Have you ever been at a crossroad in your career and not known what to do next?
It can be when you're in between roles and don't quite know what's next. Or when you've been in a job for a long time and feel like it's time for a change. Or maybe you feel like you've topped out and can't get much further where you are.
You know you're not done yet but you're struggling to figure out what's next.
That kind of uncertainty can feel uncomfortable, stressful and even scary – especially if you’re used to being in control and on top of things.
You can’t think your way forward
When you're at that crossroad in your career, you can't rely on thinking your way forward. It's too limiting because your rational brain is populated by “should” and “must”. It's where the societal norms and pressures live. It's the rule abiding part that makes you “color inside the lines”.
Instead, you have to feel, explore and act your way forward.
Recently, I've had conversations with some incredibly smart and successful people who are at a crossroad. One is in between roles, and another can't progress further in their current organization.
One of them expressed the feeling as follows: “Every time I think about what to do next, all I see is the equivalent of a blank sheet of paper. I have no idea how to start.”
Three ways to get started
When you're feeling stuck like that, here are three things you can do to help kick things off and get you moving forward.
1. Do a gut check
Take an inventory of your own situation by asking the following questions and using your gut feelings to answer them. These are all ways to help determine what kind of change is in order and the direction you might take.
- How do you feel and what's causing that feeling – is it the type of role you’re in or is it more about where you are doing that type or role? That is, is the climate the problem, or the local weather?
- What's your mindset? Have you become cynical, which is a sign that it's time for a change either in your perspective or your role?
- How do you feel about the people around you? Do you respect them? Are you learning from each other?
- To what extent do you get to do the things that you love to do and do superbly? Could you do more of those things?
- What are 3-5 directions you may want to explore? Cast your net broadly. Refuse to be bound by conventional thinking. Go with your gut instinct. The litmus test is that they must be intriguing. They must get you excited.
2. Talk to people
Start tapping into your network. Who has been at a crossroad before and handled it well? Who is involved in those 3-5 areas you have interest in? Who haven't you talked to in a while but who knows you well and could connect you with others?
Ask those people for input. Ask them to share their stories and experiences. Go into learning mode. See things with new eyes. Go have lots of coffees. Listen more than you speak.
These conversations can surface more possibilities, as well as help you explore the ones you've come up with yourself.
3. Do experiments
For those areas you think you might like, figure out a way to “try on the suit” without making any long-term commitments.
A question I ask my clients is, “What's the smallest possible step you could take that would still give you some insight into whether this is something you might want to do or explore further?”
For example, if you think you might like to go out on your own and become a consultant, you could experiment by doing a pro bono project for a nonprofit.
Or if you think you may be interested in becoming an entrepreneur, you could experiment by attending a Meetup.
Feel, explore and act your way forward
So if you find yourself staring at that blank sheet of paper, unable to think your way to your next big thing, then stop. Start feeling, exploring and acting your way forward instead.
You can do this on your own, work with a coach or mentor, band together with a group of peers, or a combination of all three.
What matters is that you step forward and do it. Don't get stuck at the crossroad.
I'd love to know what you think, so leave me a comment on which of these steps resonates with you most.