Blog about Career change, Career management and Workplace performance. This blog explores a lot of the main factors involved in career change, but on reflection we've never explored what may be the most important factor of all.
I recently went to go and see Paul McCartney play live – actually twice – in Winnipeg and London’s O2 arena. All the old hits were there including Hey Jude, Lady Madonna, Yesterday, All My Loving, Eleanor Rigby, Blackbird, Band on the Run and Let it Be.
Imagine writing all these songs before you hit 30…
Seriously, imagine how you would feel. Consider how your life might be different, how other people might treat you, how differently you might feel about yourself. Surely if you had written songs of this quality you would feel better about your life – more content, confident, happier?
My next thought is usually why I’m not Paul McCartney. Why couldn’t I be more like him? Why am I such a failure?
There comes a time in any career change where analysis stops working. All the risks have been managed. Contingency plans have been made. Worst case finances have been modelled in Excel. A 62-slide Powerpoint deck is available on request.
At some point we need human inspiration not just analysis to get moving, and for me one inspirational name stands out; Mary Oliver, who died yesterday.
Firstly Mary Oliver wrote poetry which I could actually understand, which is a good start, and she helped me articulate so many things when changing career that I found hard to express alone.
One of the best known is Wild Geese, which consoled me when I felt that in order for my new career to be meaningful I would have to sacrifice myself, with no room for comfort or enjoyment of my own:
You do not have to be good… You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Another is The Journey, which talks about setting out on a challenging new journey:
the wind pried with its stiff fingers…the melancholy was terrible. It was a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
But as the journey processes the weather clears and eventually
a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world
determined to do
the only thing you could do-
determined to save the only life you could save.
Using nature to find our own voice is a constant theme, as is a plea to experience life rather than to analyse it or think about it. At her best there was an urgency to her writing, which fired me up and challenged me:
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Indeed, the greatest poem of all related to career change was in essence a beautiful call to action (as well as perfectly encapsulating the need to marry mindfulness to values).
This poem fired me up and consoled me like no other. I have used it in countless coaching sessions and career change workshops.
Thank you Mary, you will be missed, but you will also be remembered by the countless actions and lives and careers which are that bit braver and that bit more meaningful thanks to you.
What I Have Learned So Far
Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world?
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.
All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
The gospel of light is the crossroads of indolence, or action.
But I’m convinced that movement on shoulders is enhanced by movement of feet. It is uncanny how so many of my clients combine career change with some kind of physical challenge. If you do nothing else this week, just go for a run at the weekend, or take a 30 minute walk in your lunch hour.
6. Start practicing willingness
Any kind of transition is going to involve psychological pain. Sorry! I don’t make the rules.
So you have a choice. You can either avoid this pain, anaesthetise yourself from it; or you can accept it into your life.
Avoiding psychological pain will keep you stuck.
Accepting it isn’t exactly fun, but it can unlock your whole life.
The following short clips are metaphor for acceptance and willingness. This workbook discusses it further.
Which difficult thoughts and emotions are you willing to accept for a better, more meaningful life?
Internal Struggles by Russ Harris
Internal Struggles by Dr. Russ Harris - YouTube
The Unwelcome Party Guest by Joe Oliver
The Unwelcome Party Guest - an Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) Metaphor - YouTube
In the new world of work, many people are adopting a portfolio approach to their career. This involves crafting a full time role out of a number of part-time jobs. Sometimes the part-time roles are permanent roles but more often the portfolio includes a changing patchwork of freelance roles, temporary roles, project work and self-employment.
There are a lot of potential benefits to a portfolio career. However it isn’t necessarily easy to make it work, there are some traps. I have had a portfolio career for almost 15 years and I love it! However, I have made some mistakes and mis-steps. Here is what I have learnt along the way:
1. Does your portfolio work as a whole?
Make sure the different parts of your portfolio work together so that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. For example, one part of my portfolio is as an Executive Coach in my own consulting business and another part is as a lecturer in the Executive MBA program at Queensland University of Technology These roles support each other. The coaching gives me plenty of current, practical experience to draw on when teaching my MBA students and the leadership and business theory I cover in the MBA is invaluable in my 1:1 coaching.
2. Keep it moving
Maintain momentum in all parts of your portfolio; don’t focus on one aspect and neglect another for too long – try to keep all the plates spinning! This can be hard when you are busy but it doesn’t have to be much, just an email or quick call to keep in contact with the people you like working with.
3. Bring your rare and valuable skills
Be ‘So good they can’t ignore you’. The worst kind of portfolio career involves juggling a string of part-time, low paid jobs. Avoid that if at all possible! If you have rare and valuable skills that are in high demand, your portfolio can be made up of interesting and reasonably paid work.
3.1 How do you become ‘So good they can’t ignore you’?
• Know your strengths and be clear on how to capitalize on them (a good coach can help you to work out how to do this).
• Watch for trends in your profession, so that you can make an informed prediction about which skills are likely to be in demand in the future.
• Keep developing your skills. Put aside time and money for your own learning and development.
• Make time for reflection. After and during each project do a review, what did you do well? What could you do better next time?
• Get good quality feedback from others about what you are doing that genuinely adds value and also where you could improve.
4. Who do you want to work with?
Adopt a ‘red velvet rope’ policy. Choose to only work with employers and clients who bring out your best work. Again, if you have rare and valuable skills it will be easier to be picky about who you will and won’t work with.
5. Don’t undercharge
Know the market rate for what you are offering. If the work is casual – make sure you include extra to compensate for the uncertainty, lack of sick pay etc. Value what you bring.
Sometimes you will need to volunteer your time to your employers but have boundaries – don’t do a full time workload on part time pay!
6. Don’t just be a hanger on
Build meaningful relationships with people in the different parts of your portfolio. Pause and have a coffee or eat your lunch in the common area and take the opportunity to chat with your colleagues. It can be so easy to just do your work and leave but it is well worth nurturing good relationships with your coworkers. A portfolio career can be lonely, you can feel like a bit of an outsider everywhere. Don’t accept that as inevitable. Not only will these relationships make you happier, they will also have a positive impact on your career. Innovative ideas and interesting projects often emerge from informal conversations in the tea room. If you want your portfolio to evolve and remain interesting, you need to be part of that process of innovation.
7. Make frugality a virtue!
Reduce any debt as fast as you can; have some ‘running away/rainy day’ money saved. Portfolio careers tend to have more income variability than traditional careers. If you are under pressure to pay off a mortgage or service an expensive lifestyle, then a fluctuating income is very stressful.
8. Don’t play it too safe or too small
As an outsider; you have an unique perspective to offer each team in your portfolio. Be willing to courageously and thoughtfully offer your perspective and know when to shut up and listen. Know when to drop a viewpoint that isn’t going to fly and also when not to get involved because it really isn’t your business!
Block out time in your diary well in advance and take time to explore, refresh and rest. Recovery time is important for your long term wellbeing; you will also do better work if you take regular breaks.
Portfolio careers aren’t for everyone. They can be hard work. The uncertainty can be stressful and juggling different roles is demanding. However, the capacity to build your own patchwork of interesting work is very rewarding.
For further reading you may be interested in a past blog on portfolio careers here. If you’d like to discuss this article or any points raised within it, please get in touch.
At The Career Psychologist we believe that understanding yourself is essential for career success, whether it’s succeeding as a leader, making a career change, planning your next position, or the next stage your career. Equally, our clients want more from their careers than ‘career change’. They want meaning, fulfilment and to flourish and thrive in what they do.
Two of the best ways to understand yourself are through understanding your values, and your strengths. These are different dimensions which can be a source of confusion, as the differences between them are subtle. So what’s the difference between a value and a strength – and why does it matter?
Our values are our compass, they are our ‘chosen life directions’ in the world. They can be used to guide our actions and decisions and can help us to move forwards in the face of difficult thoughts, feelings and sensations – including when we are feeling stuck in our careers. The key point about values is that they are what we consciously choose our lives to be about. Our values are unique to us individually and are always freely chosen by ourselves. See here for our blog post on values.
Values are qualities of action and ‘show us the way we want to proceed in the world’. A key question about your values is ‘what do you choose to stand for in the world going forwards from here?’.
It is also important to know our strengths so that we can build on and develop them further in our careers. Rather than being freely chosen like values, strengths are more of a reflection of our brain development, skills and / or personality to date. Confusingly, there are two main schools of thought about strengths: ‘Character Strengths’ (“a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energizing to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance” (Linley, 2008)); and ‘Talent Strengths’ (which focus more on the skills that you have already developed).
Seligman’s ‘VIA’ character strengths assessment identifies 24 character strengths, you can see more on this chart. Character strengths are labels we might use to describe qualities about ourselves. A key question on your character strengths is ‘what’s (already) best about who you are and how can you build on this in the future?’.
CliftonStrengths (formerly StrengthsFinder 2.0) is a tool to identify 34 Talent Strengths- skills we have already developed. A key question would be ‘What’s best about what you (already) do at work?’
Why does it matter?
If we want greater meaning, purpose and satisfaction in our working lives, we need to play to our character strengths and to understand and commit to living more according to our values.
Unlike character strengths and values, our personality, talents and skills don’t always evoke feelings of energy, joy or authenticity (for example I am very talented and skilled at completing spreadsheets because I can pay attention to detail, but this activity doesn’t bring me any joy or satisfaction, not least because my personality type likes working with people!).
Focusing on our values and character strengths is vitally important to our wellbeing and our sense of being our best selves: by building our careers on these foundations, we can flourish and thrive in our careers and our work, and bring our unique contributions into the world.
If you’d like to discuss your ‘values’ versus your ‘character strengths’, please get in touch.
Rachel and I recently got a brilliant email from a reader who is stuck in his job and struggling to deal with what he calls competing values.
“Supporting my family is a very strong value for me. I managed to find a job that is secure and pays very well, but the problem is that I’m utterly miserable every single day I go to work.”
We’ve heard this kind of story so many times at The Career Psychologist. So many people feel stuck in this way…Ryan is brave though, and has tried to solve the issues many times before:
“This is the third career move for me; each time I was hoping I would enjoy the next place more, but I hate every place I work with increasing dislike.
I understand providing for your family is more than just financial, but I hate the thought of uprooting them a fourth time and moving for potentially yet another job I dislike. My family is happy where we are (but I literally feel like I’m dying inside).”
“My family is happy…but I literally feel like I’m dying inside.”
Try not to gloss over those words too quickly. How would it be to feel like that, yet at the same time feel that you had no choice but to suck it up?
Ryan goes on:
“My other values are adventure, exploration, innovation…I have taken on hobbies to satisfy these values, but there are only so many hours in the day… I keep staring at my job, and feeling like I need to make a change…I’m sure my wife is thinking “oh not again.”
Ryan’s dilemma becomes really acute when he starts to plan for change:
“I really want to throw caution to the wind, and start my own gig up. One would think that I’d be able to start actively planning and preparing for my own company….. but I know I will make less money and it will be a bigger time commitment, which goes against the value of being there for my family. Thus I resign myself to not trying.”
Finally, Ryan asks, how does ACT help deal with these situations where values seem to conflict and actually contribute to stuckness?
“I love ACT, and believe in it strongly. …but value conflicts are something worth exploring if you haven’t already. I just can’t seem to get beyond this problem.”
So this was such a powerful and essential question, I wanted to get others’ perspective on this.
What should Ryan do? How can ACT help Ryan deal with these values conflicts?
If you have any thoughts please comment below the line and in about a week’s time I will also offer my own thoughts.
Let’s see if 2018 can be a happier new year for Ryan – and what must be millions like him.
At The Career Psychologist we know that nearly all of our clients have feelings of anxiety around their careers, and also that fear of change can keep many of us trapped in unfulfilling jobs. It is classic career paralysis.
Recognise what is happening. Start by paying attention to your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. They might be a big soup of difficult experiences, but little by little we can learn to separate them out from each other. Start to put labels to your experience, such as noticing that there is a feeling of anxiety present at this moment. Naming it also helps to see it for what it is, and to put some distance between you and the thought, feeling or sensation, such as ‘I am aware that there is a feeling of anxiety present at this moment’. This helps us to step back from the difficult emotions and create some space around the intense feelings so that we don’t get so caught up in them.
Pay attention to how often the anxious thoughts, feelings and sensations are present. All emotions serve a purpose and can give us valuable insights into our situation. If the difficult emotions are there a lot of the time and interfering with our ability to sleep, work or live our normal lives, it can be a sign that you need to seek professional help from a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, community mental health service (search the internet for ‘IAPT’ plus your town if you are in the UK), or a General Practitioner. If your symptoms are not too severe then there is a lot of self-help that you can do to help to manage your symptoms outlined below.
Visualise your thoughts as leaves on a stream. We’ve created a short mindfulness practice for you to listen to in a quiet moment where you can learn to mentally place your thoughts on leaves and watch them flow downstream. This is a skill that can bring some space to the intense feelings and help you to refocus on taking wise action.
Call to mind all the resources which can help you. What resources do you have inside yourself, in other people, and in the world that can help you at this time? Our mindfulness practice includes a visualisation exercise on the resources you have to support you during your career change.
Take wise action. What can you do right now that would be helpful and kind to yourself? When you are feeling a lot of anxiety symptoms, it’s important to slow things down and to focus on doing one thing at a time with your full attention. Paying attention to a conversation with another person, relaxing and really enjoying a bath or a shower, doing gentle stretching such as yoga, listening to a piece of music, looking at a nature scene or being outdoors can all help.
If you notice your mind slipping into thoughts about the past or future then kindly but firmly bring your attention to what you want to focus on, and do this repeatedly. When your mind is feeling less scattered, ask yourself what small step can you take today towards improving your working life? Do it, and get a sense of agency as you little by little move forwards in your career.
If you want to know more about The Career Psychologist and how we help people to get unstuck, contact us today. We’d love to hear from you.
You may have seen the video of US Senator Maxine Waters, staunchly and assertively repeating the phrase, ‘reclaiming my time…. reclaiming my time’.
In US senate committees, each senator has a certain amount of time to ask questions. If the person they are interrogating, wastes that time, perhaps by talking about something irrelevant, then the senator can ‘reclaim’ the time, which is what Senator Waters did.
I'm reclaiming MY time says Maxine Waters to Steve Mnuchin - YouTube
The video went viral and sparked hundreds of tweets. Whilst some of the tweets celebrated Senator Waters refusal to tolerate deliberate time wasting, many of them considered the moments where we all wish we could reclaim wasted time. You can see some of the best here.
Reclaiming Wasted Time at Work
Although these tweets are funny, they highlight something important.
Life is short and sometimes your precious time is pointlessly squandered.
Take a moment to consider: what wasted time do you wish you could reclaim? Which moments from your work day, do you wish you could say, ‘reclaiming my time!’
How about some of these?
Badly run meetings
Irrelevant training sessions
Developing detailed plans and proposals for projects that never get off the ground
Gathering data that no one looks at
Chasing up on colleagues who don’t meet deadlines
Checking the work of colleagues who repeatedly make mistakes
Listening to colleagues droning on about their pet topics or telling their war stories
Having the same conversation over and over without making any progress
Overly complex bureaucratic processes
Team conversations where no one is really engaged, everyone is just going through the motions
Being ‘consulted’ when really the decision has already been made
Working long hours, being preoccupied by work at home, missing key family events and then being made redundant.
I suspect some of these examples will resonate with you… and you will likely have some examples of your own.
What Can We Do About It?
It is painful to notice the many times in a working week where you feel that your precious time hasn’t been used well. Sadly, we don’t have Senator Waters ability to reclaim this wasted time. But there are some things you can do about this lost time.
Firstly, you can use these experiences to get clear on what you are looking for in your next job. Noticing these moments can help you to get very specific on what you do and don’t want. As these moments arise, jot them down. They will give you some rich fodder for reflection on the specifics of what matters to you at work. See if you can convert them into some positive decision criteria for what you are looking for in your future career. For example, you know you don’t want, ‘team meetings where everyone is just going through the motions’ and after some reflection you convert that into something you do want: ‘rich, collaborative conversations with colleagues’.
Secondly, it may be possible for you to try some subtle job crafting to see if you can decrease the amount of wasted time. Job crafting is the process of changing the tasks, relationships or boundaries of a job, so work becomes more meaningful.
Perhaps there is a meeting that seems particularly pointless or a process that is time consuming and inefficient. Could you work to influence key decision makers to improve the meeting process? Or suggest ways to use technology to improve the unproductive process?
Job crafting can be a helpful approach when it isn’t the right time to leave your current job (perhaps because you are taking some time to work out your next move). Job crafting can also be important when you move jobs. No job will suit you perfectly – so learning how to craft something satisfying from what is available can make a huge difference. You can read more about job crafting here and on The Career Psychologist blog here. If you get good at it, you might have fewer moments when you wish you could say, ‘reclaiming my time’.
Took my little daughter to the athletics, and we watched the mighty Usain Bolt in the 4 x 100m heats (though my daughter was far more interested in Hero the Hedgehog). We then cheered the British team on to qualify, before – incredibly – they snatched gold in the final this evening, winning by 0.05 seconds.
That’s half a second over 400 metres, shared between 4 people. With such tiny margins I always think of this speech by Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday, which one of our brilliant clients first put me onto.
I guarantee this is worth 4 mins and 40 seconds of your time:
Al Pacino's Inspirational Speech - YouTube
When I first watched this, it captured my experience of being stuck in a job I hated.
Sure, being a consultant was safe and comfortable, but it was killing me. At times it really did feel like hell.
If I had stayed where I was I would have crumbled. I would have died. But at the same time, I was petrified of the alternatives.
Many of our clients feel the same, stuck between an unwanted present and an uncertain future.
Stuck between fear of death and fear of life.
If you recognise this then, just like Pacino’s team, you have a choice.
You can stay where you are and get the shit kicked out of you or you can fight your way out, one inch at a time. This is painful and scary – I didn’t have the guts to change for 5 years.
If you choose to change career it will be painful. You will need to fight for every inch. But watch the clip again; what’s the alternative?
Could you be willing to fight for that next inch? And the next? Because that’s the difference between living and dying.
If you’re in career paralysis right now, the inches you need are all around you.
Now. What are you going to do?
The Career Psychologist specialises in helping people who are stuck in careers they dislike yet who feel uncertain of the alternatives – career paralysis. If this is you, and you want to fight for some inches, get in touch.