Managing Career Transitions: How to Make the Most of Your Career Cycle

“The only constant is change.” –Heraclitus

When you think about life, we are constantly changing. This includes our career paths. Many people believe that once you find your “perfect” career, you are set for life. That only sets up an unrealistic expectation that leads people to feel frustrated that they have not found “it” and to ignore the marvelous process of growth and change.

In fact, when people experience change in their careers (or in any other aspect of their lives), they are likely to be in one of four different points of a cycle. Each phase carries with it different emotions that have a profound influence on the actions that one will take.

Let’s zero in on these four phases to understand the impact that they can have on your life and your career and then what you can do in each stage of the transition.
1. “I’m done.”
Let’s start off with the situation where you come to the end of a road: you lose your job, you decide that your career is no longer working, or you realize that your “dream” is over. Without the direction of your job or career path, you probably feel lost and without direction. What can you do about this?
If you yourself have decided that your current situation no longer works, have the courage to admit it. This is easier said than done. Give yourself a lot of credit for having the guts to admit this. That courage can fuel you through your transition.
If you have lost your job, this phase is especially difficult because you have not made the choice to end your job.  It helps to know that this is a process, that it will not last forever and that you can take charge of your situation–once you have done the necessary work to heal from the hurt that your job loss has caused you.
Take some time to acknowledge the emotions that are coming up. No doubt you are feeling scared. You wonder what you will do. You worry that you will not find the right thing. You may be angry with the people who led you to believe that you were on the right path.  You are undoubtedly angry with the people who terminated your job. You may turn that anger onto yourself and blame yourself for not being smarter about your career choices. You may start to feel depressed and hopeless.
All of this is normal. The best thing to do in this phase is to acknowledge those feelings. Writing down your thoughts and emotions in a journal or otherwise can help you to vent and get those feelings out of your head and down on a piece of paper.  So is talking to others about what you are going through. And so is knowing that you are going through a process of change.
2. “I’m reflecting.”
The next step involves reflecting on who you are, what you really want, what is important to you, what you love doing and what you are good at. Career development and personal development are closely related. The more your career aligns with who you are-your values, your strengths and your passions-the more fulfilled you will be. So spend some time on this phase.  Know your values since they are the key to making great decisions.    Learn how to spot your strengths so that you can begin to use them in your life and in your career. Link your top talents and your top values to create a life purpose statement so that you can begin to zero in on your mission in life.
Along with your assessments, it helps to journal and write about your journey of personal exploration, because these are the tools that will set you up for a successful career exploration.  Yes, you will still feel some of that fear and perhaps the anger but you will also start to feel better because you are doing something positive and building.
And here is one thing that I strongly counsel against when you are in the first two phases: do not make a plan. As tempting as it is to have the anchor of a plan, you are not ready. Chances are that you will only land up doing something that does not work for you. Give yourself the time. It will pay off in the long run.
3. “I’m exploring.”
At some point, things will become clearer and you will begin to zero in on a few options that seem appealing. You can start by building your network through a 4-step process and create a circle of people with whom you feel a connection and can share information and resources. You can reach out to others for informational interviews. You can do research on career options. You can test out one of your options by volunteering or taking a class or reading up on a particular area. Once you are clearer on the areas that you like, you can start interviewing for jobs.   This phase carries with it a lot of excitement because you are narrowing the possibilities and are remaining open to what works for you.  Click here to read about the experience of career transitioners who effectively used the exploration phase in their career search.
4. “I’m there!”
And then you pick one area and do it. You are there! When we hit on the career path that lines up with who we are and what we love, it’s exciting.  People who have found their sweet spot are energized in this phase (You can read about these experiences here.) You may want this phase to last forever. This is where the job is to manage your expectations. Nothing is perfect and nothing is forever. There may be things that do not work for you in this new career. See what you can do to change them.   Pay attention to how you feel at work. At some point, if it is not working for you, have the courage to recognize that and say, “I’m done.” And then the cycle begins again. And this time, you will be prepared and know how to manage it.
Action Steps:
1.  Identify what cycle of transition you are in now.
2. Zero in on your emotions and how they are affecting your life.
3.  If you have not already done so, take a values assessment, do a strengths assessment and know your passions.
4. Start a journal to record your feelings, to clarify your thoughts, to dream about new options and to be crystal clear on what is working for you.
5. Set a goal for this phase of your transition and do one action each week towards that goal.

© Astrid Baumgardner 2011


I would be delighted if you should wish to reprint (for free) any part of this article in your newsletters, blogs, websites, and message boards. Please include the following attribution:

Astrid Baumgardner, JD, PCC is a professional life coach and lawyer, Coordinator of Career Strategies and Lecturer at the Yale School of Music and the founder and President of Astrid Baumgardner Coaching + Training, which is dedicated to helping musicians, lawyers and creative professionals take charge of their lives and experience authentic success.  In addition to her work at YSM and her individual coaching practice, Astrid presents workshops at leading conservatories and law firms on topics including Career Planning, Goal-Setting, Time Management, Dynamic Communication, Conflict Management and  Personal Branding and Networking.  She is the author of numerous articles on the various aspects of how to achieve and live authentic success.