I was recently part of a panel for a local leadership training program, FOCUS St. Louis Emerging Leaders. The topic was navigating pivots purposefully.
I spent, like, a full week trying to distill the points of doing that into a five-minute talk. After almost two years of navigating pivot(s), it felt impossible to give any useful nuggets from my experience. It also felt impossible to fit in all the useful nuggets!
In thinking about my own pivots, which, wow, there are more than a few and I have stories, I really got to thinking about how we see these things when we’re in them, and when we’re through them. And frankly, how we sometimes don’t see at all.
I’m currently working with three clients who are questioning career transitions, work, purpose, potential pivots – basically, their personal version of, “Is this really it for me? And if not, what is?” And that’s just right now. Over the last five years, I’ve worked with probably five times as many women going through the same struggle. People with powerful or high-paying jobs, conventionally enviable careers, people not currently working. It’s not an isolated thing, at all. And it applies surprisingly often to women (and people of all genders, truly) from their twenties to their sixties.
One of these current clients has been in her field for eighteen years. That’s a long time in today’s world of work. There are certainly still a group of folks who stay in a job or field for that long, but it’s increasingly less common. On top of that, she’s been at the same company for that entire time too. Even more rare. In the last year or so, she’s found herself questioning.
Is this the company I want to be working for? Is this the office? The environment? The team I want to work with?
Is this the work I want to be doing? Are my current clients the ones I want to be working with? Do I want to work with a different population?
Do I want to do any of this at all?
And these questions are accompanied by feelings. Feelings that we can sometimes nail down and describe in detail – I’m unhappy, I’m bored, I’m frustrated at my lack of freedom/support/opportunity for upward mobility, I’m feeling defeated by the systems and processes (or lack thereof) I’m forced to work within. Sometimes it’s just a general gut feeling of nope. And the feelings usually lead to more questions.
Shouldn’t I just be happy I have a job? Everybody deals with this stuff, why can’t I just shut up and figure it out? What’s the alternative? Not everybody can find passion in their work, right? Gosh, is it even OK to have these thoughts???
First of all, yeah, of course it is. You’re a human.
All the rest of the questions and answers? Totally unique to you and your situation. But, I do think there are some common things that sit beneath any potential transition in work or life and can help lead to resolve and action, which a conversation with this client recently revealed.
We got to talking about all these questions and feelings she was having, the unique challenges within her company, her specific frustrations. And along with that, she had great perspective and pointed out all the really great things, the wonderful work she’s been able to do, the fantastic clients she has, the life she’s been able to provide for her family as a breadwinner. Naturally, those things tugged at her, and she burst out:
“How is it that I was totally OK for eighteen years!?!? And now I’m just…not!”
Ahhh, my dear, my friend, alas. That’s not the whole story. There are parts you’re not seeing.
The first thing is that we change. That falls into the category of something we don’t always see while we’re in it, as life hums along, while we’re in the process of (constant) change. It’s entirely possible that you were totally not OK for eighteen years. But then when something, or someone, else changes, we notice. Like, whoa, I’m different. When did that happen?
All the time. Always. That’s when.
Second, change often comes from growth, and with growth. Think about how we grow and change physically, and even that we don’t always see. And more growth and change come from that in the cycle of living. Honestly, I should damn sure hope we’re changing and growing mentally and emotionally, and professionally too. Hell, I certainly don’t want to be the person I was eighteen years ago. YIKES. I also don’t want to be the same person eighteen years from now.
To get more specific to how this really shows up and relates to the questions and answers, our values shift and change. What matters to us shifts and changes. Our priorities shift and change. So in combination with who we are, these shifts can make for a big conflict, if we’re not paying attention. And sometimes, even if we are. It can also inspire this sometimes unsettling motivation for something to be different, to match up better – a potential transition of some sort.
I told my client at that point exactly this, but in a (shockingly) more succinct nugget:
“You’re not the same person you were eighteen years ago. Your situation is different. Your values are different. Your priorities have shifted with life and seasons, and that’s not a bad thing. It makes sense that you might feel differently and want to move on after that much time.”
She wasn’t convinced in the moment, which I totally get. It’s pretty rare that we all of a sudden know and feel at peace about something so major as a career change, walking out tossing a grenade and never looking back. (See also: break ups, divorce, family estrangement.) I know I wasn’t convinced by any one conversation either, and each transition I’ve ever considered and made has involved a process over no less than six months.
In that processing time, I explored these three common, fundamental concepts at a basic level:
If this is about change, in me or in my external situation, what, or who, is it that’s changed, or changing? How?
If this is about growth, in what areas of my life have I grown? In what ways? How much?
If this is about values and priorities, what are they? What were they then? What might they be in the near future as I think about all of these things together?
I’m not saying you’re going to find all the answers in this part of the process. What I am saying is that it helps to acknowledge these foundational, human things. It helps to describe them in detail so you are better able to see them, and the whole story, which will help to clarify your answers as you continue to process.
Figuring out where you’ve been, and where you are, will help you figure out where to go.
Sometimes, we just need to feel a little more solid in that explanation of why or how we feel the way we feel before we’re able to do anything about it. That’s totally OK. So we need to do the exploring, which then allows us to more confidently move on with an appropriate lens. With a working compass. And with all the permission we need to get our work and life into alignment with who we are and what we want right now.
That alignment can mean a lot of different things. It can even mean nothing major changes at all on the exterior. But if it does mean moving forward and through a transition, like a job or career pivot, it absolutely helps to explore these parts of your story in order to be able to make it happen with purpose. On purpose.
Listen, bottom line: change and growth and shifts in what matters are inevitable.
I’d argue, invite-able. Beautiful. But most definitely, a part of our careers and our lives, no matter what. So whenever you feel a lack of alignment, a potential transition coming on, get back to these basics. Do your best to see them as you’re in them. And see them with understanding, and for their potential.
Then go ahead and use that potential however you see fit. After all, it’s yours. But start with where you are and where you’ve been.
There’s always value, and a particularly wonderful and powerful potential, in the basics, now.
Hey, if you happen to be struggling with this potential too, schedule a quick call below, or email me anytime, and let’s see if we can’t start processing.