How do you write a new career script that outlasts a crisis?
As 2020 progressed, millions shifted to working from home, and only when they were finding it a career refresher, hiring freezes, furloughs and layoffs followed. Career uncertainties are gut-wrenching and beget hard-hitting reflections: Am I heading in the right direction? Why was I first? Will I be the next?
There are almost always signs you are facing a career uncertainty – restructuring, downsizing, acquisition, loss in business, a crisis (like the present), or dissatisfaction at the job. Albeit, most don’t see it until after the fact.
Our brains are hardwired to respond to uncertainties with cautiousness, and even denial. Fears around job loss can cause us to become conservative, second guess every career move and dismiss our plans or desire for career growth. Incidentally, these are also the times where your response matters the most. How you respond in the crisis and your resilience can determine your future job prospects.
How do you square up shock with career reinvention? Certain ground principles can sustain you through a career uncertainty and set you up for change when rules of the game are up in the air.
Career change is not a linear process and becomes even more complex in trying times. Lynda Gratton of the London Business School says people will have to acquire new expertise in every few years to stay relevant to the labor market. It’s called serial mastery.
Pursuing a diverse set of skills can cover all the ground for an uncertain future. Think more expansively about your abilities. It’s natural for our goals to change at some point in our lives. Ask yourself,
Professional certifications in general, are a great place to diversify skills. They can help in lateral as well as vertical career growth.
When you are hit with a career shock and you are laid off or fired or have a realization you don’t like what you are doing, the first thing you need to do is take a breather.
Part of receiving a bad reality is to absorb it. There will be a lot of elements of self-rejection, personalizing the experience, and feeling lost. Identify your feelings, name them, and put them on hold. Then tomorrow, have an uncomfortable conversation with yourself. Face your fears and vulnerabilities.
As you pay attention to yourself, see whom you admire. What groups do you belong to? Who are you beyond your job? What values are important to you? In the end, recognize that your value remains the same. The idea is to reach a junction where you are more willing to explore and reassess yourself.
Uncertainty is a big part of the ‘new normal’ and will remain so for quite some time.
Few people manage to do what is often the most sensible thing to do in such times – that is to stay put. You will feel done at every finish line – 100 m, 250 m, 500 m, and even at 800 m. So, when are you actually done? According to Dave Goggins’s 40 percent rule,
When your mind tells you that you are done, exhausted, and can’t go further, you are only actually 40% done. You still have 60% left in you.
It’s a lesson in grit. When the chips are down, don’t give up. Keep pulling yourself up and reflect on what makes your personal brand distinctive. Forgive yourself for things you can’t change and focus on things you can.
Most people feel disoriented when not in control. The key to limiting uncertainty is your attitude toward the facts instead of the facts themselves.
As you look for a long-term sustainable career opportunity and wait for a job offer of your liking, create alternatives, or side options for yourself. They can prove to be your life raft in tough times.
You can opt for a portfolio of different things. Get back to the projects you have been stalling. Do some volunteering work. Help with local community. Take up short contracts or a part-time job. Research work. Learn a new tangible skillset (more in serial mastery section above).
The luxury you have right now is the time saved from commute and small talks. Correspondingly, you will find your network is more forthcoming to talk.
Employers always value people who are able to demonstrate resilience, and ‘get up and go’ attitude during crisis periods. It reflects a high Emotional Quotient (EQ).
Work is over 40 hours of your week and professional fulfillment is vital. What if you sidestep into roles you end up not liking? To avoid making any wrong moves, gain more information about yourself. Build a quadrangle labeling each corner as – ‘things you are good at and like’, ‘things you are good at but hate’, ‘things you are not good at but like’, and ‘things you are not good at and hate’.
The activity will veer you into the direction of things you love and will give you a reality check about where you stand with the job(s) you have been doing. If you are good at the things you like can be changed by acquiring expertise.
Every person needs a kitchen cabinet of close people they can turn to with important decisions. It can be a group of well-wishers, friends, family, or peers. This practice of social exchanges with people who can respond and sympathize with your situation can help in resolving your professional predicaments. One of the reasons joining a course or certification program (online or offline) helps is that it offers a community of people who probably share your experiences and are looking at a similar future.
When reinventing your career in a world that is uncertain, it’s imperative: to hustle smarter and get going with new capacities and an expansive skill base.