Part Two - Unstick What is Stuck - Professionally
As I mentioned in my last post, there was a good period of time post-college when I felt extremely stuck. For some people, they will feel stuck in one area of their life. Lucky for me, I was feeling stuck on all fronts. The focus of this post is what to do when you’re feeling professionally stuck.
I’ve had an interesting journey on my professional career. It was something that went from 0 to 60 in what felt like two seconds flat. I had no clue in the world what type of job I wanted after college until a defining moment during the fall of my junior year. I was lucky enough to have a professor who opened up my eyes to the professional world. She helped me see that my natural skill set would help me stand out as a high potential candidate in the workforce. That winter I had an internship over J-Term, an on-campus internship that spring and a 3-month summer internship to follow. By fall of the next year I was interviewing with some of the top companies of the Twin Cities. I still hadn’t really identified what I wanted to do other than I knew I needed to get a good job.
My first job out of college was another defining period of time. This job allowed me to rotate around the company to a variety of different business units and projects to help me figure out what it was that I wanted to do long-term. Did I like marketing, sales, projects, people? I was bound to find out! The potential responsibility, challenge and opportunity to learn was endless.
Over time I realized that I had essentially been running on autopilot since that first defining moment my junior year. I was going through the motions of starting a career basically to make my resume look good and to make my people around me proud of me. I never really stopped to formally plan for where I wanted to be long term until about 3 years out of college. Sure, I had spent time thinking about it, learning about other people’s jobs and journeys, but I never really sat down and listened to what it was that my heart wanted me to do. Previous attempts to figure this out involved a lot about what other people thought, what looked good on paper and had little to do with what I really wanted. All along I had a gut feeling as if there was a bigger, more fulfilling long term plan for me but I could never quite figure it out.
My frustration with not being able to “figure it out” grew and grew. I spent half my time telling myself to “be patient” and that my long term plan would reveal itself. I spent the other half of my time knowing that my long term plan would never just show up as a step-by-step list of what to do next. I knew there was action I needed to be taking to build my own plan.
You know in my last post when I talked about focusing your time and energy into positive and energizing action? That is what I started to do and that is when things started to change. Below are 5 steps that I took to help myself define where I wanted to be professionally.
Think about what you liked doing as a child.
What did you used to do as a child? No, I’m not talking about the classic kid stuff like starting school or sports. I’m talking about the things you were obsessed with as a little kid. For me, it was playing “school” aka teaching, starting my own businesses aka trying to get my family to pay me for back rubs. I even once started my own therapy office (seriously, was I a normal little kid?). These things didn’t exactly mean that when I grow up I need to be a 5th grade Teacher slash Business Owner slash Therapist. But hey, I am currently studying to be a coach (which involves teaching), I’m in the process of starting my own life coach practice (business owner), and I’m passionate about helping people find their way (therapist-esque). Find the themes in what you used to spend time doing as a child and see how those can translate into your real world today.
Map out your highs and lows since high school.
A C-Suite level executive that I met through the Gustavus Alumni Network and Gustavus Women in Leadership suggested this to me. She encouraged me to map out a timeline of all the major events in my life since high school. She told me to make note of the highs (what caused them to be highs) and the lows (why were they lows). The activity helped me identify themes of what would accelerate my high or what would trigger a low.
At a point in time when I was feeling extremely stuck in my current professional path, a mentor of mine literally said, “Kelsey, why don’t you just quit?”. My first reaction was "What??? I can’t just quit my job. I don’t even have another job to turn to." But my calmer reaction was a realization of what he was really encouraging me to do. He was encouraging me to recognize that I have a choice in all of this. I choose everyday to go to work. I can choose to not go to work. I can choose which work I go to. Choice is a powerful thing!
Ask people around you what they see you doing in the future.
This one can be kind of tricky. Be sure to ask a variety of people this question - ask some people your own age, older than you, younger than you, people who only sort of know you and people who know you better than you know yourself. Take really good notes on their responses. You’ll want to digest those at a later time and try to make sense of what you may not be seeing in yourself.
I know what you are thinking now - “trust me Kelsey, I am aware that I am stuck”. I don’t want you to focus your awareness on the fact that you are stuck. I want you to focus your awareness on your environment. What causes you to feel energized at work? What causes you to lose motivation? Try asking these questions outside of the office too. When you’re with your friends, or volunteering, or in your free time, what makes you feel energized and ready to take anything on? What causes you to lose your motivation?
Try it out! See what works for you.