I caught up recently with a client and friend to whom I've become close over the last few years. This friend is in a rut where she works and is ready for a change of scenery. The problem is, she doesn't know what that change looks like.
Then this afternoon I've been looking back at the responses to a survey I sent out to readers of my Connecting is not Enough e-zine earlier this year. In response to a question about the biggest business or career challenge I might be able to help with, one respondent said, 'finding my direction/niche'.
Does that sound familar? It may well do. Even if you don't recognise yourself in that description, it may well remind you of a family member, close friend or even a colleague.
It's a common issue, many people find themselves in a career through accident more than design. Even if it is the career they planned upon, circumstances and passions change throughout our lives.
So many of us find ourselves doing what may be a good job but not feeling fulfilled in doing it.
What do you do when you find yourself in this situation?
One thing that many people fail to do is turn to their wider network for new ideas. You might turn to people in your industry who you trust and in whose opinion you have faith, but that is often the limit of the support we request.
And by not asking, we miss out on ideas that would never otherwise occur to us.
The first step is to have the confidence to be honest with your network and admit that you don't know if you're on the right track. We tend to be so obsessed by 'looking good' that we worry about revealing any chink in our armour. When I was speaking with my friend she told me that she couldn't ask her network for advice because "we are brought up in business to show that we know the answers and by now I should be clear about the direction in which I'm going".
Such a restricting belief is very damaging to long term prospects. My friend knows that she wants to change career but, without the confidence to ask for external input', she's stifling her progress. Some months after she first mentioned this to me, it's still a seed of an idea in her mind. She needs to feed and nurture it with the help of others.
Perhaps this belief that we should know our career path by a certain age comes from the culture of a previous generation. When I entered the workforce many years ago (I feel so old!), talk was of a 'job for life'. In fact I joined the ultimate 'job for life' organisation, the UK's Civil Service, where there were people on my team who had been in their job longer than I had been alive!
In such a culture it's perfectly understandable that you'd be expected to know where your career was heading by a relatively young age. That's not the world we live in now though. People are as likely to enjoy 'portfolio careers' as they are to find themselves in a 'job for life'. Change is no longer the shock it was when I quit my civil service job. And stimuli for change are all around us.
So it's ok to feel comfortable sharing with people around you and asking for help. If necessary, make sure that you build a trusted network of people you feel happy confiding in and being completely open and vulnerable with.
Secondly, we need to create a way to open our minds to all of the opportunities that lie ahead of us. Asking people in the same industry, same role or with the same background will lead to the same responses. So make sure that your trusted network comes from a diverse range of backgrounds and drop your guard. Nothing should be 'out of bounds' at this stage. Let ideas come your way that you would never have imagined left to your own devices.
I suggested three key questions for my friend to consider:
1 - What is she good at?
2 - What does she enjoy doing?
3 - What environment is she happiest in?
By answering these questions yourself, you would be able to draw up a list of specificiations of your ideal job. What would you be doing, with whom and where? Would you be desk bound or out and about? Is travel a necessity or do you want regular hours and a predictable commute? And what are your key skills?
Once you have the answers to these questions, share them with your network. Ask them what jobs look like this in their world? All of a sudden, new ideas will spring up, opportunities that you never dreamt existed. The ideas you have for your future career are predicated on your own experiences of the world, your own view of what different jobs look like. Invite other people's perspective and that world view can change dramatically.
If you're stuck in a rut, it means that you have run out of ideas yourself to identify the way forward. That doesn't mean that the answer doesn't exist, it means that it lies within your network. The combination of faith in the people around you with an openness to consider all options will open the doors to new opportunities and bright new horizons.