Many times we rely on intentions that don’t get us anywhere. There is something in many of us that makes us think we can skip goal setting and just get straight to execution when we want to accomplish something big. Too often our intentions are greater than our actions. Our ideas stay in our head or become the focus of some heavy conversations, but not much more happens. Three years later we may find ourselves still thinking or talking about the same ideas without any evidence of an attempt to make them tangible.
Sometimes it might be fear holding us back, or sometimes just plain laziness. Whatever the reason for not sitting down and plotting out our actions, the result is the same: nothing happens. I’m not sure that analyzing the cause takes us much closer to taking action, but analyzing the results should.
A common response to many tough projects is to try to save time by diving in the middle of it without thinking through steps or timelines. This may produce more than not taking any action at all, but it can also lead to wasted time and disappointment. Have you ever received a package of “easy-to-assemble” furniture? Did you start off by putting pieces together, only to find out that they don’t fit right? Did you then go back and read the instructions, only to learn you had put the pieces together backwards? Imagine how much easier it would have been and how much time would have been saved if you had just followed the directions.
A really big goal can be overwhelming. So much so, you may end up doing absolutely nothing. If you take your big goal and establish a very realistic time frame for accomplishing it, the first burden is now off your shoulders. The next step is to determine exactly what each action step is, from start to finish. This part of the process may seem tedious, but it is really the most critical. By listing each and every thing that has to be done, the reality of each step is visible and also much more doable. You can plan timelines much more accurately and track your progress to make sure your target dates for hitting key milestones are closer to reality.
A really big goal can be overwhelming
Goal setting is not really a complicated process. Making a change of any type includes a specific goal, and the process is roughly the same: take stock of where you are and compare that to your goal, assess your own behaviors, influencers and resources, determine where you want to be and set a goal. Then write the recipe (action steps) for getting there.
Let’s use weight loss as an example because the concept is simpler for many people to grasp than trying to imagine an as-of-yet undefined goal to make a career change. Needing to lose 50 pounds can be completely overwhelming when you focus on the total loss required. Losing one pound a week is a much easier objective to see and imagine, and a plan to accomplish that is much more doable. The process required to accomplish the weekly one-pound weight loss is far more sustainable than trying to imagine which new diet you can rely on to lose 50 pounds quickly. The following simple example illustrates how much easier things can be when they are thought out in advance and when simple step-by-step actions are defined.
- Record and examine your current status. Evaluating exactly what you are doing and where you are is a fundamental point for getting started. On one hand, tracking exactly what you eat each day for two weeks will tell you what you are currently doing. On the other, you will need to record your current physical activities each week (or lack thereof). It’s important to analyze your habits and record the actual number of calories you take in and the number of calories you burn to show you what you are currently doing to sustain your current weight.
- Evaluate potential changes. On your own or with a doctor or nutritionist, you can examine what can change; e.g., trading a handful of potato chips for a couple of carrot sticks to decrease calories. At the same time, on your own or with a personal trainer, you can examine your activities and determine what you can add to increase your calories burned. Making minor changes and plotting out exactly what you expect to do as an activity each week is much more likely to make the process doable and successful. Making small changes over a period of time helps you build new habits.
- Develop your plan. Outline what foods you will start incorporating into your diet. Schedule your activities. Set yourself up to succeed by making sure your activities are added to your calendar so you can be aware of how they fit with your work schedule and family time.
- Get started. The time to begin is when you can see exactly what you need to do, one day at a time. Record your results and recognize when your choices work and don’t work.
Instead of delaying your weight loss because it seems overwhelming or setting an unrealistic goal of achieving a 50-pound weight loss in three weeks, get started with a plan that allows you to sustain small changes that you develop into habits. Instead of eating only alfalfa sprouts and water and working out every day for four hours to lose 50 pounds in three weeks, you will have designed an actionable plan with a more realistic timeline that will allow you to lose 50 pounds over the course of a year. The change will be gradual and much easier than committing to something extreme. Your weight is much more likely to remain where you want it.
Whether you want to change your health or your career, enlisting the help of a professional is going to make the process smoother, and you will have support when your plan seems too hard to carry out. In order to make a career change, the same process has to be followed: record and examine your status, evaluate potential changes, develop a plan for making a desired change and get started. Looking at job postings expecting to find the perfect job to save you from your current plight is no different than expecting to find a magic pill to lose 50 pounds.
Let’s face it – although as humans we are each unique, in the workplace, most of us are dispensable. Keeping up with what is current or relevant is difficult for people in all sectors, industries and roles. Technology changes every day, which leads to changes in demand and/or processes, and ultimately, impacts everyone in the workplace.
Change is tough for most people and tougher for some than others. Finding ways to work through it, and with it, will typically contribute to more fruitful results than choosing to buck the system, when you are faced with something new. Some changes end up being minor enough for you to simply catch on and carry on. In those cases, practicing the new step, different process or new tool will help make it familiar to you and perhaps make your work far easier in the long run.
Resisting change ultimately wastes time and energy.
Resisting change ultimately wastes time and energy. If you have seen the handwriting on the wall, it’s pragmatic to figure out your next move before you are faced with irreconcilable differences. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away and waiting only makes it more difficult to gain the inertia to make the right next move. Use the energy you still have to work on the steps you can take to move yourself in a new and perhaps even better direction.
If what you do as a function is no longer needed, then it is possible that the handwriting has been on the wall in neon letters for a long time. It’s time to take the reins back and determine what you will do about it. If you have planned ahead, then maybe retirement is a sound option. For many of us, retirement has stretched into a hazy notion of life that may occur far into the future. Financial setbacks, health issues and family crises can really change the course of things. If working for pay is still necessary, there are steps you can take that will help limit the anxiety of making a change or moving ahead. Blaming your age isn’t going to change your circumstances. Embrace who you are and what you can do today – let go of what used to be. The following tips can help you get ahead in the process.
Pay attention to what is needed. Read industry periodicals or the news. Stay on top of developments in your field and the skills that are in demand. If your skills aren’t current, training/education may be an option, or it may simply be time to see where else your skills apply. Talk to people who are doing what you think you want to do and test your assumptions.
Adjust your brand. If you’ve been known as the big man on campus but intend to scale down, then scale down your brand altogether. Adjust your image to suit the intended audience. It is not uncommon for people to move into a later-in -life career that is not as powerful as they once were. Staying with the old image can overshoot what it is you want to do. Hearing “you’re overqualified” may soothe your ego, but it isn’t going to help your pocket book if you are not offered the position you have interviewed for. You need to SOUND excited about whatever it is you will be contributing to and you need to LOOK like you are the best in class to do it. Make sure your references, friends and family are able, willing and ready to speak to the “new” brand when people inquire. If you are starting something new and have things to learn, then show how willing, able and ready you are to give it your all.
Adjust your approach. If you are downsizing, then lighten your resume. Soften your speech. Don’t overshoot what you want to do – match it. More does not automatically mean better; it can sound like “too expensive”. If only two years of experience is required, then 20 is overkill. Don’t include dated, irrelevant years. Talk about the things you want to do. If you really don’t want to manage, then don’t dwell on when you used to manage. Focus on the skills that are needed to do the job. Having more of something unrelated doesn’t make up for the lack of the basic skills that are required to do the job. Make sure you can do what they need and that you are ready.
Adjust your brain. Stepping back can mess with your head if you let it. Don’t compare yourself with what you used to do or to others that are in a different place in their lives. Embrace the direction you want to transition into whether it is moving up or moving toward retirement. If you are starting over and still want to rise to the top again, then get excited about it. The process won’t take another 20 years.
Don’t take shortcuts. Throwing resumes at jobsites rarely works for people that are transitioning into new careers or different directions. Job posts typically are written with a “check-the-box” intent. Trying to match specific experience/skills can leave you trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Talk to people. Ask questions. Find out what is needed and act sincere about your interest. Working from the inside of the company with known advocates will increase your chances of someone learning just what a great fit you can be – even if all their boxes aren’t checked.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Make the most of your contacts and conversations. Just because the information you are getting isn’t providing you with “the answer”, collect the data and look at in in a new way. Don’t dismiss leads because you think a position is too low on the totem pole. Taking a stand against something that could lead to the right path could turn out to be irreversible later.
Let go and look forward. The past is the past. You are doing you in the here and now. Who can you grow into once you have overcome the challenge at hand? Figure out how conquering an adverse situation now can help you in years to come.
Change is inevitable. Change for the better and change for the worse. Either way, a time of change can be a great opportunity for you to make a statement, become more visible or take on a major challenge that ultimately builds your value over the long term. By continuously broadening your skill set and showing a willingness to adjust to the new needs of an organization throughout periods of change or to the needs of a new employer altogether, you may also discover opportunities that hadn’t previously been obvious or available.
Even with improvements in the market, there are still companies experiencing layoffs due to mergers and acquisitions. Nothing is guaranteed. Anyone who has been with an organization for a while or is beginning a new role with a new company runs the risk of being laid off if something unexpected happens. By the same token, if the upswing in the market stimulates job growth with your current employer or a potential new employer, the extra effort you put in now will make you a more attractive candidate for fresh opportunities. Instead of settling into complacency or looking over your shoulder and worrying about layoffs, it might behoove you to take more time to examine ways to increase your value.
If you have been looking around to see where the grass is greener, you may need a compass of sorts to prevent you from assuming a change is better. The following key points can provide a foundation for determining how you might fare in the open market.
Know yourself. If you have been “making do” until the market opened up, it’s possible you have made assumptions about what would be better. It’s important to examine your motivations, your values and your goals to see exactly why your current role is categorized as “making do” versus being on the road to your dream job. Being unhappy is one thing — knowing exactly why takes a little more effort. Don’t assume that more money or a promotion will be the answer to your current problems. Interpersonal conflicts will continue to arise at new companies if you haven’t learned methods for navigating any current issues you may be experiencing. More money may also come with a price. Are you willing to work longer hours? Have a longer commute? Work in an office with a stricter dress code?
Know the market. It’s all too easy to become complacent in an existing role if no one has required or encouraged you to update your skills. Although you may have been taking care of the “status quo” in your own company, the methods and tools you use to perform your current job may be completely different from an expectation in a new company. Don’t assume that because you have a particular title that you will be able to transfer into a role with the same title in a new company. Find out which skills will be needed to be competitive in a higher role. Doing the same thing for years doesn’t automatically equate to competence in someone else’s eyes.
Assess your current situation realistically. Take inventory before you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Have you taken the opportunity to learn all you can in your current role? Take a look around at coworkers and other departments. If you have allies in other areas, investigate whether a change of duties or departments would be an option before you shut the door. It’s easy to believe another company or another boss may be an improvement, but it is much easier to find out more when you are currently working in a company than assuming you will learn the full truth about a new company before you get started.
Add value. If the company is investigating the potential of a merger, will your role be eliminated? Rather than looking outside, it’s possible to build your value internally if you are assuming more responsibilities than just what has been expected to date. Going forward, if there are redundant roles that may need eliminating, the new company (or new version of the company) may see value in retaining the person who has a broader skill set and exhibits greater flexibility. It doesn’t have to turn into a game, set, match with the other side winning only because they have more years invested. Make sure management is aware of your accomplishments and the full set of skills you bring to the party.
Change in any organization’s structure or financial status will pretty much ensure staffing changes. Some people will bail because they are uncomfortable with the change, leaving open seats for others who are ready to embrace it. Positions may be eliminated because there is a tightening of the belt or to reduce overlap. These circumstances can create excellent opportunities for someone who is flexible about what they are working on, is skilled in a variety of areas and is ready and willing to persevere through the change. Taking this track can hasten your advancement and prime you for even greater rewards inside or outside of the company if carefully planned out.
You are not working and:
- You live in Seattle and already have a tan
- You have not missed one of your kids’ softball or soccer games or practices, and they begin at 3:00 PM on week days
- You have planned for vacations and social events, but the rest of your schedule is wide open
- You have filled up punch cards from 3 different coffee retailers in the past month
- You have a new 40′ x 40′ garden and there are no weeds
- You are working out at the gym at 10:00 AM or 2:00 every day
- It takes more than 12 hours for you to respond to emails from employers or others trying to help you
- You are still taking nights and weekends off
- Your networking plan consists of linking with as many people as you can on Linked In, but you have no other strategy for following up with any of them
- You still think HR is the only advocate for you when you are pursuing a position
- You are 5 months into your unemployment and still applying for jobs posted on Craigslist.org
- You have been unemployed for 18 months and are passing up roles that pay less than your prior role (at your former employer of 20 years) because you are certain you are worth more in this market
- You have had more than 4 interviews but received 0 offers
- When someone asks what you are doing, your only answer is “looking for a job“
- You are hoping for an extension on your unemployment
- You think I am kidding