Periodically, we may find ourselves at a crossroads in our career — a point where there may be several possible paths or directions we can choose. The road we have been on is either coming to an end, or there are new options intersecting it that force us to make directional choices.
We come to such a crossroads for a myriad of reasons:
- A layoff or other involuntary release from a previous job.
- Voluntary departure from a previous job, but without anything lined up to follow it.
- Frustration when we feel our true potential is not perceived by others.
- Discontent with the current career path and desire to find something new.
- A sudden change in circumstance (financial change, marital status, birth of a child, becoming empty-nesters) prompting new assessments and priorities in life.
- Something within that urges a new direction or a fresh start.
If you find yourself standing at the crossroads, regardless of the reason you are there, look at it as a gift in life. A gift of being able to slow down for a moment, stop and look around at where you are and where you want to get to, the gift of choosing the path that is right for you instead of letting momentum hurtle you past the exit ramps that may lead to interesting and meaningful places.
I know, you want to just jump right in and get back on the road, but take this moment to pause, breathe, decompress, assess your surroundings, and think. Because by doing so, you will be on the path to make the right decision, not just an expedient decision. The right decision will present itself when you are clear on who you are, what you want, and when you’ve investigated the options available to you at this point in time.
The first two parts are about your internal compass. Moving toward a specific destination is far preferable to just trying to put distance between you and where you were. The destination itself will look different to each person based on:
- Your values
- Your personality
- Your skills, strengths, and experience
- Your personal/professional brand and how you present yourself to the world
- Your vision for a future life
- What is meaningful to you and gives you a sense of achievement
- The environments in which you thrive
- What motivates you
Once you can envision a destination that excites you, the next step is to investigate the possible routes to that destination and decide which will be most appropriate, expedient, and fun for you. Here is a sampling of the options that may be in front of you, once you start looking for them:
- Continue on your current path — keep pursuing your existing career, but target accomplishments that will make the road easier and more fun
- Deviate slightly — perhaps you want to do similar work, but would like to change the working environment, the industry, or the way in which you do the work
- Take a left turn — take your transferable skills and do something different, but that builds on your previous achievements.
- Take a right turn — decide what job you’d really love to have, prepare a solid case for why it makes sense to the organization, prove the ROI, and pitch it to your current employer or a potential employer
- Forge a new road — identify a new career, and do whatever it takes to gain the credentials, experience, and contacts to make it happen
- Become the civil engineer — become an entrepreneur who decides the direction and creates everything from scratch
- Own your road — explore franchises or purchase a proven business to become a business owner with the support of a proven system.
The question is: what is right for you? The constraints of the corporate world are not right for everyone, but equally, neither is the life of an entrepreneur. Some of us are more effective as managers, while others are happier as an individual contributor with their hands in the work every day and never dealing with people issues. And sometimes we’re using the exact skills and talents we should be but may want to redirect those talents, and other times we realize that we’ve gotten off track and are no longer using our inherent strengths.
Which road is right for you? Only you can decide. And then begins the adventure!