Jude’s Situation: I’m desperately unhappy with my career. Things aren’t working at all. But every time I sit down to try to figure out what to do next, I just completely shut down. My mind goes blank. I get tired. I can’t seem to think straight. This problem is on the back of my mind all the time, when I’m out with my wife and friends, when I’m at work, when I try to fall asleep at night. It’s something I’m perpetually wrestling with, but I’m not making any progress.
Jude’s Question: I used to have big ideas and dreams, but I can’t seem to access them at all. How can I make a plan for my career when everything feels so foggy all the time?
Alison’s Answer: Jude had diligently worked to build a career as a management consultant, something that he had set his eyes on while in college. Over the years he had worked hard and steadily risen through the ranks, but he was becoming more and more aware that something was off. He had lost his enthusiasm for his work, and he was craving a change.
Jude was a very competent person, and he knew he could accomplish anything he set his mind to. The main problem he was having was that he couldn’t figure out what career change to make. This uncertainty was seeping into many parts of his life. Jude felt uncomfortable and frustrated with his own lack of vision and action.
Jude and I discussed four ideas to help him make sense of his situation.
Honor Your Square
Martha Beck teaches that there are four stages of change arranged like a foursquare grid. You’re probably most familiar with Squares 2, 3, and 4, where you have grand ideas and a sense of possibility, where you get to work on bringing those dreams to life, and when your dreams have reached fruition.
But you may not have ever considered Square 1, the Death and Rebirth Square. Square 1 is that liminal, in-between place, where an old dream or identity no longer fits and a new one has not yet settled into place. Most of us do not love this stage of change because of its limbo-like nature. But it is a real stage of making a change.
I explained this to Jude and told him that as much as he normally enjoyed making big plans and executing on them, he was actually in Square 1, which required a different mindset and set of behaviors. I also assured him that if he dealt with where he actually was in the change cycle, he would be able to move through this stage with more ease and peace.
Jude immediately felt a sense of relief. It wasn’t that he had totally lost his ability as a problem solver. It was just a timing issue. He needed to work through Square 1 before he could move on to sorting out his career direction.
Grieve and Disbelieve
“So what do I do to move through Square 1?” Jude asked me.
“There are two big things that need to happen in Square 1,” I replied. “You need to grieve what you’ve lost and disbelieve the limits that are keeping you stuck.”
In Jude’s case, his prior dream of becoming a management consultant no longer held any juice for him. He needed to acknowledge that this wasn’t a fit for him and work through any feelings of sadness that came up when he considered leaving his current situation. Jude was familiar with journaling, so I offered him the following prompts to work from.
- What have I gained from this experience?
- What, if anything, am I sad about leaving behind?
- What am I taking with me, independent of this job?
- What can I forgive myself for around my past choices or actions?
Instead of pounding himself with questions about what to do next, and getting nowhere, Jude needed to take time to process what he’d just been through to set the stage for a smoother, less forced transition. The questions I provided were more appropriate for Jude’s situation and easier for him to answer.
The second task of this Square is to “disbelieve” false limits. Through our conversation it became apparent that Jude had a belief that since he had worked in management consulting for so long, it was the only way for him to make money. This belief closed him off from other possibilities. It needed to be questioned and poked at for him to see other opportunities. I requested that he make a list of other ways he knew he could make money, not because they would be his next gig, but because that evidence would start to open up his mind and creative juices.
Take Care of Your Present Moment Needs
In addition to recognizing his square and tackling the above internal work, it’s important to stay aware of self-care when you’re in Square 1. I advised Jude to prioritize sleep, time off, exercise, and time with loved ones. Again, this was a prescription that he could be successful with. Knowing that these actions would ultimately pay off helped him to prioritize his days, reduce his worry, and feel on track.
Make a Plan that Involves Other People
The last tip that Jude and I discussed was to involve other people. Reaching out for coaching support, setting up time to talk things through with a trusted buddy, or putting himself in situations where he would come across new ideas (like attending a group) were all appropriate steps to take. Notice that we reframed the problem from, “Think this through by myself” to “Pick a doable step that involves someone else”. Sure, we didn’t know exactly where that step would lead, but again, having a more clearly defined action step helped Jude to course correct and feel more peace.
Like many things in life, there is a season to working through a career change. When you work with that season, it becomes much easier. When you resist and try to plant something in winter, you’re signing up for more than your fair share of struggle. Jude and I were able to assess and work with where he actually was in the career change process to stop his wheel spinning and get him on track. By addressing his Square 1 situation, the fog would begin to clear. He would be putting himself in the right frame of mind for new ideas to come into his world, and, knowing Jude, once they did, he would tackle those new ideas with gusto.
Have you ever thought about a problem over and over again without progress? What helped you to get out of that loop? Leave a comment below!
Client Feedback on Working with Alison in a Cardy Career Coaching program:
“As a result of working with Alison I am more confident that I will be able to find a more fulfilling job.” – Career Direction Clarity + Action Plan Client
Each week the Cardy Career Coaching Team is tackling a career question from someone in our community. If you’re at a crossroads with your career and would like to pose a question, sign up for the Step-By-Step Career Change E-Course! There’s a link to a quick survey in the early emails of the course where you can leave us a question. We might just write a blog post for you!