Monday, 3 January 2011

Your Career Change in 2011

Imagine you were tired of your current house so you decide that 2011 should be the year where you move.  The first thing you might do is work out a budget - a price which you feel you can afford.  The second thing you might do is draw up a list of criteria which would guide the decision of which house you want to buy.  

These criteria would likely be influenced by your current living arrangements.  For example, you hate your commute, so you decide that something nearer the station would be better, and so on.  But the criteria would also (presumably) be influenced by the kind of life you want to lead in future.  For example, you might envisage having children and prefer a bigger kitchen or garden.  Your criteria therefore reflect the values you wish to hold important in future.

Your budget dictates the nature and extent of the compromises you must make in relation to these values, but you will always retain control over the most important ones.

To help with the complexity of the decision, you may spend a lot of time researching possible options, or you may employ an estate agent.  Either way, you will likely brace yourself for a lot of time and money spent making the right choice.

Now imagine you are changing careers in 2011.  A career is, according to nearly all research, absolutely critical to our wellbeing.  Using our strengths more frequently at work predicts greater happiness, resilience and creativity.  Having more control over our working lives predicts lower rates of stress, coronary disease and better productivity. Yet despite this, the way most of us go about our career change involves very different processes to buying a house.

We rarely draw up a list of criteria, for example.  We rarely get clear on what is essential to us and what we could compromise on, and we rarely seek professional help.  Instead we scan the classifieds.  We brush up  our CV.  We become a bit passive.  We drift.  The only external advice we ever seek is with people who try to 'match' our 'personality' using expensive tests which tell introverts to become librarians and engineers and extroverts to go into sales or politics.

Meanwhile, we feel the pain of rejection far more than when buying a house, so we allow our doubts to inhibit our thinking.  And that's why most career changers in 2011 will end up back where they were, and career paralysis will set in.

Of course, arguing that people should use professional help to make better career decisions may sound self interested.  And at some level, it is.  IT'S MY BLOODY BLOG.  But I believe in what I do and I know I can help most people make better career decisions.  As a psychologist, I know the many cognitive traps and biases we make when we try to do this alone and I can help prevent these. And as a human, I really give a shit about this stuff too.

That's why I want to outline some very simple steps that can be taken to dramatically improve the chances that your 2011 career change will work.  My career decision making has been designed to counteract the automatic thought processes and cognitive  biases we are all prone to.  What it offers is not the ideal job, but  a conscious decision which brings meaning and purpose and a sense of control.  

Too many people drift into a career and then stay becalmed in those safer waters.  Time ticks on, and eventually the question must be: is this what you want for your life? 

If your job isn't meaningful to you then I think you should read this blog in 2011.  Life is too short to be spent drifting when you couold be choosing.  You wouldn't do it if you were moving house, you would act with purpose to change.  Why should it be any different with your career?


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