Anyone who’s ever travelled knows even with the best laid plans, a journey can sometimes take an unexpected turn or hit you with something you didn’t see coming. For instance, you might find yourself at a crossroads your GPS doesn’t seem to recognize, so you don’t know which way to turn.
This happened to me recently while I was travelling in Saskatoon – my GPS didn’t recognize the recent expansion of Circle Drive. For most of the week I kept taking this odd little detour off the highway, just to circle around and get back on the highway again. I’m sure I would have figured it out sooner if I’d been paying more attention.
The same thing can happen in your career journey. Sometimes in your career, you might find yourself at a crossroads, on a road that feels like a dead end, taking an unexpected detour, or caught on a traffic circle going nowhere. Anything can happen – it’s whether or not you’re paying attention, and how you correct your course, that matters.
Earlier this year I met a young woman, let’s call her Jill, who felt she might be on the wrong road altogether in her career. She came to see me for some help figuring out how to deal with what she was thinking and feeling. One of the first things Jill told me was she wasn’t happy in her work anymore and was looking to make a move (ie on the wrong road). What Jill was looking for was the confidence to make a well planned, appropriate course correction in her career.
Jill and I started the process with self-assessment/self-reflection. Too often it seems people make decisions about their careers without taking time for this most important first step. I think people avoid it because it’s not easy to look inward, and also for many they don’t know the questions to ask themselves to find the answers they’re seeking. I’ve even seen some avoid self-reflection because they’re afraid of what they might learn, or because they know once they look inward they’ll have some tough decisions to make. Jill, on the other hand, embraced self-reflection. She came into our professional relationship wanting answers, so she was well prepared to do the work to find them.
Many people (and many companies) believe self-assessment comes in the form of an interests inventory or personality assessment – an online questionnaire of sorts you can use to find out all about you. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great assessment tools out there, and I use some of them in my work. I just find a different starting point more effective.
What do I mean by self-reflection or self-assessment? For me, the most meaningful self-assessment comes from identifying, through a variety of activities, what you’re best at, what matters most to you and what interests you the most – it’s a process of looking inward to learn all about you. When you invest time and energy in this process of learning about yourself, not only do you find clarity, but also the commitment to act on what you’ve learned. You also find the confidence to take more control of your career journey and to course correct appropriately.
That’s what happened for Jill. Jill invested time and energy in getting to know herself and in trying to understand why she wasn’t happy in her work anymore. She sent me an update recently to tell me how she was doing, and here’s a part of the email she sent:… “a lot of the reason why I was struggling to enjoy my job was that I haven’t been pushing myself enough or making the most of where I am now – I needed to step it up myself.” She also told me since she’s “stepped it up” she’s been given the opportunity to take on some challenging new assignments and she’s excited about what she’s doing now.
What’s my point? Lots of people find themselves at a career crossroads. How you handle it when you get there can make all the difference in the world. Some people choose not to do anything at all and just check out mentally – what a waste! Some leave the company they’re in to find themselves disappointed or unsatisfied in another job and another company. The smart ones, the ones who achieve the greatest career satisfaction, take some time to look inward before they make any decisions. They’re the ones that know anytime they feel their career journey is off course a bit, they need to go back to the first step, self-reflection, to make sure when they course correct they get back on the right track.
Are you at a career crossroads or on a traffic circle going nowhere? The best GPS you can use to course correct is inside you, you just have to pay attention.