Career Confusion? 3 Tips to Navigate When Unsure “What’s Next”

Change is Messy.

Have you heard this expression – “Change is Messy”? It’s something I’ve heard — and said — many times over the years. In the coaching profession our work is often about helping our clients create and navigate change. And in our own lives – well, let’s just say that I’ve created and experienced a vast amount of personal and professional change over the years.  And likely always will.

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Who hasn’t? Who won’t?

Maybe you’ve had your own share of change – imposed on you or self-imposed. Or you are at a stage of recognizing it is or will soon be time for change – but not yet clear on what that is going to look like for you.

Perhaps the job you loved that was all tickety-boo’ for some time has become a bit stale or frustrating. Or your work is fine in an ‘okay-ish’ kind of way but something is missing and wondering what else is ‘out there.’

Too many options swirling around your brain – or not enough? You have so many questions and far too few answers.

Hello career confusion! 

We often get clear about the need for a change before we have clarity of the “what and how” of the change we need/want. This creates confusion, fear and sometimes even chaos.

The “Unease” Stage of Change

Our first instinct when we find ourselves in this place of confusion or frustration (and daunted by the challenge of ‘figuring it out’) is to judge it; stress out about it; resist it.

Our brains prefer certainty so the chaos of not knowing what’s next can trigger a stress response (amygdala hijack) and gear down our higher thinking (the job of the prefrontal cortex). Unfortunately this only makes things worse. An overly stressed brain doesn’t think its best; doesn’t see as many options; and isn’t creative and resourceful. Just when we need it most our critical thinking skills go out the door!

The angst of being in the divide of knowing and not knowing!

I get countless calls from people who find themselves in this place of confusion (and I too have been there too!). They often characterize their situation as a ‘career crisis’. But it’s not really a crisis.  They are simply in a place I call “the gap”.

This gap is actually a blessing.

Yes, you read that right: a blessing.

You see, the discomfort and unease of this stage of not yet knowing brings an acute awareness (something isn’t right/I need to make a change) which is a critical step for evolving ourselves (and work + life experiences) — and  being proactive and receptive to change. Think of it like a ‘wake-up call’.  Without that feeling and awareness you would likely not be prompted to explore the ‘what’s next’ for you. And you might miss the opportunity to evolve.

That gap– the divide of that in-between place of knowing and not knowing —  is uncomfortable but sometimes crucial to the process.

3 Empowering Ways to Be in the Gap:

If you are finding yourself in that uncomfortable place of knowing you want/need to make change (professionally or personally) but not yet knowing exactly (or even vaguely!) what it looks like keep these 3  reminders in mind:

1) Park the Judgment:

Resist the instinct to fear or be frustrated over the confusion. Recognize it as being part of the process and continuum of change. Consider it a wake up call and be grateful for it (as per next tip).

2) Embrace the awareness and reframe it as possibility vs. threat:

While the unknowing stage can be difficult, embrace this as a gift to invite you into possibility. The wake-up call is the universe’s way of letting you know it might be time to reflect, recalibrate and potentially make some new choices. The divide between knowing it’s time to change and knowing exactly how this will look like will be different for each person. Be in the gap with some trust knowing there’s another stage ahead if you do your work and give it due time (which leads to the next tip). This acceptance will be good for your brain (and mojo) and empower you to navigate this time with more efficacy (see next tip!)

3) Commit to doing what you can to find your way to ‘what’s next’:

Figuring out what’s next is a process and for each person this part of the journey will be different and take varying lengths of time. While your ‘stress’ brain might be taunting you to find fast answers these may not come as silver bullet quick solutions. Instead, make the commitment to do what is needed to navigate the exploration. Take time to reflect; get support; if you can – invest in a coach to partner with you.

There’s lots more to each of these ideas.  But for now, embrace where you are; be thankful for the awareness; and have faith that if you commit and take the right steps at the right pace you will find your way.

Questions for you:  Where are you in your process of recognizing change is looming/desired? How do you handle the uncertainty? What best practices do you use to keep yourself motivated and hearty even if the ‘what’s next’ is unclear?

And speaking of change – you might also want to tune into this TEDx Talk by Andrew Peek. He speaks of change and offers some very powerful ideas. I was at the talk — highly recommend you tune into it!

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