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If you came into 2020 with the intention to proactively transform your career this year, you may be feeling a bit thwarted by now. 

We came into COVID-19 supporting clients writing business plans, raising their professional profiles, and considering large scale career transformation. However, over the past 45 days+ we have seen an about-face in clients’ focus areas. Rather than pulling the trigger to launch a new professional chapter, many are opting to stay where they are, grateful for the opportunity to continue earning during uncertain times. They are endeavoring to bloom where they are planted, at least in the short term. Others who have been laid off find themselves considering options they never would have in different market conditions. 

However, the longing for personal career transformation does not simply go away. The angst, ambition, and sense of wanting more persist, even during a pandemic.

So, what can you do with that energy now?

Here’s the success formula I’m seeing work well: using this time to incubate your next chapter.

View this period as a way station on the journey to what you ultimately want for your career.  Focus on honing the clarity, skills, materials, and experience you need to lay the groundwork for where you want to go next. Doing so offers a sense of forward motion and control in a time of uncertainty, allowing you to displace the angsty energy while mitigating risk. This strategy has a grounding effect, making you more empathetic in your relationships, effective and focused in your networking, and efficient in your expenditure of energy.

Sound intriguing but wondering how to do it? 

Define your career vision

First, gain clarity about your non-negotiable key priorities for your next professional chapter by asking yourself some aspirational questions:

  • What values do I cherish that my work situation needs to honor? 
  • What skills do I most enjoy using, and in what amounts?
  • What business problems do I want to be solving?
  • What work environment characteristics allow me to thrive?
  • What is satisfying to me professionally, getting me up in the morning eager to go?
  • What impact do I want to be making through my career? 
  • At the end of my life, what do I want to look back on having accomplished?

Your answers build the foundation upon which you can brainstorm options, consider alternatives, run experiments, and ultimately make decisions about how to use this time to build momentum toward your career vision.

Take small steps to make sizable gains 

The actions you take right now don’t need to be big ones to have impact. Here are some options to consider:

  • Pick an energizing skill you need to improve to achieve your ultimate career goal. Take an online class to practice and hone that skill.
  • Volunteer for a work project that allows you to gain visibility with senior leadership, even if it feels outside your normal lane.
  • Review your job duties and categorize which ones energize vs. drain you. Brainstorm ways to spend more time on the former and less on the latter.  Next, delegate the draining work to others, systematize it to take less time and effort, or make the case to leadership to prioritize it off your plate.
  • Cultivate your voice by crafting articles, frameworks, or short videos that showcase your perspective in areas of functional expertise and interest. Either post these nuggets online to build visibility or curate them for your own purposes, building assets that you can use in various forms in the future.
  • Draft a rough cut of your vision for an entrepreneurial venture, noodling potential business models, competitive differentiation, and the value the product or service will offer your target customer.
  • Update your resume and LinkedIn profile highlighting what you want to be known for while speaking the language your target employer resonates with.
  • Actively seek out and grow 1:1 relationships with cross-functional peers and leaders, scheduling regular touchpoints to learn their key challenges and help them make progress against those objectives.
  • Proactively upgrade the quality of your 1:1s with your manager to transform them into strategic conversations. You can find some tips on this here
  • Reach out to former colleagues, classmates, and friends to reactivate and re-energize your professional network, providing support to those you care about but have lost touch with over the years.

During this challenging year, don’t give up on your career aspirations. It might take longer or be more circuitous, but making progress is possible. By taking this time to define your career vision and finding pragmatic, simple ways to develop professionally, you will feel more intentional and build momentum towards your goals.

This blog also appeared in Thrive Global.

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