Keys to Career Transformation: Getting Unstuck

How do you get from where you are to where you want to be?

This is the time of year that a lot of people seem to be wrestling what that question. I can’t remember the last time I delivered a seminar where I wasn’t asked:

How do I make the transition from my current job to the work I want to be doing?

I usually don’t get asked that question in the large room. This question is saved for the coffee break, cocktail reception or follow-up email inquiry after the event. It’s personal. I can relate.

I was asking myself that exact same question in December of 2008. It also happens to be the question I was asking myself in December of 2006. And 2007. I was stuck. Being stuck is a hard reality to face. I can shed a little light on how I broke that pattern in my own career.

My career transition isn’t something I’ve written about often. In part, I initially felt like I was screwing it up and wasn’t so inclined to share. In hindsight, the transition wasn’t so bad and the screw-ups would have made for some interesting reading along the way. Regardless, I have been asked so many questions about career transition this year that I thought I’d share a few lessons learned from my own experience.

My career transition involved leaving behind an established corporate gig to start my own business. But, the lessons I’ve learned apply to any professional transition or transformation. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing my thoughts in a series called Keys to Career Transformation.

Today, let’s think about the first and most important (and for many, the longest) step: Getting unstuck.

Getting Unstuck

I didn’t walk away from the only career I’d ever known until the pain of the present became stronger than the fear of the unknown.

I was comfortable and well-compensated as an ad agency executive. I was good at my job…and yet, I couldn’t stand going to work. I hadn’t always felt that way but I had arrived at a pretty serious inflection point in my professional development and personal fulfillment with my career. I wanted to change but found it easy to rationalize the decision to stay put.

I was in very good company — a lot of people I knew also wanted to take action but kept hitting the pause button. The excuses are always easy to find. The economy wasn’t good. The time wasn’t right. Compared to a lot of people, I had it pretty good. Why complain? Complacency is a pretty crowded place.

If this sounds familiar, the best advice I have for getting unstuck is to start doing…something, anything related to what you think you might want to transition toward in the future. Exploration and experimentation help initiate the change process and can provide answers to some important questions. There is a lot to be said for starting small or doing something on the side to see what happens.

I knew I wanted to transition out of my current job and start speaking and consulting on my own. So, while I was still working at my job, I started my start-up education. I joined the National Speakers Association, started attending night school and committed to learning everything I could about the learning industry. I devoured books, hired a speaking coach and developed a plan. The process of exploration and experimentation gave me even more clarity that my current path wasn’t going to help me realize the vision I had in mind. Change was imminent and necessary.

During that time (July 2008), at the urging of my coach, I decided to attend the NSA Annual Convention in New York. I connected with people pursuing a similar path and that alone was exhilarating. I also happened upon a small breakout session during the conference led by the author of the book The Four Hour Work Week. His ideas resonated and I read the book over the next few days while taking in the conference, making new connections and working through all of the insights with my coach. When I returned from New York, I had made a substantial mind shift. Six months later, I resigned from my job. I still didn’t feel ready but I knew that my research phase needed to come to an end.

I had to start making progress. Starting something new creates momentum, and momentum is a catalyst for meaningful change. I needed momentum to shatter the job security myth. The truth is I have a lot more security now than I ever had working for someone else. But, that doesn’t mean that the journey from established career to something new is easy.

If you’re looking for holiday reading, here are a few books that helped me in the “getting unstuck” process:

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing my career transition tips for what happens after you take the leap: getting real, getting help and getting in the groove.

Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.

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