Career Transitions and Why Purpose Matters

To determine your next career steps, get reacquainted with your strengths.

As we watch the COVID-19 restrictions lift, many employees are pondering their options:  stay, quit, or do the bare minimum required (the not-so-new ‘lie flat’).  And, of course, employers are grappling with the exact same issues, from a similar prism.

Now, let’s add the after-effects of a global pandemic into the mix and a looming recession. Some mid-to-late-career professionals may have their epiphany of seeing there’s more to life than work, or they simply need a break. Whatever prompts this fillip of change, it’s important not to hop into something new impulsively, but rather, to carefully and consciously address what matters most to you.

How to advance yourself with purpose?

Purpose sits right at the intersection of values and strengths.  Get to the heart of what you really want, as you plan your next career steps.

A few months ago, I worked with Stella, a highly talented pharma marketer. She worked hard and was known as the ‘get-it done’ person. She enjoyed the recognition and rewards, but eventually the role lost its appeal.  Her Sundays were weighed down by thoughts of “what am I doing with my life?” However, during this time of self-reflection, she was offered a promotion.  She turned it down and left the firm to recalibrate her life and work.  In her mind, the promotion came with added responsibilities and an excessive workload, a role that was no longer engaging.

I often see two types of distinct career profiles. The first is “I know what I want to do but have no idea how to get there.” The other, more prevalent (like Stella) is “I don’t want to be here anymore and I’ve decided to move on”.   When asked, “What do you want to do?” a typical response is silence or “I don’t know”.

What factors should be considered in a career transition?

When planning your career transition, be specific on the sort of work you want and the impact you want to have.  Here are five steps to uncover what’s next.

1. Be clear on what’s driving your desire to quit – it is no doubt a strong impulse, so what’s behind it? Work with a coach (or be your own self-coach) to find out why you feel the way you do. This may sound glaringly obvious, but lots of people believe everything will be different in their next job (or not working) and get frustrated when the grass is not greener on the other side. At this point in time, they lose faith in the possibility that the job will be fulfilling and meaningful. But let’s be clear: the issues you may struggle with now won’t magically disappear with a new role. 

2. Understand where you want to go, not what you want to leave – For every person trapped in deciding whether to stay or quit, there’s someone else who simply wants to get out now! If you’re consistently miserable in your job, then clearly you shouldn’t stay.  Instead, if you focus on what you’re running from instead of what you’re running to, it becomes impossible to see what’s possible elsewhere. Take time to truly listen to your inner voice, think back on your career to date, let your memories speak and recall what mattered most to you –  and why.

3. Recognise your own value – This is huge. It’s easy to forget what we have to offer in the face of uncertainty and self-doubt. As you look back on your career, you’ll remember your successes and learn how your strengths played a role in getting you to where you are today. With reflection, you will also recognise capabilities you may have taken for granted or forgotten about. You will see how these strengths and skillsets you possess are transferable to other roles or industries. When we feel stuck, it’s often because we’ve lost sight of who we are.  If you don’t feel valued in your current role, it can be tough to see where you could be valued elsewhere. This in turn becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

4. Experiment without jeopardising your current situation – If you’re considering a complete change of direction, it can be helpful to experiment with different ideas and options to see what feels right. Unpack the mental baggage, let go of rules and regulations, forget the ‘should-haves’, shrug off the ‘busy-ness’ and other distractions on your shoulder, and just let go.  Put away the worries and the incessant ‘to-do’ lists.  What’s important is that you don’t have to decide about your entire future right away. Take small steps and experiment with different ideas until you find something that feels right.

5. Getting unstuck – There are no quick fixes. Invest in yourself. Hire a coach or work through a structured reflective process to help you uncover the answers within. If you’re stuck and want to move forward, consider the following:

  • Understanding what you’re looking for
  • Knowing and articulating your own value
  • Getting comfortable with doubt
  • Taking radical responsibility for yourself
  • Investing in relationships

If there is a gap between where you are and where you want to be, reflective time or investing in a sparring partner (or a coach) can help bridge that gap. My favourite part of supporting mid-career executives through career transitions is when helplessness and frustration turn into an active, self-confident approach, from which concrete and promising plans emerge. This could be a decision to stay with a new perspective or to leave and start anew. But it always begins with that crucial first step: getting unstuck.

Final words

Recognise that any transition comes with a period of uncertainty.  Whether a career change or you’re being pushed, everyone goes through denial, frustration and indecision. A coach or someone with a good listening ear can de-risk this process through a thorough and objective analysis of your situation so that you can advance with purpose.

Dr Jane Horan is the founder of The Horan Group, with over 25 years of work experience in Talent and Organisational Development, and uses her knowledge and research to help organisations build inclusive and engaged workplaces. An expert in career and leadership transitions, she’s currently launched Career Extensions – a creative, interactive programme to reconnect with what matters most at work for individuals and organisations. She has also authored the following books: I Wish I’d Known That Earlier in My Career: The Power of Positive Workplace Politics; How Asian Women Lead: Lessons for Global Corporations, and Now It’s Clear: The Career You Own. These are available on Amazon.