Career Transitions

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April 12, 2023
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Career Transitions

This post is the fourth in the series: Transitions. The first post focused on the transition of Spring, the second on Graduation, the third on Parenting.

Career transitions are major life events. We expect that going from student to the working world is a big step. We don’t always expect the other career transitions that occur in our lives. These are times of great disruption, creativity and effort. This change can come from the outside – you have been laid off, fired, or in some other way pushed out the door. Or the change may come from you – “I have got to go.” “I have a new path.” Many times, it is a combination of inner and outer forces.  

How can you best manage this transition? It is important to be practical – to manage the day-to-day challenges. It is also an opportunity for imagination – to reshape aspects of your life. Here are some ways to allow for both practicality and creativity: 

Address the Disruption

Career transitions disrupt your schedule, responsibilities, who you spend time with, and more. This is not trivial; your brain has developed habits that free you to think about more important stuff. If you have to figure out when, where, and how to get lunch that takes energy away from bigger decisions. What about this change is disruptive to your routines and schedules? What new routines can you create for yourself to simplify your day? It is normal to feel tired due to decision fatigue.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

You will feel many things, some of which will surprise you. Taking deliberate time to name your emotions is practical; it reduces the chances they will overwhelm you. Your emotions are also a source of information. “I feel really….. about that. Hmmm … what was going on with me that I reacted that way?”  This becomes data to be considered in future decisions.  

Review the Past

Your brain is good at capturing negative events as these are potential threats in the future. But also consider the positive. What did you like? What supported your larger goals and ambitions? Who was a help and how did they help you? Considering what did not go well, and what was good, gives you more information about what to avoid and what to seek. 

Clarify Your Finances

This is not the time to think, “I should be ok.” Instead lay it all out there. How much money do you have? What are your monthly and annual expenses? Anxiety can make this process very hard. Tell the anxiety monster “thanks for trying to protect me, but please take a seat.”  The other voice you may hear is self-blame, “What a mess, if only you had been smarter..” Tell self-blame that it is not being helpful and invite self-compassion into the room. “Whew, this is hard. Let’s see where we are. The past is unchangeable, but we can get a clear view of where we are and what strategies we can use now.” 

Consider Your Identity

We are social beings – we define ourselves largely in relation to others. Your work is a big part of this. If you change careers, who are you? Does this change represent success or failure to you? This is part of the larger unpredictable journey called life. You are your work self and so much more. As you move toward the next job or career, consider all aspects of who you are. Everything you have ever learned – all your knowledge and all your skills – goes with you. Which aspects would you like to focus on in your next step?

Career transitions are life changing. Take care of your practical needs and explore your options. Ask for help and daydream about what you really want. Manage your resources and take time to rest. There is a lot going on. Whether you chose this change, or life happened, take advantage of this turning point to consider what would work best for you going forward.  

If you, or someone you know, is coping with a career transition, it can be helpful to process your thoughts and ideas about the place of work in your life. Laura’s blog posts are now searchable. You can access other posts about work by going to the blog page and searching for the word “work”. Each blog is a resource for journaling, talking over, or thinking about the impact your work has on your resilience.   


Laura A. Gaines

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