Career Crashed and Burned? Here are Five Ways to Figure Out What to Do Next
If you're at a career crossroads that feels more like a ‘life’ crossroads, this can be a confusing time. You may be feeling stifled by your circumstances, or burnt out from living a lifestyle that is not true to your values.
But even if your life feels like it’s crumbling around you, recognize that you’re in a good place right now. Acknowledging that you don’t know who you are is better than pretending to be something you’re not.
Whatever you do, don’t be too hard on yourself. Breaking out of your comfort zone can be frightening and takes a great deal of courage. If you’re struggling to work out what to do next, try these tips to find a greater sense of clarity before moving on in your career.
Take Time to Regroup
In a perfect world, nobody would abandon their day job without having a new career lined up. In this ideal scenario, you would hand in your notice having already completed the necessary training for your new career, and secured the job of your dreams. If only, right? But the world is not perfect. Sometimes you can’t hold down a job that isn’t right for you. Sometimes life gets in the way, whether it’s depression, addiction, or invisible disability. Maybe you have to resign without warning. Maybe you even get fired.
When your life has come crashing down around you, your first impulse may be to dive straight into something else—anything else—in order to stay afloat. But the truth is, your body is trying to tell you to do the opposite: you need to slow down.
Now is not the time to start applying for random jobs that don’t even appeal to you. Now is the time to push pause on your life for a minute. Slow down and find ways to get a handle on your anxiety, depression, or whatever is holding you back. Whether that means taking up yoga or learning CBD, what matters is that you’re seeking out ways to slow down and reconnect with yourself.
Expand Your Social World
Once you’ve re-established your equilibrium, it can be beneficial to expand your social network. This may not be easy, though. When you're uncertain about who you want to be, it can be hard to go out there and get involved in social gatherings. But not only will being withdrawn hold you back from exploring who you are, but you’ll also miss out on potential networking opportunities that could help you professionally when you’ve reached the point where you’re ready to launch a new career.
Just start slow. Build your confidence little by little through manageable social situations, being careful not to allow yourself to resort to a false or outdated personality that you no longer identify with. That's the kind of self-deception that got you into the wrong career in the first place!
So rather than allowing yourself to feel embarrassed that you don't have a water-tight concept of who you are at this stage of your life, see if you can embrace the experience of being ‘in flux’. While it might be scary at first, you’ll soon find that having the courage to own this uncertainty will earn the respect of people you meet—at least, the people who matter. Being open about the fact that you’re engaged in the process of self-discovery is the opposite of shameful: it is brave, clear-sighted, and admirable.
Once you’ve tested your willingness to live with uncertainty in relatively familiar scenarios, it may be time to broaden your horizons and explore your newfound confidence in a completely new place with new people around you.
If you have the resources, maybe it’s time to go traveling. If you’re feeling a little lost in life, packing your bags and literally ‘getting lost’ can be one of the best ways to find yourself. Taking yourself out of your normal context—your apartment, street, town, social circle—is a fantastic way to try on various versions of the ‘new you’ for size. It can be scary to experiment with who you are when the people around you know how you used to be. But if you’re surrounded by people who have never met you, they can only take you at face value, and this can be incredibly freeing.
Encounter Alternative Lifestyles
One of the main benefits of travel for this ‘in-between’ time of your life is its challenge your preconceptions about what a respectable life should look like. Once you start to experience different lifestyles and encounter alternative ways of being, you may start to question why you’ve ended up in a job that has made you so unhappy.
Question Your Values
When you’re ready to start digging deep, questioning your values can be an incredibly productive exercise. What values have governed your decisions until now, and why? Do you need to earn as much money as you thought you did? Do you need to be respected by those people whose life choices you don’t really respect? Whatever values lie behind your choices-to-date, ask yourself whether you still hold those values, or if they have changed.
If your values have changed, what do you want from life going forward? What do you want your day to look like? How much time do you want to spend working, and how much time do you want to reserve for other pursuits? Do you need more creativity in your life? More physical activity? Less time commuting? Asking these big questions in a context that is completely removed from the professional sphere is a really useful way to start building your authentic, satisfying life with a firm grounding in what truly matters to you.
There are few things scarier than not knowing where you’re going in life, especially when you literally depend on being able to hold down a job to support yourself. A career is not a decision to be taken lightly. These tips will help you get your head into the right place to let you make a sound decision.