Don’t Think About It The Old Way

I remember how I felt when I started considering what else I might do with my career. As a young analyst working in Canary Wharf, the extent of my horizon did not go much further than Debt Capital Markets and a few associated divisions of the capital financing world.

Because this was all I knew from the professional world – bar a couple of internships which did not provide me with a vast array of experiences – and because most people around me were more or less in the same ship, the prospect of thinking about what else I might wish to do with my professional life quickly became very daunting.

The few ideas that crossed my mind were either very adjacent to what I was already doing, or a world away. As such I was finding myself oscillating between utter disappointment and paralysing dismay. Disappointment because my job in investment banking was not fulfilling what I most valued and I could not see a close alternative that would, and dismay because the other options I could see felt so removed from my current reality that I did not believe I could ever reach them.

Recently, I was helping a client think about her next career move. It was more like a professional reinvention which she was eager to prepare for. When she explained to me what she had considered, I saw that she was stuck in the same trap that I experienced myself and witnessed with countless others: she was thinking too narrowly about herself, her capabilities and her possibilities. My client felt stuck and unsure about how to articulate her skillset and competencies in the best way, and what role she would be able to position herself for. Only after doing that did she begin considering what she might really like to do.

The problem with this approach is that by the time she was trying to think about what she might like to do, her options were already too limited. Limited by her own thinking. Limited by a narrow angle from which she was looking at her life experience. Limited by what she thought she was capable of, or what she thought the market might accept.

I don’t believe any truly fulfilling, inspiring and purposeful path will emerge with such a strategy. The next job can be found, and that could be all that you want. But if you are looking for something deeper, then the old way won’t do.

When thinking about my professional life back then, in investment banking, when all I knew was that I wanted to quit and dedicate myself to helping people, what initially served me a great deal was discovering how much else existed which I had no familiarity with and no awareness of. The sheer discovery of a world beyond the world I knew was eye-opening. It led to an expansion of my horizon and at the same time, of the possibilities available to me. Simultaneously I also explored my internal world. Not just via the old thinking of: “what am I trained for?”, “what degree do I have?”, “what professional skills have I acquired?”, etc. We are all familiar with this way of doing things. This is what got my client stuck. What I started doing instead was asking new questions such as: “what activities have meaning and purpose for me?”, “who am I inspired by and why?”, “what events have shaped my life and how?”…

I explored new ways of thinking about career fulfilment. And that’s how I ended up embracing self-employment after beginning my working life in an investment bank. That’s how I ended up becoming a life coach after being trained in economics and political science. That’s how I ended up being guided by purpose and possibility, rather than by skillset and competencies.

If you think of what is next with blinders on, using outdated models of skills assessment, competency analysis and CV progression, chances are you won’t be truly satisfied with what you come up with. So if you are thinking about career change, professional transition, or vocational reinvention, do yourself a favour. Take the time to really go and explore beyond what you know is out there, or what you believe is possible based on your past trajectory. Speak to people who are doing things vastly different to you, and who have a-typical professional journeys. Dip your toes into different ponds, rivers and lakes.

Most of all, allow yourself not to think about it the old way.