Thursday, September 17, 2009

What to Do When You've Run Off Into a Career Ditch

If I could leave you with one thought today, it would be this: You are a work in progress.

Rather you're trying to get a job, starting a new career, in mid-career, or thinking about retiring, you can never write the ending to your story. Because once you do, you lose sight of what you've accomplished and enthusiasm for what is still out there.

I see job seekers become demoralized when someone asks them, "So, what do you do?" They stammer around and then say something like, "Well, I used to be a pilot for a major airline, but I got laid off. And now there are no jobs and no one wants to hire me."

Or, I see people in mid-career who believe in this bad job market they are "stuck" in jobs that cause them to lose sleep and snap at their kids when they get home at night. Even those nearing retirement are sometimes on auto-pilot in the later days of their career, believing there's nothing new for them to learn, no new paths waiting to be explored.

Even some college graduates who can't get a job have lost confidence in their abilities, believing they have nothing special to offer employers.

To all of you I say: Don't write yourself off yet.

If you're a college graduate, it wasn't a piece of cake to get that degree was it? If you were a pilot, didn't it take thousands of hours of training and self-discipline to fly a plane? If you're mid-career, you didn't walk in off the street and get that job, did you?

Look at your past. Think back to what it felt like when you failed, and what you did to recover. Think about what it felt like when you succeeded -- what did it take for you to achieve that goal? Those are all abilities that are unique to you. No one else did exactly what you did in the same way.

What would your life have been like if you'd never had those experiences, those chapters in your life? That's how you need to look at your career: as chapters to be written, as a work that will progress with time.

Don't ever think your skills and abilities aren't worth telling others about, and that you don't have something worthwhile to offer. Once you show others you're ready to reach for the next experience with enthusiasm, they'll be more interested in helping you so they can see how the story turns out.

How do you keep yourself enthused about your career or job hunt?



Unknown said...

In my coaching I find a huge number of people who see themselves through limited lens. They're looking for the real me at the bottom of their makeup and want to find a job that fits that.

That rather traditional way of doing psych needs to go the way of the Dodo bird. Instead, as Hazel Markus of Stanford has so well pointed out, we are essentially actors, carrying around a whole cast of characters that are surfaced or evoked by the opportunities that face us.

If, years ago, people had suggested I'd be doing what I do now and having fun at it, I'd have thought they were loony. I'm passing on a quote to my friends from Deborah Dunsire, the CEO of Millennium Pharma: You can't be too sure of the path you're on because you might shut down some side roads that are incredibly important.

In this world, I think it's important to look for all kinds of opportunities, and not be in a hurry to reject any of them.

Anita said...

Thanks for your comments. I hope more people will realize that just because a career doesn't carry them for the next 10 years, it doesn't mean that they're a failure. Everyone needs to understand that they evolved when they were why not when they're older?

Lynn M said...

Excellent advice. Isn't it interesting how just the tone can make such a difference. You can talk about your career (even if you are currently unemployed) in a positive way and impress others with what you've done or you can take a negative tone and make it look like you once had something but lost it. As you say, you haven't lost the skills or experience. If you sound proud of what you've done the listener is bound to believe you have reason to be proud!

Anita said...

Lynn M.,
It can be difficult to keep spirits high in this job market, but it's also important to, as you say, "sound proud." You're more than a job title, so remind yourself -- and others -- of that fact.
Thanks for your comments.

thomsinger said...

For some reason people take "what they do" and mistake it for "who they are". Your post is important to many who need to realize that all those who achieve the most have had set backs. Relish in the bumps along the way as they bring to closer to your victory.

Anno said...

I am not loosing sleep over my job however when I am waking up in the middle of night and my head is spinning with self doubt or things to do I crank my iPod up with relaxing sounds from and falls right back to sleep. Works everytime!

Anthony said...

I think one of the most important things to remember is just what you wrote in the post: You didn't get your degree in a few days nor did you get your last job in a few seconds. Obviously, if you're unemployed and struggling to pay bills, not worrying is easier said than done.

But I think everyone (job seekers and employers) need to rethink the mentality that once you get a job, you never have to worry about the problem again. You can't assume getting hired once means never job hunting again. And employers need to remember that life happens and gaps in employment really do mean a lot of different things and they're not all negative. A gap in employment can be just that--a gap! Which means there was employment before and there will be some after.

Anita said...

You're right -- those bumps along the way are often our most valuable learning experiences. If we learn nothing more than what NOT to do, or discover our inner strength in times of adversity, then those are key lessons to carry us through our life and career.

Anita said...

That's so great you've found a way to cope. Maybe it will work for someone else as well!

Anita said...

I'm hopeful that one of the things that we'll take away from this last year is that sometimes life happens, despite our best efforts. There are going to be more understanding hiring managers (I hope) that won't automatically reject a candidate because the resume isn't perfect. (These hiring managers may have found themselves in the same position.) I'm also hopeful that people will be better networkers -- not just because it helps a career, but because it can provide terrific support in times of need. And, doesn't it always feel great to help someone else out? I hope that we'll all walk away having gained something positive.