Career Transitions Part 3: “I’m Exploring”–The power of testing options to discover your new career path

I work with a lot of musicians and creative professionals who feel stuck and trapped in their current roles. This feeling of being stuck can be stressful and debilitating, especially if you think that there is something “perfect” out there if only you could figure out what “it” is. This is a classic case of the first phase of career transitions that I previously wrote about called I’m done“:  what happens when your dream dies or your job comes to an end.

The good news is that if you spend some time “reflecting” on who you are at your core– the next phase of transition where you do the personal development work that you need to do in order to set yourself up for a successful transition–you will be in a much better position to move on. 

One strategy is to zero in on some areas that you can test out.   The idea is to connect who you are with what you do and to pay attention to what works, what you love and also what you do not like.  These experiments can provide you with valuable information on the direction that you can take your career and set you up for the next phase of your working life. And you can engage in these experiments while you continue in your current role, whether that is as a student, a free-lancer or a professional with a steady job. 

A number of my free-lance musician friends and clients have felt that they are not moving forward in their careers and were itching to try something else but feared that there was nothing else out there for them.   The reflecting phase helped enormously in coming up with new options, which they then were able to test out.  That is at the heart of the next phase of transition, “I’m exploring.”

Sometimes, it helps to go back to a time when you felt alive and excited about what you were doing.  One of my free-lance musician clients recalled how much he had enjoyed putting together a concert series at his residence hall when he was pursuing his master’s degree.  This insight helped him to create his brand statement which led him to realize that what excited him most was engaging with audiences around carefully curated musical programs. Starting slowly, he first reached out to performers who shared his vision.  He gave a few concerts elaborating on his idea of audience engagement, which reinforced his gut feeling that this was the right direction to go in. Another phase of his exploration involved creating unusual programs that had coherence and meaning for audiences.   He then tested out different names for his ensemble and worked with a graphic designer to come up with a good logo. He is thrilled with his new direction and is committed to making his series happen.

Another client, a freelance musician, also felt that he had come to the end of his road and did not know where to turn.  His reflecting phase revealed that he needed to feel that he was helping other people, as well as grow intellectually and personally.  He is now testing out a new idea:  to raise money to endow a scholarship in honor of a beloved teacher who died prematurely.   His charge is to engage in this new activity and see how he enjoys it.

Yet another client, an attorney with a dormant creative side and a strong sense of community and service, also had trouble finding her path.  After examining her strengths, passions and values, she realized how much she valued helping her local community.  She also wanted flexibility and the ability to choose her assignments, rather than being tied down. She is also a superb problem solver and loved coming up with creative solutions to difficult problems.  She courageously explored a number of different options, all the while keeping an open mind to what she enjoyed most.  She volunteered to do a local community project. She explored doing legal work for and took continuing legal education classes in representing small local businesses.  She also took a writing class.   Along the way, she stumbled upon mediation and arbitration.  She is now training to be a mediator and is excited to explore this career path while she continues in her “day” job.

So if you find yourself stuck and wondering where to go, spent some time reflecting on who you are.  Look to past experiences where you felt alive and confident and successful.  Examine your life purpose to see where you want to apply your talents in the service of a mission that feels right for you.  Create a brand that speaks to the best of yourself. 

And then, pick one or two of these options and begin to test them out to how the new role sits with you.  You can do some research and read books about the new area.  You can volunteer for a cause that strikes you as exciting and meaningful.  You can take a course.     Throughout this research phase, remain open.  See what part of you comes alive.  Consider how you can make a living from this.  And each piece of information is important, both the positive and the negative.  

To quote the words of one of my clients:

“The work we did helped me to form a foundation for understanding why certain things, career-related or otherwise, are a better choice for me than others.  […] I have also started to reconnect with the creative, less self-limiting side of myself that I feared was permanently lost.  I feel more like myself than I have in a long time, and I have a career direction that I am looking forward to exploring.  This may or may not turn out to be the ‘perfect thing‘ that I was looking for, but I no longer feel the pressure of that search; rather, I am hopeful that by taking actions that are consistent with my character, staying open to the possibilities that arise with each action, and correcting my course as necessary, I will enjoy the process just as much as whatever result I reach. “

Enjoy this phase of testing things out.  It is energizing, mobilizing and enormously creative and it can lead you on the path to a fulfilling new career.

© Astrid Baumgardner 2011