February. Officially the most depressing month of the year.
The New Year’s Resolutions are out of the window, the credit card is still bloated, and the cold, grey winter is stretching ahead…
This is a common time to think of CHANGE: what change can you achieve to make things better?
What about in your career? We spend most of our lives at work - if those hours are miserable, our life is miserable.
But what change should it be?
I made a massive career change a few years ago: from a Central Government Civil Servant to being an executive coach.
I started my training when my daughter started school.
And I spent about a year thinking about what I wanted my new career to be.
So what should you be thinking about when re-defining your career goals?
Here are five fundamentals you need to consider.
1. What do you want from life?
Starting with the big one…
Your career is just a sub-set (albeit an important one) of your whole life.
Ideally, it should fit into your wider goals, not the other way around.
So before considering what career change to make, you need to work out your personal non-negotiables: the values that drive you.
This is a huge area, worthy of a blog post in itself (to come) - but for now, start with the following questions:
What are the most important things in my life? (Love, family, money, security, success...)
On my death-bed, what will I consider a “life well-lived”?
These are questions you could ponder for hours, days, months, years - and the answers will change during the course of your life.
But if you want to make change in your life, you have to pin yourself down: answer the questions the best you can, NOW.
I decided that being there for my family was my priority.
I’d had ten good years of being career-driven at the cost of my social and emotional life (nearly getting burnt out in the process). I was lucky to be married to a wonderful man with a fantastic young daughter, and a lovely extended family locally - I wanted that to be at the centre of my life, not my career.
All decisions had to be made around how they impacted on that value.
2. What are your financial goals?
Yes, work can a source of deep emotional and psychological satisfaction - but for most of us, it is crucial to pay the bills.
According to Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs, the fundamental need for us all is food, water, and shelter - for which we need money.
But “food and water” can range from shopping in Aldi to eating in 3 star Michelin restaurants. (I do both.)
So where do you fit on this scale?
You have to tailor your ambition to your financial goals. There is no point becoming a yoga teacher if you want to holiday in 5 star hotels - the one is unlikely to lead to the other.
Think realistically about what a good standard of living means to you.
I am very lucky in that my husband can support me - this allowed me to stay at home, not working, while my daughter was small.
But when she started school, and didn't need me so much, I wanted to work again: I spent my adult life financially independent, and it is important to me to make a financial contribution to my family.
And I think it’s important to set a good example to my daughter. (“We can do it!” as Rosie the Riveter said.)
3. What daily routine do you want?
Fundamentally, life is made up of the small stuff, repeated:
waking up in the morning
getting to work
getting home again
This is what can either grind us down (a two-hourly commute each way); or lift us up (being there to collect the kids from school).
This daily routine is shaped by your work: your working hours, your place of work, its proximity to your home.
> So what do you want yours to be?
> What is achievable for you living where you are?
> Are you willing to move to offer yourself a different routine?
I moved out of London when I met my husband.
To get to my old Central Government job would have been a two and a half hour journey, each way. With the hours I used to work, this would have meant leaving the house before 6am and getting home after 10pm.
I decided pretty quickly this wasn’t sustainable.
I wanted to be there for the school drop-offs and pick-ups; I wanted to be able to help out at the school disco. I wanted to be free to go for lunch with my (retired) husband on a weekday sometimes.
So I needed a career that offered flexible working.
4. What do you enjoy/ not enjoy?
This question has two parts. The obvious one is “what do you enjoy/ not enjoy about your current or previous jobs?”.
List them, and look for the patterns. Fairly simple.
But the second half is also important: "what do you enjoy/ not enjoy outside work?"
> Are you sociable and feed off the energy of other people? A job where you spend most the day alone is probably not a good idea.
> Do you get bored easily and detest anything methodical? A job based on precision and repetition wouldn’t work. Again, list them and look for the patterns.
This is not supposed to be rocket science. It is supposed to give you clues, from which you can draw conclusions.
Take the time to consider what the patterns mean.
Thinking back across my career, I realised that the part I’d enjoyed the most had been leading, mentoring and coaching my teams.
I felt a huge sense of satisfaction when I helped someone get promoted, or move to a new, exciting job opportunity because of the skills and experience I’d helped them gain.
And I also knew that (as icky as it sounds), I am a “people person”: I thrive on interpersonal interaction.
These realisations were the foundation for my decision to become a coach.
5. Who do you want to be when you grow up?
This is slightly facetious - I am assuming that you are already an adult…
But we all have that sense of the “future me” that we will (hopefully?), one day, become.
And it is shaped by our perceptions of those around us: those we consider to be successful and want to emulate, and those who we consider failures, and want to avoid becoming.
So who are those people to you? Who do you follow on social media? Whose life do you envy? And WHY?
Here are some more important clues for you - identify what it is EXACTLY that triggers a reaction, and then have a think about how you might be able to incorporate that into your life.
My model was my Iyengar yoga teacher.
She is amazing - an inspiring teacher, a lovely woman, in her early 70s and still able to do the splits, and a headstand for an hour at a time. And she is a successful (internationally-renowned) ceramic artist as well.
I looked at the example she sets of making a difference to people (her yoga teaching), combining it with something she does for more personal reasons (her art).
If she can do it, so can I - combining coaching with my personal family priorities. I would love to grow up to be her…
So there you go - five fundamentals to help you consider which career change is right for you.
Once you have done the big-picture thinking in response to these questions, and then drawn conclusions from them, you will have a much clearer idea of the direction to move in.
But obviously, there is a final stage to this: you have to apply the practical bit too.
5 1/2. What is actually achievable for you?
Deciding you want to be an architect when you haven’t got GCSE Maths - this is not impossible, but it will be quite a journey.
Deciding you want to make a living as an artist when you last drew pictures in Primary School - again, not impossible, but definitely challenging.
Take some time to research your options.
> Find out what what jobs are out there that might fit your big picture goals.
> Research what sorts of skills and experience are required (or desired) for these roles.
> Work out whether your dream is realistic and achievable (within a sensible timeframe for you); or is this just a dream?
And then make a plan.
As the saying goes, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” (Effective planning - another topic for another day.)
One of my favourite quotes (Maslow again):
“at any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.”
I would always rather grow than stagnate.
And I would always rather act than be passive in my life.
But you can make the “stepping forward” less scary by taking the time to think it through, using a structure like the questions set out above.
Or if you would like an even more structured and supportive environment, with coaching from myself and my business partner and fellow coach Nicola Pitt, sign up to our next:
You will dedicate a day to defining your career goals and how you can achieve them.
And you will leave with a detailed Action Plan on how you can achieve your big career goals in 2019.
Click here to find out more.
Either way, by the grey days of February next year, you could be leaping out of bed to start another day in that career you love.
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.