Sometimes the things that hold us back are beyond our control. But some of the obstacles to reaching our career goals are things we have the power to change.
Maybe it’s the birds building their nests outside Jenny’s window. Something is making her feel out of sorts as she leaves for her office job these days.
But as Jenny finds a seat on the bus, she realizes what’s really bothering her. When she was at university, she would leave every spring for her job as a fire lookout. Funny how much she misses working outdoors. Does something need to change?
Some changes happen because of an event, like a graduation, a child’s birth, or a workplace closing. Some are caused by a person, such as a new supervisor or life partner.
But you can also be the source of change. You might feel boredom, exhaustion, or the growing sense that things can’t go on the way they have. Perhaps you’re realizing that it’s time to leave, to change, to start something new. It’s time to grow.
Obstacles to change
Sometimes people avoid making changes. Staying the course may be the best choice for the moment, but you won’t know that until you have thought about all the options.
Some people seem unable to make a decision or change directions. They may feel that:
- They are helpless. They think they have no power to change their situation.
- It’s not their fault. They think they are simply the victim, so they do not need to change. They believe the problem is somebody else’s responsibility.
- Things have already changed, at least in their minds. They pretend things have improved, instead of putting effort into real change. And when the same problem crops up (as it will, because nothing has changed), they’re likely to say, “I can’t believe this happened again.”
- They will make the wrong choice. So they make no choice at all.
But not deciding is also a decision. It just may not be the right one for you.
Dealing with challenges
The first step in creating change is to understand what’s slowing you down or getting in your way. That understanding will help you gain control in the areas of your life that are important to you. Everyone has to face challenges. They can be as small as your babysitter getting a cold at the last minute, or as large as a stock market crash that will mean layoffs in your field.
Identifying challenges—naming them—is the first step to dealing with them. Start by creating 2 lists of your career challenges in the worksheet below:
- The first is for the things you might be able to change, like gaps in your skills, abilities, and career assets.
- The second is for the things you cannot change, like a downturn in the economy or a physical disability.
Focus on things you can change
Once you have identified which challenges you have control over and which you do not, focus on the things you can change.
Tom leaves the courthouse furious with himself and his client. His client isn’t co-operating, and the case has been delayed because Tom forgot some important files. This is why he went to law school? But his parents have always pushed him, saying they came to this country so that he and his sister could have a better life.
Trying to ignore his constant headache, Tom looks for his buddy, the courthouse gardener. They chat about the weather, the choice of plants, and this year’s outbreak of caterpillars. Tom’s fingers itch to pick up a trowel, but he thinks he would look silly digging in the dirt in his expensive suit. And he has no time. He turns away, feeling stressed and tired.
Let’s look at Tom’s case. His challenges include:
- Poor organizational skills (forgotten files)
- No time to do the things he really wants
- A constant stress headache
- Feelings of guilt that have led him to follow his parents’ dreams instead of his own
Tom’s forgotten files and lack of time to do what he really wants could both be a result of his poor organizational skills. If he worked to improve those skills, he might overcome his first 2 challenges. It might even help with his stress headaches.
To better meet the challenges you face, take some time to identify your skills, abilities, and career assets:
- Try a quiz to explore your skills.
- Know your core skills and how to sell them.
- Think about how you can enhance your core skills and traits.
- Identify your strongest abilities.
- Consider how you can repackage your career assets.
Identify what you want
When you have a clear sense of direction, it’s easier to see which challenges are the most important to overcome.
In Tom’s case, his final challenge may be the biggest. His parents’ wish that he be a lawyer is not his own dream. When Tom takes the time to really think about his career, he realizes that he’d be much happier as a gardener.
To help you describe what you want:
- Create a picture of your future with a vision exercise.
- Know what you already have, such as your interests and abilities.
- Get to know yourself, what you love to do, what you value, and what you’re good at.
If you’re not sure what you want in your career, explore your options:
- Figure out where to start.
- View hundreds of occupational profiles and video career clips.
- Find out about educational programs, from apprenticeship and training to diplomas and degrees.
- Find out who’s hiring and learn how to create your own work opportunities.
Decide what to do
At this point, you have a sense of what you can change, what your options are, and which challenges are most important to overcome.
Now is the time to decide what you will do—and identify concrete steps you can take to put your decisions into action:
- For each challenge you face, think about specific ways you can stop it from blocking you. Write down your ideas.
- Take the list of occupational options that interest you and explore them in more depth.
- Once you have more information about different occupations, evaluate and compare those options so you can decide which to pursue and how.
If you can’t decide what to do, remember that most big decisions are actually made up of many smaller, simpler decisions. Also keep in mind that very few career decisions are final. You can usually change your mind and your plans. But not making any decision can mean you miss career opportunities.
Face your fears
Change is often scary. You face many unknowns. You may also find it hard to leave a familiar situation, whether it’s a job, an attitude, or a habit.
But change can also be exciting. Knowing what you want can give you the energy to go after it and the courage to face the unknowns.
If your fears are blocking you, try these suggestions:
- Fill in the gaps. If you have identified your skills, strengths, and accomplishments and think something is missing, take a continuing education course, do some upgrading, or volunteer in the field you’re interested in.
- Be prepared. Anticipating problems and knowing that you can handle them can give you confidence to move forward:
- Make a Plan B. For example, if you’re worried you will not get into the education program you want, look into similar programs at different schools.
- Prepare for a change in earnings. Many people feel trapped by golden handcuffs (financial benefits like bonuses, more vacation time, company car, stocks, etc.). Revisit your values and your budget - what can you cut back on? And then open up to new possibilities.
- Organize backup support systems. For example, if you rely on one person to care for your children, figure out who can step in if your caregiver gets sick. If you’re leaving support systems behind, look for new ones.
- Know who your allies are. These are the people in your network you can rely on. Tell them your plans and ask for their support.
- Believe in yourself. Friends and family sometimes resist change. If you’re feeling pressured to make a choice that does not suit you, remind yourself about your skills and abilities. Explain to your friends and family why the path you want to take is right for you. Tell them what you are doing to be ready to take that path.
Find help and support
If you have tried the tips in this article and still struggle with things you think you can change, ask for help:
- Reach out to the people in your network.
- Contact Alberta Supports for referrals and advice about career, learning, and work options.
Take action to overcome your challenges
Personal challenges are a normal part of life, whether you’re looking for a job or making career or education decisions. If you feel stuck facing a challenge, go back to your vision and your values. Be clear about what matters to you. By overcoming your doubts and worries, you can free yourself to focus on achieving the change you want.