Starting a New Chapter… Where do I begin?
There is nothing more thrilling or terrifying than the question, “What’s next?!” On the one hand, these are exciting junctures in life– you have a new chapter ahead of you! On the other hand, it’s also not uncommon to feel overwhelmed and even paralyzed about how which direction to go. In particular, this can be an overwhelming question when it comes to vocation.
Distinctive seasons of vocational transition might include:
- Young adulthood…when you have finished your schooling and are trying to figure out what to do with your life
- Empty nesting… after launching your children
- Mid-life transitions… a common season where many make a major change
- Career plateau… when you have outgrown a role and need a new challenge
- Role misalignment… when you realize the role you have doesn’t fit your gifts and passions
- Ending a major season of care-taking…when you are finally relieved of responsibilities after a season intense output (i.e. battling cancer, caring for an aging parent, transitioning to a new context, etc)
- After a major failure, setback, or being laid off… each are natural end-points that allow you to reassess next steps
- Retirement…when you begin to explore ways to use your passions and gifting outside of a work context
So what is the best way to approach a new chapter of vocation in your life?
Imagine you are panning for gold. You begin by scooping a handful of dirt into a pan with a special grating designed to catch the heavier flakes and nuggets of gold. You lower the pan into water, gently agitating it back and forth, causing the lighter, unwanted dirt to rinse away and the gold to settle to the bottom. Agitate, rinse, repeat… over and over until all good stuff is left sparkling at the bottom.
The first phase of vocation transition begins with SIFTING and SORTING through your experiences, longings, and gifts to look for clues about where to go next. Some things you will want to know about panning for nuggets…
First, expect the sifting and sorting to take TIME. More time than you think. This type of change will have ripple effect into many other areas in your life. You may need to transition out of a current situation. You may need to relocate. Your family may need to help more if you go back to work or school. You may need to make adjustments to your standards of living. The more entrenched you are in a career/field/context, the longer it may take to transition. Expect for this process to take from 1-3 years from the first stages of questioning and exploration to the time of being settled in a new role.
Second, you are going to have to make SPACE for reflecting and exploring. Depending on your personality style, you may be the type to just jump for the next thing offered OR you can get caught in the cycle of overanalyzing and perfectionism and become stuck. You will need space to evaluate where you have been and where you want to go. There may be intermediate steps necessary to get you to your final goal. If you don’t make space to make a plan, you will add frustrating detours to your exploration.
Reflecting can come in many forms. You may want to buy a journal to begin recording thoughts, ideas, and conversations you have just on this topic of where to go from here (or if you are my husband – keep it recorded in the notes on your phone). Either way, begin to collect in one place information such as:
- Reflection questions (from this blog or other sources)
- Dream storming
- Lists of practical steps
- Nuggets from conversations with others
- Results from some of the personality tests that might speak into your gifting
Last month, I set up a meeting with a frustrated and anxious woman mid-stream on exploring a change in vocation. But by the time I met with her, she had remarkable level of clarity compared to the first time we talked. The difference? After months of processing on the fly and piece meal conversations with her husband, she had finally taken one morning (just 3 hours) to sit and reflect, journal, and pray over what God was speaking. Those few hours produced some significant nuggets of clarity and greatly relieved her anxiety. Make the space to capture what is happening in your heart.
Third, find people GIFTED IN SIFTING. Just like you use a specific pan to search for gold, certain people have a gifting to help people find nuggets of wisdom and calling. Obviously, close friends, your spouse, or your parents can be invaluable resources for processing along the way. But don’t be afraid to ask a few wise, insightful, and strategic people you respect along the way to meet with you for a one-off mentoring appointment. Find someone in the field you are exploring and pick their brain about how they got where they are. Find some good sifters to help you pick out your nuggets.
So once you have committed TIME, SPACE, and found a few good SIFTERS to help… now what?
The easiest question to start the sifting is:
What DON’T you want to do anymore? Run your current life – work, relationships, activities — through the imaginary sieve. If you could magically let some things in your life go – what would they be? What drains you, depresses you, overwhelms you, and makes you want to crawl back in bed? Of course, there will always be things on your list that are not in our power to let go— being a single parent, fighting cancer, dealing with an chronic illness. Don’t evaluate them, just write it all down for now.
What is draining life from me: my commuting time… time spent in processing meetings… frantic mornings getting out the door… not being able to exercise because of my knee… fights over how we spend money… supervisory tasks… care-taking for my needy friend… dealing with office politics… living month to month… defending my choices… having the same fights over and over with my spouse… feeling undervalued… investing my talent in something that doesn’t seem worthwhile… having to toe the party line at work/church/home.
Now see if you can articulate some of the NUGGETS from the list above. It may also help to think about the negative job or experiences you have had in the past and add those in here.
I will NOT thrive: working alone… in a monotonous job… in a conflictual work situation… without clear structure… working with customer service… managing highly detailed documents… when I have to create from scratch… with tight deadlines… with no deadlines… when I’m micromanaged.
As you are sifting, you will probably start to see some of the ROCKS mixed in with your nuggets. What are the OBSTACLES that surface when you think about making a major transition?
Obstacles that keep surfacing: Fear of change. Lack of support from my partner. Overcommitment. A lack of community. Decreasing physical capacity. Lack of passion for my job. A role mismatch. Financial pressures. Burnout. Depression. Lack of education or training. Lack of boundaries. Past failures. Lack of discipline.
We are not necessarily making an immediate plan of action at this point about how to deal with the rocks nor are we on the hunt to create the perfect life. But you will have to address some of these obstacles that are keeping you from moving forward. Some will be issues of character. Some may involve healing. Some may involve accountability. Some will involve risk. See why these transitions may take longer than you thought?!
For now, keep this list and in Monday’s post we will start panning for nuggets about where you DO want to go.
Resources for vocational transition:
Courage and Calling by Gordon Smith
The Making of a Leader by J. Robert Clinton
Halftime by Bob Buford
Second Calling (for women in mid-life transition) by Dale Hanson Bourke