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Archive for January, 2017

Lessons Learned From a Career Crisis

learning

Although it was a dark rainy night in fall, in my mind everything was as clear as day.  That was back in 1994, a year into my first career in Montreal, Canada and I was having the most difficult, in fact the most traumatic experience of my life.  It was I who made the decision to change my life completely.  I migrated to a new country, started a new career and a new life, all on my own.  But on that dark night, the rubber hit the road and I had every good reason to be afraid.  However at the end of another dreadfully difficult day at the office, I was determined to stay the course.

I was struggling in a professional field that was not quite the right fit for me.  My colleagues were unhelpful in an unhappy work environment and it was affecting my performance.  I was in a foreign country with no close family, a very limited social circle and no professional network to help steer me towards other opportunities.  This had never happened to me in my life.  I always fit in, rose to every challenge and succeeded.  In spite of it all, deep down in my soul, I knew I had to keep going.  I wouldn’t “just quit.”

What was ironic was that I really was letting go.  I was letting go of the fear-driven “what ifs?” that had been scaring the living daylights out of me.  On that dark rainy night, I made the decision to change my inner dialogue by courageously answering my “what ifs?”  with “so whats!”

“What if this job doesn’t work out?” – “So what!  I will find a better job.”

“What if I can’t pay my bills?” – “So what! There’s my savings, unemployment insurance and… my parents.”

“What if people think I am a quitter?” – “So what! What people think about me won’t change the world.”

I was determined to allow the Universe to let this messy situation unfold and to make sense out of it.  I just knew that I would be okay.  Here’s what I learned –

  • We all know our truth. Being authentic can be difficult.

The fear and angst were rooted in my struggle to fit the bill of an educated, young, confident professional.  I was supposed to live up to everything I was taught – strive to achieve my goals, to never ever give up, be strong in the face of adversity.  The reality was that I wasn’t being authentic, even though I already knew my truth – I was not in the right professional field and my soul was dying.

Many people don’t live authentically.  We live in a world that describes what success ought to look like.  By staying in a job that was not right for me, I was keeping up professional appearances and what I thought were other people’s expectations.  It takes guts to step off the beaten path and take the road less travelled.  Not everyone will understand why, and they will tell you that you are making a mistake.  If you listen to your inner voice, you will find your truth – what’s right and meaningful for you.

path

  • It’s not worth the effort to hang on because of the fear of losing what we think is valuable.

The job paid well and I could afford a very good material quality of life.  On the other hand, I was holding on to a job in which I wasn’t able to give of my best talents and gifts in a work environment that was wrong for me.  My soul was dying a slow, painful death.  If I quit, there was the real risk of financial hardship.

So it was decision time. I had to choose between fear and courage.  I chose courage.

It was the courage to see beyond the surface and to dig deeply within to find out I really wanted, what really mattered to me and what were the next steps I needed to take.  I knew that I had to leave that job and get on my own path.  And I did.  Once I had honestly confronted my fears I was ready to take a leap of faith. In the face of uncertainty and risk, I made some responsible decisions about how I was going to leave and move my career forward.  While introspection was the starting point in all of this, I actively sought help to support the process.  I was amazed at the number of people who were willing to offer good advice and who had “been there, done that” and could help me find the things I needed to get through this crisis.

courage

  • Never let a crisis go to waste. There’s always something to learn.  Some good will emerge in the aftermath.

As it turned out, this personal and professional crisis not only taught me some important life lessons, but I gained some very useful work experience.  I eventually moved on to another company where I had a very satisfying and rewarding career in marketing.  I can safely say that much of what I learned in my previous job has given me the business acumen needed to make critical decisions, manage budgets effectively and lead with greater confidence.  All of this has taught me to never let a major crisis go to waste.

crisis

Throughout my career, these three lessons have guided me to make decisions that are right for me.  It’s all about finding my life’s purpose and living authentically.  The organizations where I have worked, their clients and the community have all benefited because I am offering my best self, serving passionately and using my talents to the fullest.

I do believe that we’re all in constant evolution and that it is through life’s events – whether times of crisis or calm – that we somehow find direction for our life’s journey.  It takes courage to confront the fears that compromise our well-being and prevent us from living authentically. It’s well worth it.

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Several business people wander through a maze looking for a job

When I published the article “You’re hired!”…and it took me a year, I had no idea that I would be looking for work three years later.  Back then, I had just concluded an intensive search after my position in a stable, global financial institution was abolished, ending a successful career that progressed nicely over 16 years.

When I accepted the offer for a permanent full-time position the following year, it was not quite the dream job I was looking for, but I was convinced, and still am, that I was forging a new path to take me to the next level.  In fact, I deliberately disrupted myself.  It was a newly created job with the mandate to develop and deliver a marketing strategy for products I had never marketed before.

Two years in, there were budget and staff cutbacks.  I sub-consciously knew that the time to move on was fast approaching.   Last summer, my position was eliminated.

Although it’s cold comfort, I realize that I am not alone.  I’ve met many mid- and advanced-career professionals on the job search trail.  I see the struggles to remain positive, diffuse anxiety and stay the course.  My career transition experience has given me some insights on stumbling blocks that can potentially derail a job search and how to avoid them.

  1. Other people’s stories are theirs, not yours

During my networking, I’ve met many people who’ve “been there, done that” and they tell their stories of how they got through it.  The Winners, who took only 2 to 4 months to land on their feet; the Whiners who give very detailed explanations as to why they won’t ever get hired (age…, conspiring former bosses and colleagues…, no one hires in summer… etc.) and the Copped-Out & Lucked-Out who boast about the luxury of being able to retire early so they avoid looking for a job.

Then there are those who haven’t “been there.” They have never lost their jobs.  They are really Secretly Scared that this could happen to them, while they hint that they pity you and don’t envy you.  There are also the Helpers and Hinters who in an awkward effort to provide good advice, actually end up saying exactly what you don’t need to hear (“You’re doing something wrong, otherwise it wouldn’t take so long…”) or they send you job postings that are no match for your skills and experience.

It’s so easy to buy-in to other people’s stories.  Comparing your experience with other people’s stories is a waste of time and energy.  The truth is you need to own your story.

Instead of trying to explain your story, make a commitment to yourself to be clear on what’s best for you.  Only you can make sense of your life’s journey.  Only you really know the things that motivate you and ultimately matter to you.  Very few people will understand your story.  Most people are trying to figure out their own story and others don’t have the time or are not really interested in listening to yours.

The temptation to set low expectations and settle for less becomes real when you compare yourself with other people. It takes courage to say “no” to seemingly good opportunities in order to say “yes” to the very best.  You are not a loser if you haven’t found a job within a given timeframe or if you made it to the final interview but didn’t get the job.

Even if you don’t have the financial independence to prolong your search, if you accept a position out of necessity, remind yourself that you can work while continuing to search for your dream job.

  1. The corporate ladder is an obsolete metaphor

Job seekers, who have progressed over many years in one company, tend to be overly concerned with titles, organizational structures and status.  In most progressive organizations today, dotted lines, flat organizational structures and collaborative team environments are the norm.

I agree that people should look for challenging work that fits their experience and expertise.  But looking for a job with a title that fits into the next step on the corporate ladder can prevent you from finding enriching opportunities for meaningful work that expand your talents and capabilities.

The truth is that we are living in a new corporate world order where the corporate ladder is fast becoming an obsolete metaphor.

Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In, encourages professionals to forget the corporate ladder and consider careers in terms of a jungle gym. You can venture down different paths and explore numerous possibilities on the way to achieving your goals, just like trying to climb to the top of a jungle gym.  It took me quite some time to get this during my career transition four years ago.  I am glad I did, as I ended up finding an interesting opportunity which has broadened my experience not only professionally, but in my volunteer work and social life.

  1. Being stuck really sucks!

Following on my two earlier points, getting stuck can happen very easily if you can’t define what you want or if your definition of what you want doesn’t fit in the new corporate world order or with your values.

I’ve come across a few people who are stuck within a destructive ‘my way or the highway’ mindset, hanging on to what was and what will never be, taking job loss personally and feeling victimized.  When corporate priorities change, it so happens that some jobs are no longer needed. That’s why no one should take a layoff personally.

I know that it can be a drag to be out of work and pounding the pavement can be tough.  But here’s the upside:  going through a career transition can be the best opportunity to reorient a career.  On reflection, many people thank their lucky stars that they had the chance to move on, rather than stay stuck in a career that was no longer meaningful.

Most successful careers rarely ever follow a smooth, upward north-eastern trajectory.  Compromises and disruptions do occur along the way.  The truth is that compromises can be beneficial.

Speaking from my own experience, the job with a lower salary with less formal influence may just be what you need to gain more relevant experience in a changing world, while applying your past experience in a way that is beneficial to the organization and to your career in the long run.

 

Take ownership and responsibility for your career transition

The world is waiting to embrace talent and you have a fair shot to offer yours. Don’t let people, old ideas or a closed mind derail your job search.  The power to shape the future resides within each of us. That’s why it is important for every job seeker to take ownership of their career transition.

When you can clearly articulate to potential employers, who you really are and why you care, they will see that the value you bring to their organization is far greater than what you know and what they expect you to do.  This sets the stage for you to find meaningful work and for your future employer see you as a true partner, stakeholder and contributor to the organization’s success.

 

You may find the following articles helpful –

Career mistakes you must avoid@Deepak Chopra MD (Official)

Forget the Ladder; Try the Jungle Gym: What Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Says You Can Do for Your Career Right Now – Maggie Malon

It’s called a life, not a life sentence!  How to move forward when you’re feeling stuck@Michaela Alexis

 

Camille N. Isaacs Morell is a proven marketing strategy and business development enabler. She is passionate about inspiring people to make decisions that support business success.  

She currently seeks opportunities to contribute to the success of enterprises and non-profit organizations with direct responsibility for developing the marketing strategy to support business development and stakeholder engagement.

See the BIG picture…Focus on what’s important

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

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