Q: I’m facing a job change and am thinking about my next step. In reflecting, I realize that I’ve never had a plan or vision for where I want to be and have just let chance guide me. How I should proceed? — Alex, 48, senior manager, communications
A: Many things go into a life, combining planned steps and serendipity. While most of us are not on one extreme or the other, your comfort with your place on that continuum may be changing.
Your concern is sufficient reason to pause and take stock before you move forward.
Think about all of the aspects that are contained in the phrase, “where I want to be.” It can mean the location you live in, but can also be as broad as the title you’ve achieved or alignment with personal values.
This will vary for each person, depending on priorities. With that in mind, review your past choices for themes and patterns. Importantly, look at opportunities you have opted not to pursue. These are a profound source of insight.
It’s great to learn from the past, but it doesn’t define your future.
Be deliberate in thinking about what is important to you right now and what you would like in the coming years.
If you are aspiring to senior management, be clear about that and what it will require from you.
If you are motivated to have more freedom in your life or to invest more in commitments outside of work, be realistic about the implications.
If you feel like your life has gone widely askew, you might be looking for major changes. Something like a career change is possible, but recognize that it’s not easy. It’s more than acquiring new skills. You also need an organization that’ll give you a chance in an untried role.
Then take a reality check. Even though you didn’t have a road map, I wonder if you would actually change your path. Letting ideas about how you “should” have proceeded can taint your view and whip up fake dissatisfaction. Be careful to tap into what you value and not messages you may have received about the proper goals to have.
Now, what if you decide that you do need to take a different approach? This would be an excellent time to get support and there are a variety of routes you could take.
If you are able, working with a career coach is a great route to take. These professionals specialize in clarifying where you want to be and helping you to achieve it.
Organizations including local governments, nonprofits, and colleges and universities also may have resources available, often free or for a modest fee.
Most important, don’t go through this alone. Talk to friends, family, and colleagues about their paths. You may find that your route through life is more common than you thought, which may give you some reassurance. Plus it may provide ideas on how to adapt if that’s what you want to do.
Finally, go easy on yourself. Respect your past and look forward to your next steps.