It’s conventional wisdom that you have to know what you want in order to take your career forward. I disagree. That way of thinking keeps far too many people stuck, spinning their wheels. I believe instead that the best way to figure out what you want is to get out and explore the possibilities. Watch the video below or the blog post that follows to learn more about what that approach looks like and why it works.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk with several people recently who have expressed a real sense of being stuck in their careers. They aren’t happy in their current jobs. They’re hearing about the “great resignation” and are longing to be part of it. They know they want something different, but they don’t know what that would be.

That lack of clarity has them ground to a halt. How do you pursue something new if you don’t know what that something should be?

This is the problem with linear thinking. It looks good to map out a set of steps:

  1. Decide what you want.
  2. Create a plan to get it.
  3. Pursue the plan.

But that’s not really how great careers evolve.

In my experience, it’s far too easy to get caught in Step 1 and then not go anywhere. The more people sit back and try to get clear by themselves about what they want to do next, the more stuck they feel.

They’re stuck because inside themselves they only have the information they have.

Think of it this way: If nothing you know about already is lighting you up or pulling you forward, that’s a sign that you simply don’t have the information you need to be able to solve the problem.

To figure out what you want to do next you need to bring more information into the system – about what’s out there, what other people are doing, where you could use your skills.

The best way to get that is by interacting with other people – informational interviewing and networking.

If you’re thinking “Ugh! Not that!” I get it. Many people have that reaction. However, networking doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. When you bring the right approach, it can actually be fun.

That’s the method I used to find a new job in my late 20s. I had just left Andersen Consulting because the work-hard, play-hard culture had worn me out. I knew I wanted to do consulting. I also knew I wanted to shift from strategy consulting to something more related to the people side of the business. I didn’t know what that could look like.

So, I launched an exploration. I did this in partnership with another friend who was looking at the same time. We treated it like a research project. Our goal was to figure out everything we could about this field of Organization Dynamics. We networked and talked with people and put our resumes out there and learned. What we discovered was that there were a lot of different aspects of the field and ways that we could be part of it.

My friend ended up in a trainer role delivering classes. I tried a research role at Harvard Business School. It was a great experience — because it showed me what I didn’t want to do. It turned out that I didn’t like sitting in an ivory tower and writing about an organization’s challenges. I wanted to be in there, with my sleeves rolled up, doing something about them. It made me crazy to interview people and see the disconnects between them, without pull them into a workshop to sort it out.

That’s how I confirmed that what I really wanted was to help teams work better together. After my time at Harvard, I did exactly that for nearly 20 years.

That then led to the next iteration of my career. As I worked with teams, I would coach their leaders, and over time that became my focus – coaching professionals to become better leaders, and to have the career success they deserve.

The best way to learn what’s next in your career is to put yourself out there and find out. Define a few potential pathways and explore them to see what fits.

Which brings us to the next challenge.

For many people, the experience of feeling stuck, or like they’re not in the right role, can take a toll on their self-esteem. When that happens, it’s hard to imagine asking for informational interviews, or networking conversations – not to mention applying for jobs.

That’s why the first thing I work on with my clients is clearing out the mind trash that accumulates from being in the wrong job. That’s what I had to do for myself after burning out and leaving my job at Andersen. They have to rebuild a solid, confident executive presence. From there, we build the skills to reach out and have conversations that will help them figure out what they really want to do.

It’s been so much fun watching my clients explore different pathways and discover new opportunities. One client thought she had to choose between two fields. Instead, by making the right connection, she created a role where she gets to do both. Other clients have shifted from one direction to another, as they discover what they really want. Still others have thought they wanted to change fields, only to find that changing companies was sufficient. Once they were in an organization that shared their values, they fell in love with their fields again.

Whether you’re staying in your current field or shifting to another one, it is possible to make your next move without taking a step back. That simply requires positioning your skills and experience in a way that makes sense to the hiring manager. You need to be able to make the case for how your experience actually makes you a more valuable candidate – because you bring a different perspective.

In summary, this is my approach to working with clients who are feeling stuck: We clear out your self-doubt. We identify different pathways you want to explore. We take what you’re learning from that to identify what will be a good fit. Then we help you negotiate for those roles – sometimes even creating them. The result, you get to do work you love, that draws on your strengths and has an impact on the organization that’s smart enough to hire you.

If you’ve been feeling stuck and uncertain in your career, it’s time to do something about it. Book a call with my team. We’ll get on the phone for about 45 minutes to talk about your current situation and what it would look like if we were to help you with that. If we’re not a good fit based on what you tell us, we’ll let you know that and point you to other resources. Either way, our goal is for you to gain real clarity about your next steps to take your career to the next level.

Schedule your free call today:

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