2020 was meant to be my year of change after a year long slump in 2019. I had all sorts of plans for my career this year. I wanted to explore different challenges at work. Maybe try out a side-hustle, do up new goals and smash those career reviews. Perhaps sneak in some time to explore the job market. Then came COVID-19 and this seemingly endless hamster wheel of work-from-home. Bed to desk. Desk to dining table. Then back to the desk before collapsing in bed. Repeat. All those career plans out the window, all those ambitions lost in COVID.
As my Dad wryly remarked during dinner, I should be grateful for a job and be laser focused on keeping it. Rethinking my career in the time of COVID — with unemployment rising and so much uncertainty — sounds like the silliest thing to do. Is it really the right time?
Perhaps like me you feel stuck. Restless for change in your career, yet also feeling unsure and tentative about making changes. I made a choice this circuit breaker to consciously re-evaluate and rethink my career, with surprising results. It has helped me feel a lot better about my career in this time of uncertainty, helped me to process a lot of my anxieties and make the most out of this period.
Here are some simple principles I’ve stuck by.
Don’t Stop Dreaming & Planning — Just Remember To Make Lists Too
The first step I did was to go crazy and start dreaming and envisioning where I wanted my career go. If there were no limitations what would I want to do? What would my ideal role look like? In my current workplace were there projects or roles I saw that excited me?
Almost like making a vision board for your career, this exercise helped to inspire me and get me excited about my career. It’s definitely easy to feel very conservative about your career, or feel very resigned to whatever your job looks like now during this period. But this exercise helped to inject a dose of positivity. More importantly, I was able to reflect on what really interested me and what drives my energy.
After all that brainstorming and dreaming, I also found it useful to make lists, grouping certain ideas by theme. This helped me to identify common themes, or see if there were certain topics that interested me. These dreams might not be realised in the next six months (or this year even); but it is important to keep in mind where you want to steer your career.
Get Going On Projects And Explore Different Interests
Embrace this unique period and the extra time to get going on those interests. If we want to reinvent our careers, the most obvious thing is to start trying out different passion projects or interests. Whether this is cultivating fresh knowledge, practising new skills or just spending time trying out hobbies, take this time to experiment!
Don’t be overly focused on achieving a specific result; sometimes we need a little trial and error. The process of trying out new things helps you work through practical considerations, allowing you to compare options and learn more about the pros/cons. It helps us to test our dreams and interests, so we can make more informed choices for our career.
Just take it at your own pace and most importantly, don’t compare! Taking a step forward to act on an interest is already a win. This year, I decided I’d try my hand at writing and here I am, taking a small step towards exploring an interest. Who knows where it’ll lead or how successful I may be? What’s important is to try. (Thank you Andrea and the DC Edit team!)
Talk It Out — Mentors Are Important
Sometimes it can get quite overwhelming thinking about a career overhaul. Often, I’m tempted to think that there will be an eureka moment and suddenly I’ll be able to find my new purpose or career path. The reality is that it will likely look more like a lot of experimentation — sometimes with no results to show for.
An important part of reinventing your career is to really talk it out. Share your ideas and your plans with someone you trust. It doesn’t have to be anything formal, just a chance for you to share and hear feedback; often that gives us the perspective we really need.
When you talk to mentors or trusted people about your career plans, you’ll find that many people have had similar experiences of feeling frustrated, lost or restless in their career. I’ve always benefited from their insights and hearing their honest feedback has given me more clarity. I’ve also learnt that people are always willing to chat and have coffee! So don’t hesitate to reach out and talk it out. We can all benefit with perspective; sometimes it’s all you need to see your current role in an entirely new light and see how you can actually continue growing.
Explore Your Options & Go Window Shopping
Knowing your options is a really important part of rethinking your career. This might mean having a conversation with your manager about your current performance and opportunities. It could also mean looking at your wider network, having chats with recruiter contacts, or other contacts in fields you’re interested in.
Explore widely and be open to doing interviews and coffee chats. All of which will help you better understand what the next steps might be and plan ahead. It will also help you get a better sense of your market value and how qualified you really are for that dream role. As a mentor once told me, the exercise of interviewing and realising that you don’t meet the mark often serves as good motivation to work harder (and a much needed dose of reality).
It’s Going To Take Awhile And It Doesn’t Always Mean A Resignation
Rethinking your career isn’t something that you’ll find a resolution for in a day or two. It will take time. Sometimes the right opportunities have to be cultivated before they are ripe for you to make a career change. It may also surprise you that rethinking your career doesn’t always mean a resignation.
Everyone’s process and journey is unique and different. What’s most important is taking the time to be patient with yourself and the process; not constantly comparing or being distracted by what seems like “good careers”, rather than what is right for you.
Remember: You’ll Get There
Reflecting about this year…well it’s half gone and realistically, I’ve met none of my bright career ambitions that I set out to achieve in 2020. It’s easy then, to feel like you’ve achieved nothing. Likewise, you might be feeling quite disheartened about where you’re at with your career now, or feeling very worried about the future ahead.
Wherever you’re at, I hope you take heart that our careers are a lifelong project! It won’t stay the same and will change and shift — just as you change and grow. We’ll get there with some careful planning and lots of trials and errors. So be kind to yourself and take it a step at a time.