Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Choosing A New Career Path

By Sue Campbell

Jane Doe faced weekday mornings (especially on Mondays) with real regret. She sat at her kitchen table until the very last moment, wishing it were still the weekend, before driving her car to work. She was grateful for every red light that delayed her trip. She'd pull into the office parking lot, feel her jaw clench, and mentally count the hours until she could return to her car to leave again. She felt as if she'd been sentenced to punishment with no hope of reprieve. There was no early release program for good behavior, no great perks or pats on the back for earnest efforts, and no hope of financial advancement that might allow her some hope of getting out of a miserable situation. She had bills to pay. She had people at home depending on her. She'd remind herself of all these things as she parked her car and turned off the ignition. She'd will herself out of her car, walk up to the front door, and face another day at a job she didn't enjoy. She'd always allow herself one last moment to wonder, "Where has the challenge gone? Why doesn't anyone appreciate me? I wish I could do something different" before she'd open the office door to start another day

The Jane Doe in this story might be the receptionist at a busy medical office, or she might be the doctor. She might be the Division Manager for the number one seller of the number one brand of superior cogs. She might be the waitress at your favorite restaurant, or the CEO of prosperous company. She might hold any job, make any salary amount, be any age you imagine, and still be miserable. No matter what job circumstances you might envision Jane in, the fact is she feels stuck, with no way out.

When Jane initially considered changing her career path, her first thought was actually a self-imposed wall. "I can't do this, because. . ." Fill in the blank . . . Jane could find lots of reasons why she couldn't do something to change her career. Sometimes it's easier and less frightening to build walls instead of creating or recognizing possibilities. Jane considered her obstacles. She considered that maybe she was too old to make a change now. She thought that she shouldn't because she'd already invested a lot of money in an education in a different direction. She thought she couldn't because she had bills to pay, dependents to care for, and obligations to meet. Jane assumed she could never change her current career path, because she'd done "this work" for so long she couldn't imagine anyone hiring her to do something different.

The world is full of people who've followed their dreams, instead of building walls. Some of these people followed different dreams at different points in their lives, as their desires and interests changed. They didn't possess magic powers, weren't smarter than Jane, didn't have connections in high places, but they did have something Jane may have forgotten she possessed ~ they had a belief that, with time, with thought, with determination, and with help, they could make their particular dreams come true. Jane finally came to a point in her life where she was ready to realize this too, that she could change her life. And that was the first step, she BELIEVED in herself.

What comes after "believing?" Exploring the possibilities. Jane needed to have some goal in mind in order to learn how to move closer to it, so she began to explore the possibilities. She kept in mind that, for the moment, she would recognize no obstacles. In order to successfully explore, she had to believe that every door was open wide to her. She could do any job she wanted. She stopped worrying about what she was "qualified" to do, because that would've impeded her efforts. Believing in herself meant believing that all things were possible. So, she began to wonder, "What kind of job would make me excited to leave for work on Monday mornings?"

Jane began her exploration by finding out what kinds of jobs were currently "out there." She started with newspaper and Internet classified ads. Here, she not only discovered various job titles (and what positions were currently being sought to fill), but she also learned some of the hiring criteria and responsibilities that went along with these jobs. She kept in mind that she wasn't looking for jobs for which she currently qualified, but just exploring the possibilities. She noted what types of jobs captured her attention, which sounded interesting, challenging, or fun to her. She wrote these job titles down on her "explore" list. Then she wrote down what it was about each of these jobs that interested her.

Next, Jane looked for career possibilities in her local Yellow Pages phone book. She flipped through the pages, looked at various companies, and the services or products provided, and found job descriptions she had never considered before.

Jane took her list of job titles, and the reasons why they sounded interesting to her, to her local public library. She found the librarian and told him that she was investigating job titles, and wanted more information. The librarian directed her to various reference guides and books on careers, most notably the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The Occupational Outlook Handbook gave her information regarding what the different jobs entailed, what the work environments were like, what criteria she needed to meet for employment, and what kind of salary ranges she could expect. As she read through the various job descriptions, she found that some of the job titles on her explore list didn't really fit her interests, after all, so she crossed those off. At the same time, she located other positions that were more appealing to her than she would have imagined from the job titles alone, so she added those to her list. As her list grew, she again paid particular attention to what it was about each of these jobs that captured her interest. She thought about why she might enjoy them. She considered what natural skills and interests she already possessed that could be applied to these positions. She envisioned herself in one of these jobs, and felt her excitement grow.

With her list of possibilities to think about, Jane began an exploration within herself. She took the time to consider what was important to her in matters of: work environment, work function, and levels of responsibility that she was willing to manage or accept. She considered issues, such as, "Do I prefer working alone, or in a team?" "Do I prefer to work with few functions and little change, or do I want variety?" "Do I like quiet environments, or are active ones better for me?" "Do I aspire for a leadership role, or do I want to support the leadership?" "Do I enjoy creative work?" These issues were important to her happiness and success within the positions she might someday accept, and helped her to better judge her choices in her explore list ~ how these possible career selections measured up to her real interests and needs. She also explored personal issues, and considered what she was already good at. For example, Jane was very good at working with numbers, but didn't particularly enjoy this aspect of her work. This meant she probably wouldn't be satisfied with a position involving numbers, even though she was proficient at this type of work. She considered other personal issues, such as, "Would I be willing to relocate for a job?" "Would I be willing to travel, and how much?" Choosing a sales position, for example, might require more traveling than she wanted to do, or might be too disruptive to her obligations at home. She decided which issues were non-negotiable for her and which issues were more flexible. In knowing herself and what was important to her, she avoided positions that might, years down the road, leave her once again feeling stuck. She used this knowledge to further narrow down her list to those positions that offered her the greatest potential for growth and long term happiness.

Once Jane had developed a list of possible career paths, she began to feel somewhat overwhelmed by the work she still had yet to do. It was exciting to consider changing from an unhappy career path to a brighter career future, but it felt daunting, too. To reinforce her belief that achieving her goals was possible, she kept one simple truth in mind: CHANGE TAKES TIME. Nothing was going to happen instantaneously, and she couldn't let time discourage her. Instead, she decided that she'd enjoy the journey and let others help her. She gave herself credit, too, because she was already on her way to recognizing the possibilities and creating a new career future, instead of building walls.

Every goal has at least one path leading to it, often several. Jane began to think of how she could discover these paths. First, she talked to people currently doing the type of work she wanted to do, and learned how they got there. This sounds scarier than it really is. . . most people enjoy talking about themselves and are willing, often glad, to share their experiences with others. She also talked to the people who hire the people doing the type of work she wanted to do. She asked these hiring managers what skills and experiences they look for in candidates they hire. She also asked them if they could recommend "steppingstone" positions she could take now that would help her to build skills and experiences she'd need for her future career goals.

Jane also talked to college counselors, career experts, and located members of an industry related professional association. Through these contacts, Jane gained a network of professionals who were interested in her commitment to her future, and were willing to help her.

With all this information, Jane also knew she could depend on her own powers of brainstorming to think of ways she could gain the skills and experiences she needed to reach her goal. She knew what skills she currently possessed, and she knew what skills she needed to gain. This allowed her to ascertain steppingstone jobs that she could accept now. She thought of jobs that would allow her to use what she already knew (for the benefit of a company or organization that might hire her) but would also give her an opportunity to add, build, or learn skills that she'd need for her future career plans. She was concerned that she couldn't afford (financially) to leave her current job, and worried that a temporary decrease in salary in a steppingstone job might create too great of a burden on her resources and financial obligations. So, she considered gaining the skills she needed through part-time work or by offering her services to volunteer, charity, or other non-profit organizations. In this way, she could offer her services for a few hours a week in exchange for an opportunity to learn new skills or expand on the skills she already had. She also considered an apprenticeship position, learning the ropes (even without pay) along side a good mentor, shortening the path to her final destination in this manner. Because she'd selected goals that were fulfilling, exciting, fun, and challenging to her, she knew this learning process would be enjoyable, too. She also realized that it could give her an early opportunity to learn whether this type of work did, or *didn't* measure up to her expectations.

Today, Jane Doe finds herself eager to head for work, even on Monday mornings. She hasn't reached her ultimate goal yet, but she's much closer to it. She's doing work she enjoys, learning new skills, and feeling a sense of real accomplishment. She's had to cut some corners to make the temporary decrease in salary cover her bills, but she's never been happier. Her new coworkers share her interests and appreciate her efforts. Her employer says she has a lot of promise, and is glad she's on his team. Doing what she loves, she knows her success has no limits. Now she encourages others to identify and pursue their goals. She's frequently overheard telling her friends, family, and acquaintances, "You just need to believe in yourself."

Good luck with your job search!
Sue Campbell


1 comment:

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