Career navigation can be tricky. We can feel lost, conflicted, stuck or unsure of the next steps forward. Here are some things I’ve learned along my own career journey and from working with others as a career coach I think you’ll find helpful to keep in mind. Reminding yourself of these things can help you reduce stress, find clarity on next steps and enjoy the journey.
1. Trust your intuition
Looking back there were numerous times when I knew the answer, my intuition was telling me the way to go, but I didn’t listen. Instead, I listened to my mind. It had arguments to convince me that I should do something other than what I knew deep down to be right for me, from deciding what job offers to take to what my approach should be going into an important meeting. When I go against my intuition it almost never works out. It’s the best guidance out there. A good amount of what I do with clients as a career coach is helping them tune into and listen to themselves. So, right now it’s likely you do know the next step for you, you just have to tune into and trust yourself.
2. Focus on your goals, but also the enjoyment of today
Growing up we’re taught about delayed gratification – that all the hard work now will have a payoff and we’ll be happy in the future when we achieve our goal. We think we’ll be happy when we’ve “made it” or “arrived” or “get there” in some way. But often, when we place so much expectation on an external circumstance bringing us happiness, when we reach that goal it doesn’t feel as good as we had thought it would. We’re working hard trying to get “there,” but there’s really no “there” there. It’s a bit of a mental game we’re playing with ourselves. All we ever really have is today and what’s happening right now.
Yes, work is required to achieve a goal and it’s great to work toward something you genuinely want, but the enjoyment of your life today shouldn’t grossly suffer for it. Enjoy the journey, enjoy today and make choices that support your happiness now. Navigate your next steps with your current enjoyment and happiness in mind.
3. Be kind to yourself about “mistakes”
Career navigation isn’t easy. We’re all dealing with imperfect information and no ability to see into the future. This means we’re bound to go down some roads we eventually realize aren’t for us. This creates the potential for a lot of negative self-talk and judgment of what you should have done instead to “get ahead” or be “successful.”
But, remember that life is about learning and growth. Those detours on your journey have taught you a lot. And although you might not see how right now, what you have learned from the experience is valuable and will likely help you in the future.
If anything, now you have more information about yourself and what you want that can help guide you to places and situations that are a better fit for you. You never meant to make a “mistake” or cause yourself suffering. You were just acting on what you felt was right at the time. That’s all we can ever do. So, forgive and be kind to yourself – free yourself from your own judgment – about what has transpired. Then, use what you’ve learned to take the next step you feel is best.
4. Take steps that build a life and career that works for you
You want to build a career and life around you, in alignment with you and who you are. Otherwise, you’ll be working to build something you can’t sustain and don’t actually want in the end. This should be top of mind when making career decisions, but often in our quest for “success” we can sadly forget about ourselves and whether what we’re doing actually brings us joy.
So, if you’re currently looking for new work, really seek out the type of work you enjoy and environments that will be a good fit. Make this a top priority. And when you’re in a job, look closely at how you can do the job, but while still being you. Yes, you need to meet your employer’s performance expectations, but be aware of any attempts you’re making to change yourself to be who you think you’re supposed to be. Trying to change yourself too much will only lead to unhappiness. If you can’t be yourself in your current job that’s a red flag your next step might need to be toward a new one.
The same goes for entrepreneurship. There are no rules that say entrepreneurship has to be done a certain way. But at the same time, it’s easy to get caught up in what others are doing and think you have to do that too. As a coach, I could get caught up in what society might tell me what I “should” do to be a “successful” coach. But the only metric of success that truly matters to me is whether I enjoy what I’m doing and am helping my clients. I get to show up as me and do it my way. You get to define success.
5. You don’t have to take an opportunity just because it’s presented
Having a career opportunity offered to you feels good. It feels great to be wanted or to think about how this opportunity could be a great break. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to or should take the offer/opportunity. You still have to check in with yourself to see if it feels right for you. Ask yourself, “Is this what I really want? Do I really want to do this job?” or “Do I really want to do this deal/take this client?” Your mind will have many arguments for why it may be the logical thing to do, but maybe your true and honest answer is, “No, I don’t want this.” And that’s ok. You don’t have to take an opportunity just because it’s presented. You are in charge of your life. Trust there are many opportunities that will come along and be just right for you.
6. Don’t worry so much about the “How”
Once we know what we want and what our goal is, we can easily get stressed trying to figure out the “how” of it all – how it’s going to happen. We want to have all the steps laid out. But, while we can make a plan, we can’t see into the future and all the variables that will come into play along the way. Sometimes even making a plan can seem daunting. So if you find yourself overwhelmed, just set the intention that you’re going to move in the direction of your goal and focus on taking the next small steps from where you are. Ask yourself, “For someone in my position who wants to do X, I wonder what the next small steps would be?” See what comes to you and follow what feels good. It’s all about intention and taking that next self-guided step no matter how small.
7. Nobody has it all figured out
From the outside, it can look as if everyone else knows what they’re doing and you’re the only one who’s unsure of what to do or the best way forward. But we are all in this together. Even those that appear super confident have no idea how things will go. Remember, there are no guarantees things will work out the way someone has laid out in a plan. Life is unpredictable. So even though you may feel at times like others have things all figured out, know that’s just your perception, not reality. The only thing we can do is work with the information we have now and make choices that feel the best for us moment to moment.
8. Find inspiration and guidance by connecting with others
Make connections with others who are willing to share about their own career journey. It can help you to get ideas on your next steps, you can learn from others experiences and if you’ve been feeling alone in your career navigation challenges you’ll likely feel differently after having some deeper conversation with someone you trust. Through sharing, we can get a different perspective that could change everything in how we’re approaching things. When we’re struggling to find our way we may feel inclined to hide, but it’s actually the time when finding connection with others can help most.
9. Your past doesn’t have to dictate your future
Maybe you’ve gone down a career path you now realize is not for you. If so, it’s ok. It’s never too late to make a change. In fact, the important thing is that you honor you and do seek a life you enjoy. No one will ever be on their deathbed regretting that. It may feel scary and you will deal with the uncertainty of a new direction, but nothing will compare to the feeling of following your heart and creating a life that aligns with who you are. To me, that’s really the success we’re after.