well, within more structured environments. We want regular work hours; we want clarity and consistency in our role(s) and responsibilities. Within a well-structured work environment, we feel engaged and confident in our abilities and our contributions.
I have often listened to clients who feel lost in their work environments because of inadequate structure and support. For these individuals, the lack of structure and support casts their talents and skills adrift and over time they begin to feel less engaged, less confident, and less committed to their jobs.
Unintentional versus intentional career choices
I have listened to clients who describe their initial career choice as “unintentional.” Their choice of study or training had seemed like the most practical at the time, friends were entering the same University or College program, they had heard that a specific job or professional field was financially stable or a “good career option.”
Years later with more experience(s), perspective, development of expertise, and expansion of their skill set, the original unintentional career choice no longer looks or feels the same.
Overtime we may no longer relate to our work in the same way. We may feel less personally connected to our work. We may begin to feel unfulfilled.
Indeed, as we change, as our perspectives change or as we develop new interests, our skills and expertise can sometimes expand beyond the scope of our jobs. We may also feel the need for more flexibility in our work and careers to balance the movement and expansion of our lives away from work.
At that point we may begin to contemplate making an intentional career choice, one that considers our present realities, livelihoods, developing capacities, and values.
Challenging work environments
We know that work environments are not created equal; some are far more challenging than others.
Jobs can have unpredictable hours, inconsistent demands. Work can be highly stressful and/or physically demanding. It can be beyond the training provided to us.
Work in which we are not sufficiently trained, or work where we receive minimal support, can present any number of consequences from lack of confidence in our abilities, to growing disengagement, and/or experiences of unmanageable stress and burnout.
It is impossible to foresee at what point a challenging work environment is simply too much for us. A career transition may be necessary when the physical challenges and/or the stress of a job impede our skills, disrupt our capacity to do the job, and negatively impact the personal satisfaction we get from our work.
The shifting meaning and value of our work
The meaning work holds for us shifts at different stages of our lives.
At one stage of our lives work can mean personal and financial stability, at another it can be a satisfying marker of expertise and personal success. At another stage we may want work that allows for more balance with other areas of our lives. And at still other stages we may want work that aligns with our values and as such we may want to seek out work that feels purposeful and is centered around contribution.
At any one of these stages, we may both want and be willing to seek out new jobs and careers.
What resonates for you in these 4 topics of reflection?
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