Upskilling: 5 Tips to Develop Skills for Your Career Transition
January 13, 2020
As humans, we’re never really “done” learning, until or unless we decide to be, or we run up against a health issue that interferes. I always say that I’ll keep learning until I take my last breath, as long as I’m able to do so. Sure, we’ll usually encounter some people who may take the attitude that they’ve learned or seen it all, yet these are the folks I wonder about if they lose their job or retire without any curiosity about learning new things, running the risk of disease or dementia in their later years if they don’t keep their minds sharp.
Regardless of your situation or career, there are always new subjects to learn about and new skills to acquire, especially if you’re looking to change what you’re currently doing, let alone keeping up with the fast pace of change these days. When contemplating a career move, spend some time gauging what, if any, skills are necessary for you to make the leap successfully. Below are a few tips to help with this.
- Assess What to Learn: If you’re looking at a different role, industry, or career direction, review job descriptions, organizations’ websites, and talk to those who are currently doing what you’d like to do to see what skills are required and which are “nice-to-have” to determine where you may have some gaps. If slowing down in your career, identify what you’ve always wanted to learn about, whether work-related or not, and investigate where you can acquire the knowledge and skill you’re interested in, whether in person or online.
- Take Advantage of Convenient Learning Options: For those age 50+, consider Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes, offering low-cost courses through 124 educational institutions across the United States to learn for the fun of it, without exams or grades. Otherwise, there are plenty of online options to take skills-based courses, whether for free or for monthly subscription fees. Open Culture lists free courses available through universities and providers such as edX and Coursera. There’s always LinkedIn Learning and Udemy as well for convenient options. And, of course, taking advantage of offerings through your employer, if possible, can be of great benefit, as well as checking out your city or town’s community center education and activity programs.
- Find a Community: Between Meetup, 1 Million Cups (for entrepreneurs), the thousands of professional associations, Chambers of Commerce, community service and charitable organizations, and gatherings of networking roundtables or mastermind groups, there’s something for everyone. Often, it takes trial and error (and paying some fees) to check out different groups to see what the best fit is for you. Depending on what you’re looking for in terms of people and desired results, it can definitely be worth the time and effort when you’ve found a good networking home, whether to make a career shift, for social support, or for continuing education.
- Form a Power Team: It can be tempting, especially for us introverts, to go it alone when it comes to finding that next opportunity or transitioning into a semi-retirement or retirement situation. To ease stress and make things a bit easier on yourself, consider banding together with a handful of people you know or meet (maybe 3-5 tops) who are facing the same type of situation and decide how you can best support each other. Connect on a regular cadence, whether virtual or in person, and be intentional about how you can pass referrals, introductions, or information to each other, as well as provide moral support. A regular boost from trusted contacts goes a long way with momentum and energy.
- Develop a Strategy: As with many aspects of life, we may find that we want to tackle everything at once because we get excited (great!) or get some ideas (excellent!) yet can exhaust ourselves if we try to do too much in a short timeframe (draining!). Instead, think about what makes sense for you, taking resources (budget, time, logistics, support) into account, in addition to identifying your learning goals, to form a plan of action. If there are multiple skills you want to learn, identify which are highest priority, based on what you’ll apply them toward and any hard deadlines you need to meet, whether set by you or someone else. Take these on one at a time and focus on your top priority, rather than signing up for a bunch of events and classes and then getting overwhelmed. You’ll thank yourself later and will be able to absorb and practice that much more over time, as well as build relationships.
No matter what you’d like, or need, to learn, there are many ways, formal and informal, to gain the new knowledge or skills you’re lacking to take that next step in your career and have a successful transition. Even if your current employer isn’t in a position to provide you with a lot of training or professional development experiences, or you’re slowing down in your career, you can still be proactive to ensure you get what you need. It may require some short-term pain, in the bank account or schedule, though can reap great rewards in the end.
When Bias Gets in the Way: Leveraging External Support to See Possibilities
December 30, 2019
During these times of “fake news,” polarizing issues, and the seemingly massive amount of information our brains take in on any given day, it can be easy to act according to our biases as a way to make sense of things and get through it all. After all, it’s a way for our brains to filter, done in fractions of a second, without our even recognizing it more often than not. This is why it’s a good idea to work with coaches, advisors, and experts who can be as much of an objective sounding board as possible for you when it comes to setting a course for your future and what your next chapter will be.
While of course we all have our biases and can make snap judgments, working with an objective third party who’s not entrenched in your everyday life or work can be of great benefit to ensure you’re making as good a decision as you can, given your current circumstances and goals. Here are just a few of the common biases that can get in your way to potentially raise and counteract with the support of an advisor or coach:
Confirmation Bias: This is the classic one of only getting information from sources that confirm what you already believe, rather than challenging your beliefs to broaden your thinking and perspective. A trusted coach or expert can help you see situations in a different light, ask powerful questions to reframe your current thinking or belief, and challenge you in a supportive way with alternate ways of seeing things, as well as help you separate fact from fiction (or at least from the story in your head about why something is the way it is). With an open mind, great things can happen.
Negativity Bias: As humans, we can easily latch on to, and not necessarily ever let go of, information we perceive as negative more than what’s positive. Whether it’s a bit of constructive feedback, survey results, or impressions about someone or something, we can tend to focus only on what’s wrong instead of what’s right. One constructive or negative comment out of how ever many then becomes the thing that sticks. Instead, an advisor or coach can work with you to see circumstances and people from a more positive perspective in service of your seeing what’s possible to help you move forward.
Attribution Bias: With this one, we can have the tendency to evaluate ourselves based on our good intentions and other people based on their actions. In other words, we may not attribute something someone says or does to their own good intentions, a grace we will give ourselves. “I didn’t mean to…” can become a mantra. This bias crops up a lot when in conflict with someone. We can fall into the trap of generalizing how a group of people or a specific person will act solely on what we surmise to be true without understanding their intent behind their actions or having any real context. A coach or advisor can help you see when you may be acting on a bias against someone, or a group, and may not be recognizing the same behavior in yourself.
Anchoring Bias: Within nanoseconds we get an impression of someone or something, “anchoring” this perception in our minds, regardless of if it’s based on true or reliable information. This tendency to act on first impressions or having a “knee-jerk” reaction can often trip us up, including when we limit ourselves and what we can do, based on the first thought that pops into our heads. While there are many times when a gut reaction can be a good thing, operating off of an anchoring bias may not be supportive of achieving your goals, an additional bias you can overcome through working with a coach or expert.
In-Group Bias: Another classic bias of when we exclude people or viewpoints because they aren’t like us. In other words, being in an “out group” rather than an “in group.” Sometimes, when thinking about making a career change or going after what we want for our future, we may get caught in a trap of inertia or staying stagnant due to potentially being in an “out group” or having to learn to work with people different from us or in a new industry that’s unfamiliar. This can lead to potentially latching on to those who are like us in new environments or sticking with an unhappy status quo to avoid this situation. A coach or advisor can uncover where you may be limiting yourself due to in-group bias, whether it’s in terms of goals, workplaces, or diversity of thought and ideas to gain perspective.
Having biases is unavoidable, as we all have them, due to our culture, upbringing, and life experiences. As long as it exists, we can have a bias for or against anything with an impact that’s big, small, or in between. The key is to recognize when we are acting, or potentially acting, off of one and take steps to counteract it as needed. This is when an objective third party can be invaluable, guiding you to new possibilities for your future.
Finding Your Way: Leveraging Coaching to Realize Your Vision
December 16, 2019
Name an athlete, musician, or any type of performer who has been able to excel without the support of a coach. This is my common response when people wonder why they might need a coach, whether it’s to up their own performance, gain clarity on their goals, or consider alternate approaches to situations that have them spinning or stuck.
Thankfully, much has changed over the years for coaching to now be (mostly) seen as beneficial to anyone, not just for those in “remedial” scenarios or the loftiest positions. One of the many reasons to hire or work with a coach is the support provided to plan and execute on your vision (and to figure out what it is in the first place). For some, being able to think long-term is difficult, let alone know where to start, so engaging with a coach is a good first step. Here are a few benefits of working with a coach to create your vision and action plan to attain it.
Accountability: Coaches are great “accountability partners,” because they will be your champion by providing support as well as “hold your feet to the fire” to increase your odds of making the kind of progress you want. You’re the one who owns your action plan that you co-create with your coach, so it’s up to you to execute it. Your coach is there to check in, offer encouragement, and explore any obstacles that get in your way so you can course correct as needed.
Documentation: When you work with a coach, chances are you’ll come away with a plan that is recorded somehow, whether electronically, on paper, or through an activity such as creating a visual or artistic reminder of what it is you’re aspiring to for ongoing reference. Sometimes, it’s hard to keep a vision in the forefront because we’re either trying to store all of the information in our heads, don’t have an effective mechanism to keep track, or get wrapped up in whatever day-to-day chaos exists. A coach can support you with this process, so you don’t forget what it is you’ve decided.
Challenge: A key part of a coach’s job is to challenge your thinking and how you perceive things so you can clear barriers out of your way and change any limiting beliefs into positive ones to support you in moving forward. As you reply to powerful questions from your coach, be prepared to have your responses addressed more deeply with the goal of uncovering and working through where you may be unrealistic in your goals, are limiting yourself too much, or say something that makes your coach go “hmm.” Keep in mind that being challenged in this way is all in service of you and your vision.
Objectivity: One of the beauties of having a coach is to work with someone who can be objective in terms of the conversations with you, since chances are, at least for most envisioning and future path goal-setting purposes, the coach isn’t necessarily a teammate, boss, or close family member and can have a more objective lens to look through on the situations you describe. While a coach isn’t there to tell you what to do, an objective presence to offer a different perspective can be a breath of fresh air, so to speak.
Tools and Techniques: Coaches tend to have a wealth of tools and techniques in their tool belts that they’ve honed over the years within the workplace and beyond, with a good amount of training in how to coach effectively. Some have the misperception that coaching is only about asking questions, which is a big part of it, though there are specific models, processes, and additional skills, such as gauging fit, refining coaching presence, measuring the impact of coaching, and using various strategies, that are needed to work with all manner and style of clients, just as with any other discipline. Being exposed to a variety of tools and coaching methodologies through your coach will only increase the return on your investment in coaching to achieve your vision.
Confidence: When you have a vision for your future and a plan to go with it, it can be a real confidence booster, in addition to having a way to check that you’re on track. When working with a coach on your plan, it can generate both excitement and energy to focus on what you need to do to realize your goal, providing the confidence that you can both execute on it, because it’s aligned with your needs, skills, and situation, and trust it, because it came from you and your coach together. It’s not prescribed or spoon-fed, so it’s truly your plan that matches who you are.
These and many additional benefits of working with a coach on the vision and plan for your future not listed here, some tangible, some not, can all be considerations for seeking the support you need to create the life you want. While nothing’s a guarantee, of course, a good coach-client relationship could be the spark you need to take that all-important first step.
Don’t Go it Alone: Building Your Retirement Transition Team
December 2, 2019
Just because you may be thinking of retirement or semi-retirement (or at least perhaps not being as “go-go-go” in your career) doesn’t mean that you need to be on your own or lose your network. It’s still important in this phase of your life to maintain, and even increase, connections with people, not only for social interaction and well-being, but also in the practical sense of ensuring you have the support you need to make a successful transition.
In this spirit, think about who can be on your own personal “board of directors” to provide guidance and services that you need in all aspects of this critical change in your life to not “go it alone.” Here are a few to consider, some of whom you may already have in place:
Accountant/CPA: There are, of course, many tax implications when retiring or semi-retiring, not the least of which relates to when you’ll be drawing on any retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s. Thinking of becoming an ex-patriot and living internationally? That’s another whole ball of tax wax. Be sure you have a trusted tax accountant and/or tax planner who can help you with these items.
Coach: Making a retirement transition, regardless of what it looks like or how much of a decrease in work it involves, is one of the biggest transitions to make in our careers. Having a well-qualified coach to guide you in the process of self-discovery to figure out your new identity (i.e. who’ll you’ll be in this new phase of your life) and how you’ll spend your time (after all, you may be retired for up to 20-30 years) helps avoid a downward spiral, both physically and emotionally. It also avoids getting into retirement and asking the “Now what?” question once you’ve gotten through the “honeymoon” phase or the grandkids are grown or the travel budget or desire to be on the road is maxed out. Of course, I’m biased on this one!
Family Counselor: Sometimes, if there are family dynamics issues that run deep that a coach may not be qualified or able to help with, it’s good to turn to a family counselor or therapist who can support working though these issues with you and your affected relatives, especially with a spouse or in a family business. The prospect of being together 24/7 can definitely alter communication and relationship dynamics for a couple, especially if both spouses or partners have been working outside the home, or one works from home, and now the other wants to as well or is fully retiring, etc. Too much together time can cause additional or different issues that may require different support. The same is true with the sale of a family business if there are “sticky” or dysfunctional family relationships in play.
Financial Advisor: A trusted financial advisor can support you not only with ensuring you have a solid plan for your finances in retirement, but also with considerations around the lifestyle you’d like to have so you know if you can afford it, health/life/eldercare insurance recommendations, tax considerations, wealth management, inheritance issues, charitable giving and philanthropy implications, end-of-life considerations, etc. If you already have a trusted advisor, consider if there are some of these aspects that you may need help with that you may not already have in place.
Housing Specialist/Realtor: If you plan on downsizing, rightsizing, or relocating, or are considering a retirement community with a graduated system of care in terms of levels of independence, chances are you may need to look to a realtor to sell and/or buy your real estate, and/or a senior housing specialist or broker who can research and connect you with different retirement communities or care facilities. Even if you don’t anticipate needing to make a housing change soon, it’s good to know who you can go to when the time comes. With so many housing options and communities, it can be daunting to figure this out on your own, especially if unsure about your geographic location preferences.
Professional Organizer/Downsizing Specialist: It’s one thing to decide to move and find a place, it’s another to deal with all of your stuff. And let’s face it, some of us have a lot of stuff, especially if we’ve lived in the same place for many years. Just the thought of going through all of it and having to get rid of things can be overwhelming, and in some cases, emotionally fraught, especially with items that have a lot of sentimental value. An organizer can support you in this and help you decide how to let go of things in a way that honors your memories and respects the process, allowing you to lighten the load, in more ways than one.
While this list of potential members of your “board” for slowing down in your career certainly isn’t exhaustive, perhaps it’s provided a bit of food for thought or raised some aspects of this type of transition to think about more concretely. It’s easy to see retirement or semi-retirement as off in the distance or happening “someday,” whether near or far, yet it can be hard to wrap our arms around what all needs to be in place for it to be successful. Better to take charge of what you can now to realize your vision for this phase of your life!
Spice Up Your Career Transition: 6 Tips to Decide What You Really Want
November 18, 2019
“So, tell me what you want, what you really, really want.” Wannabe from the Spice Girls, anyone? Circa 1996? C’mon, I can’t be the only one who knows this song, right? Please say no.
Often, when it comes to knowing what we want to do next, whether in the “go-go” phase of our career or the “slow-go” phase of active retirement or semi-retirement, we can struggle knowing exactly what it is we really, really want, or we haven’t spent that much time thinking about it. To assist with getting clear on what you truly want your next phase to look like, consider the following areas of focus.
Creative Outlets: While many people may think or say that they aren’t very creative, there are all types of creativity, whether creating something from scratch or building on existing ideas or taking a different perspective on how to accomplish a goal or task. Brainstorm the ways that you are creative (artistically, by being resourceful, using your intuition, creating processes, frameworks, or models, etc.). In looking at this list, notice what jumps out at you that could indicate either a direction or simply what to incorporate into your next career move or transition.
Accomplishments: This doesn’t have to be anything revolutionary or major, necessarily. Small to midsized accomplishments are meaningful too. In reflecting on your year to date, what is one thing (or two) that you accomplished that utilized your skills and strengths well, or that you’re satisfied having completed? Think in terms of both your work-related and personal life to note these. Next, what was it about accomplishing these items that gave you satisfaction or fulfillment? What characteristics or skills did you use to achieve your outcomes? The answers to these questions can help point the way.
Opportunities: Sometimes when it comes to recognizing or taking advantage of opportunities before us, we can easily see them as too much change, too much of a time suck, too far afield from what we’ve been doing, too this, too that, you name it. And yet, some of the best personal and professional experiences we have in life come from opportunities we haven’t encountered before that could be classic “blessings in disguise” if we give them a chance. Regardless of being paid or not, some opportunities can suggest what we want through applying our talents and making new connections.
Gravitational Pull: What topics or subject areas are you naturally drawn to that pull you toward them and continue to intrigue you? This could be hobbies or activities, topics to research and read about, or additional areas of learning. Fill in the blank of, “I keep wanting to know more about _______” or, “I always seem to find _________ fascinating.” Your responses to these prompts are a good signal of what you can steer toward next. Don’t worry about how much money you could make at it if you turned it into a career or how qualified you are. Focus on the essence of what about it interests you.
The F Word: No, not that one. I mean the one often dreaded by some: feelings. When you engage in certain work- or interest-related tasks or activities, pay attention and capture how you feel while doing them: energized, invested, active, engaged, etc. Or, on the flip side: bored, irritated, frustrated, ambivalent, neutral, etc. Those that you tend to have more positive feelings about are a strong indicator of what you want to be doing day-to-day or at least as often as possible. Then, do a bit of research on the types of roles or activities out there that could incorporate these tasks.
Needs: It can be helpful when looking for clarity to identify exactly what you need in your life when it comes to how you spend your days and contribute to the world as opposed to wants. What are the “non-negotiables,” so to speak, that you would say are critical needs for your health and overall well-being that if they weren’t present would make a big impact on your ability to thrive? This could be items tied to your financial health, relationships, work or home environment, physical and/or mental well-being, or additional items that tie to your core values. These needs can provide a baseline to build from in terms to then identify your more “ideal state” comparatively. In other words, once met, what would be in your next level up?
Identifying what you really want in your next phase is important, so you have a clear picture of what to aim for as you make decisions on whether to stay in status quo or make some sort of change. Once you know generally what it is, you can then create an overall goal for it as a basis for a plan of action. Granted, you may need to do a bit of extra work to up your skills, expand your network and relationships, or gain an understanding of what’s needed to get you where you want to be, but in the end, it can certainly be worth it. Eyes on the prize, whatever that may be for you.
8 Tips to Paint the Picture of Your Next Chapter
November 4, 2019
When it comes to identifying the parts and pieces that make up the next chapter in your career or life as a whole, it can be frustrating without a process or approach to get you there. Often, it can be helpful to create a picture or mental image in your mind of what it looks like as a good place to start. That said, what happens if you’re not really a visual person or it’s tough for you to tap into your creative side or to think far ahead?
In that case, below are my Eight Tips for Painting Your Picture. Why eight? It’s a lucky number in some cultures, Top Ten lists are everywhere, and quite frankly, I was starting to get a bit tapped out around number five.
- Work Backward. Much like the concept of “beginning with the end in mind,” start by focusing on the elements that are most important for you to ultimately have present in your life. Who are you surrounded by each day? What type of work or tasks are you doing? What is the environment like that you’re working or playing in? What does it feel like to be living this life? Once you have this clarity, you can take steps today to get there.
- Look Around. Make a decision to be intentionally observant for a specific amount of time (a week, a month, etc.) and note what you see or hear that sparks some ideas. This could be images or objects you see, people you interact with, headlines or stories that grab you, music you enjoy listening to, attending an event, etc. What specific thoughts or feelings are triggered by these observations or interactions that you can document? These notes can then give you clues about what’s important.
- Talk it Out. Take some time to do a bit of brainstorming with a friend or family member in a non-structured conversation to let your minds go and see what ideas come up about what your future could look like. Likewise, seek the counsel of a mentor or engage a coach who can be that objective sounding board to ask you good questions as food for thought and to spur additional ideas.
- Develop Your Core. Spend a few minutes to identify and document what you’d consider to be your core values, if you haven’t already. While it’s not always easy or likely that we can fill our days with activities or work that allow us to engage those values all the time, if you can get closer to doing so, even just a bit, it can make a big difference. What are you spending time on that can decrease and what can you increase so your values are tended to more often than not?
- Let it Go. Carve out some quiet time (OK, schedule it in your calendar if you have to!) to just “be” for a while and let your mind wander. I call it “letting your brain leak out your ears” time to relax and let thoughts come in that otherwise may not due to being focused on tasks or events or life’s urgencies in general. Maybe for you this is while you’re taking a shower or doing other rote tasks that don’t require a lot of concentration. Give yourself the gift of space to open your mind.
- Focus on Facets. Some call them the spokes on the “wheel of life;” for others, it’s “life pillars.” I think of them as facets. Basically, they’re the various parts of life that we typically need to tend to or feed to feel whole or grounded: occupational pursuits, spiritual interests, social/family relationships, emotional/mental wellbeing, physical health/wellness, intellectual stimulation. Creating a specific goal for each of these facets can help determine elements of your next chapter.
- Seek Feedback. Ask a few trusted colleagues or friends what they see as your strengths and key skills to test your assumptions of what you think they are. Often, the perceptions of us that people have are different from our self-perceptions, so getting this type of feedback can be valuable when determining what we can leverage in the future that we already do well. Once clear on the value you bring, you can use this as a springboard for where to take it next.
- Get it Down. It’s important to somehow document what you generate in terms of ideas or elements of what your next chapter looks like for easy and frequent reference. This can be anything you’d like it to be, such as notes in a journal, a written list, a mind map or diagram, a collage of images, or anything else you can conjure up to represent your vision. The critical thing is that it captures your thoughts and is in a format you like. Display it somewhere to jog your memory and help you focus.
Regardless of whether you choose to use one, three, or all of these tips, creating a mental image of what your potential next chapter can be is an energizing, exciting, and interesting way for both you and the important people in your life to participate in designing your future. How fun is that?
Ditch the Self-Sabotage: 4 Questions to Overcome Obstacles
October 21, 2019
When it comes to achieving goals or making forward progress through life, we frequently put up our own, or perceive, obstacles that can prevent us from getting where we want to be. It can then be easy for us to be paralyzed with inertia due to a “boulder in the road” blocking our path. Whether it’s obstacles such as procrastination, fear of failure or success, poor time management or organizational skills, limiting beliefs, perfectionism, or any other manner of roadblock, we humans can do a great job of allowing our obstacles to take over, leading to self-sabotage.
In order for your vision of the future you want to create to become reality, it’s important to work through and remove the obstacles that you have direct control over. Often, we fall into the trap of “I can’t do ____” to explain away our lack of movement. While there will always be external factors beyond our control, focusing on what you can do and positively influence is a good step in clearing away the obstacles in front of you. Here are a few questions to ask yourself and think about to help you:
What exactly are my obstacles and how do I know?
It’s hard to start removing obstacles when you don’t have a good sense of what’s getting in your way and how you may be engaging in self-sabotage. To gain greater self-awareness, identify a situation (or multiple situations) when you didn’t accomplish a goal or get what you wanted. What were the factors that contributed to the outcome of the situation? What factors were things you could control or have influence on? If you’re not sure, this is a good sign that you could benefit from some feedback or input from trusted colleagues, friends, or a coach who can share with you what they perceive about how you can get in your own way.
What are my habits that can interfere with my success?
We all have habits and behavior patterns (some good, some not) that we’ve developed over the years that can feel like we’re wrapped in a cozy blanket, perfectly content in our comfort zone. To overcome our obstacles, it can be helpful to identify the routines we live in each day to then signal what we need to change. For example, if procrastinating is one of your obstacles (and also a habit you’ve fallen into), and you begin your time at work by catching up with people around the office, hanging out in the break room getting that cup of coffee or tea, or surfing online content, think about what you can do to get a faster start on the important tasks that need to get done. Making a concerted effort to change this habit (and stick to the new behavior) can enable you to overcome procrastination.
How high is my pain tolerance for not getting where I want to be?
This question is along the lines of, “What’s it worth to you to make a change?” In other words, how much longer or how many times will you tolerate not reaching your goals or making the kind of progress you want? There comes a time when the status quo isn’t acceptable anymore and you need to decide when that is. If you cruise along in status quo indefinitely, you’ll watch a lot of time go by, continuing to postpone what your future could be, making it that more difficult to remove obstacles, including the one of comfort in status quo or fear of change. When is enough, enough? Once you know your tolerance, you can then make a conscious decision to move forward, even if it involves some short-term pain.
How can I gain momentum to remove my obstacles?
For some, having short-term goals works well to provide momentum in overcoming obstacles. For other people, long-term goals with milestones along the way does the trick. Identify what motivates you to move forward and leverage that to focus on ridding yourself of your roadblocks. Do you like to have fun? Think about what activities are fun for you and consider how you can incorporate those into tasks or use them as rewards. Easily distracted? Consider what you can do specifically to eliminate distractions and give you time and space to focus a bit each day on a new habit or goal. Where and when do you do your best thinking? Creating the environment to think creatively about potential solutions to your obstacles can give you the momentum you need. Getting clear on what gives you momentum opens the door to removing your “boulders.”
Clearing obstacles out of the way so we can realize our own visions for our future and what success looks like is hard. And yet, it must often be done for us to have the life we want. By answering these questions, you can begin to take action and seek the support you may need to help you along the way, providing you with some proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. After all, as Molière said, “The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”
Future Focus: Five Tips for Gaining Clarity
October 7, 2019
According to an article on the site Tech 21 Century, our brains get loaded with 34 Gb (gigabytes) of information daily, translating to an intake of about 105,000 words in a 12-hour period. And while, technically, our brains can handle that amount (and then some), it still represents a lot that comes at us to process and manage in a day. It can often feel like we don’t have enough time or capacity to focus on our goals or needs, let alone explore what we may want to do next in our careers and lives, regardless of our current situation.
Much has been written about the importance of clarity in goal achievement, whether for work or in your personal life. It’s key to high performance and the ability to move forward rather than stay stuck in a rut or in your comfort zone, without a clear picture of what to focus on for the future. What’s your level of clarity for what you’d like to do next? Here are five common areas of clarity and a tip for how to get a handle on each:
Clarity of Purpose: OK, roll your eyes at me if you’d like. I know there’s a lot out there about “finding your purpose” or “finding your passion.” And yet, it’s still a good idea to have an anchor, so to speak, of something that grounds you to provide direction, even if you don’t feel that you’re “passionate” about anything.
Tip: If that sounds like you, or even if you do have something in mind and just need to refine it, note your core values that drive your decisions. What are “non-negotiables” for you when it comes to having those values met? Once you have clarity of your values, they will inform your purpose. For example, some of my core values are learning/education, relationship building, and autonomy, so for me, independently supporting people through coaching relationships to have fulfilling careers (whether in work or retirement) is my purpose.
Clarity of Goals: Once you are clear on your purpose or what anchors you, it’s time to write down (yes, write down) two or three goals that can help you fulfill your purpose. By writing down your goals, it not only serves as a reference for you to remind you, it also supports your commitment to them (and for even greater accountability, share them with someone too!).
Tip: Keep focused on only two or three goals so it’s manageable and reasonable for you to achieve them (ideally in a year). When I see lists of 10 or more goals, I’m always leery. Less is more so your goals have the most impact and greatest chance of accomplishment. When writing them down, choose action words to start and include a measurement of some sort and a deadline so it’s very clear. For example, “Explore and document three different career path options by December 31” is clear and specific with a measurement of having identified three.
Clarity of Strengths: It’s surprising to me when I encounter someone who’s been in the workforce for a while who doesn’t have a good handle on what their strengths are or what they’re best at. Maybe part of it is only hearing negative feedback at work. If this is you, consider how you can get an idea of your strengths, as it will also help you decide what type of work or activities to focus on for the future.
Tip: You can choose a formal method to identify your strengths, such as taking an assessment (TotalSDI, StrengthsFinder, etc.) or take an informal approach, such as asking colleagues and friends what they would say your strengths are and look for common themes. What jumps out from their feedback that rings true that you can identify as a pattern? Those items can then serve as a springboard to find what allows you to leverage those strengths more regularly.
Clarity of Flow: A pioneer in the study of happiness, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains in his books and writings that “flow” is the state of being lost in what you’re doing, losing track of time while doing it. When we’re in this state, we tend to be happier. This is also known as “being in the zone.” Identifying when you’re in a state of flow can also be a good signal of what to focus on for your future in terms of how you spend your time.
Tip: Keep a notebook handy (whether electronic or hard copy) and note the times when you’ve found yourself in a state of flow. What type of tasks or activities were you doing at the time? How did you feel while doing it? How long did it last? Your responses to these questions can then provide you with a track record of the type of activities you most enjoy to explore how you can have opportunities to be in flow more often.
Clarity of Relationship: How important are relationships to you? If very important, consider how what you’re currently doing feeds this part of you/this value and if your answer is “not very well,” then it may be time to think about a change. If you’re looking to change your workplace, career path, or thinking about retiring or semi-retiring, what could you do to ensure you have the opportunity to build or strengthen relationships?
Tip: Note your key/central relationships, whether at work or not, and identify how these could be improved or expanded. If all or most of your friends come from work, how could you build additional relationships so if you leave your current workplace, you’re not left feeling stranded? How else can you build community in a way that’s meaningful for you, especially if you relocate?
By addressing these different areas of clarity, you can begin to gain a deeper understanding of what you may want to do next, whether for work or otherwise in your life, crafting a future that’s clearly in focus.
Allowing Yourself to Dream: 10 Key Questions for Envisioning Your Future
“When you dream, what do you dream about?” This question, from the song “When You Dream” by the Barenaked Ladies (their album “Stunt” is on my “stranded on a desert island” music list) is a provocative one. And let’s face it – some of what we dream about probably shouldn’t be shared with the general public (if we can even remember it). Brains are so weird! So, I’ll ask it this way, “When you dream about the next chapter in your life, what do you see?” In the rush of the day-to-day demands we have, taking time to think about the future or focusing on ourselves can be tough.
And yet, if you’re one of the many who are disengaged at work, unhappy in your career, or keep putting off taking the next step that you know you need to do in order to grow, move on, or enter retirement, it’s time to make the choice to focus on how to make the leap. Otherwise, it’s “keep on keepin’ on” time, and that won’t get you anywhere. Often, it’s a matter of knowing where to start. Making time to consider the next step in your career or life is a good first action to take. It’s like the old adage of slowing down to speed up. By investing a bit of time now to develop a plan, it’ll speed up your progress in the end, and give you an idea of what to aim for to take action.
To help you with this envisioning work, here are 10 questions to ask yourself (along with your significant other, if applicable):
- What exactly is preventing you from taking action and how is this holding you back?
- If you do take action, what’s the worst that could happen and how can you be proactive to head this off?
- If money wasn’t involved, how would you most like to spend your time?
- What can you do now to enable you to spend your time in this way?
- What scares you the most about taking a leap of faith and how could you overcome this fear?
- What’s it worth to you to stay in your status quo?
- What might you regret if you take no action?
- What’s your idea of a “great day” and how can you work toward having more of them?
- How can you transfer your skills and strengths to something different?
- When you look back 10 years from now, what would you like to have in place?
Don’t worry about having answers for all of these right now. Give yourself some time to think about the questions and talk them over with those important to you if you’d like. The crucial point is that you take the time to generate the answers, period. Then you can use them as the basis to set a goal.
So often, we hold ourselves back because we have limiting beliefs about what we’re capable of, what’s possible, how we’ll be perceived, or anything else we can or can’t do for this or that reason. In reality, it’s a way for us to stay in our comfort zone. Ask yourself what, if any, limiting beliefs you may be holding onto in areas such as:
- Making a career or job change ( e.g. “I can’t do that” or “I’ll be seen as a job hopper”)
- The value of your skills and strengths (e.g. “I’m under qualified” or “I don’t know what else I’d do”)
- What retirement looks like (e.g. “I don’t want to sit around all day” or “It’s just one step closer to death”)
- Taking a calculated risk (e.g. “I’d probably fall on my face” or “I don’t think I could handle the unknown”)
- Going for a promotion at work (e.g. “There are people way more qualified than me” or “I don’t think they’d consider me”)
Do any of these phrases sound like you? If so, you could be limiting the possibilities for your future, potentially causing you to stay resigned to your current situation, even if unhappy or not moving forward with your life. Think about how you can gain new or different insights or information to help you change your limiting belief. Who can you meet or talk to who could provide some insight? Where could you go for information? What are the experiences that helped you form this belief and are they serving you well? If not, what needs to change and how can you change it? Once able to adopt a new belief, you can then take different actions to get your desired result.
Keep in mind the words of author C.S. Lewis, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
What’s your vision for your future and what are you doing today to get you there?
When Work Ends: Answering the New Identity Question
In a recent NY Times article by Sabrina Tavernise featuring Rick Marsh, a 25-year GM employee who’s a casualty of the plant closing in Lordstown, Ohio, I was struck by two things: 1. His family’s long-time history of working at the auto giant and 2. His featured quote, “What am I as a man?” when referring to potentially being unable to provide for his family. When one job or role, employer, or industry is all you’ve known in your career, what are you to do when it’s gone, whether in retirement or due to unexpected job loss, such as in the case of Mr. Marsh?
It’s reminiscent of the many families, including a number of my classmates’ families, who were impacted by the closing of Bethlehem Steel’s Burns Harbor plant in the backyard of my hometown, Chesterton, Indiana. What were once solid, middle class jobs with decent incomes vanished, leaving more generations of people who worked at the mill behind. If you didn’t directly know someone who worked there (my Aunt Shirley did), you probably knew someone who knew someone who worked there. Such was the way of the world in Porter County between the 1960s and 1990s.
Speaking of the 1990s, my dad was a 35-year employee for the state of Indiana when he retired at age 64 back in 1995 after working as an auditor and audit supervisor. When new leadership rolled in, they pressured him to retire, though he enjoyed his work and colleagues and wasn’t ready to leave. Fast forward to June of 2009, and he was gone at age 78 due to a combination of congestive heart failure and Alzheimer’s disease. Though he and my mom traveled at times in those 14 years, and he helped out at the travel agency they had until soon after 9/11, I wonder now at the 10-year anniversary of his death what impact, if any, retirement had on his identity and desire to engage with life. It’s hard to witness an already somewhat-sedentary guy deteriorate, both mentally and physically.
His experience and stories like that of Rick Marsh and my fellow Hoosiers, as well as those of some friends and colleagues expressing fear, or at least trepidation, of wasting away in retirement or being “irrelevant,” is what’s sparked me to change the focus of my own work this past month from leadership and team development to supporting those in career transition, including those heading toward retirement, to figure out who they are beyond their work and how they’ll spend their time once their current situation ends. Not that I no longer enjoy working with leaders. It’s just that this work transition of my own feels right, and now I can work with them and anyone else to help them decide what’s next.
What Are You Asking?
When the first question out of someone’s mouth at an event is often, “What do you do?” Or, “Where do you work?” it’s tough to untangle who we are from our career. Perhaps instead, we can ask questions that some networking gurus suggest, such as, “What’s important to you in your life?” Or, “What’s a fun experience you’ve had lately?” Or, “What’s the story of what brought you here?”
In other words, who are you if not for your work? What’s your identity beyond your career? What will you do next? And, perhaps more important, who will you be?
In middle class, midwestern America, from the time many of us hit grade school and started interacting with family and friends as kids, we were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” If I remember right, one of my early answers was that I wanted to be the Easter Bunny, because I could spread joy and only work one day a year. Not too shabby! Nice work if you can get it. Of course, over time that answer evolved, though I never knew about the field where I’ve now spent the bulk of my career, professional learning and development, as I grew up, went to college, and started in the workforce. That was discovered over time. It makes me wonder what type of disservice we do when we ask kids that question. Now, my answer would probably be something snarky like, “I want to be alive and healthy.” Isn’t that enough when you’re ten? And then some wonder why college students frequently change majors before graduating (that is, if they have that freedom of choice). There’s a lot of exploration to do, whether early-, mid-, and late-career. As people, we’re not done growing and developing until we can no longer.
So, what questions are you asking as you network and interact with people you encounter? Are you going beyond simply what they do for a living to learn about their whole identity? And for those colleagues who are fellow “people developers,” what can you do to ensure that those you support are set up for success in their current career and beyond? The more we can encourage each other to think long term and broaden both our skill sets and visions of what we can do or be, the better equipped we’ll be when career change comes, voluntarily or not.
Lastly for yourself, if you could write your own card to introduce yourself, what would it say?