Exploring Your Career Through Different Lenses
When someone is uncertain about their career, there is often a sense of being lost. I wish I could tell them, “Here are the three steps that you need to succeed,” but if I knew what those steps were, I would be a billionaire. There are, however, some useful tactics for overcoming career uncertainty.
For example, what if someone experiencing uncertainty replaced that sense of being lost with the notion that they are exploring? Exploration in this context involves finding your bearings then shifting your perspective. Some people are zoomed far out, looking at the big picture and overwhelmed by possibility. Others are zoomed in so closely they can’t see all of their available options.
If you are stuck at either of these extremes, it may be helpful to learn how to toggle between the big picture of your career and the detailed steps required to build it.
For those of you stuck on the big picture, typing “careers” into a search engine won’t provide direction. Instead, ask specific questions to zoom in on a more manageable section of your career map and conduct research on the people, places, and positions that interest you. Like a research assignment, asking better questions at the beginning can increase your efficiency working with a library database. Once you have specific questions, consider what your best options are for getting answers. These could be networking, attending webinars, or using the LinkedIn alumni search tool. Learning about different people, places, and positions allows you to identify the skills you need to pivot into new positions.
Here is a personal real-world example of this technique. During the lock-down, I wanted to improve my writing skills, so I used the time saved on my commute to practice sharing my thoughts on LinkedIn and Instagram. I only identified this tactic after I had asked a specific question: how can I connect with my community in positive ways when we are physically distant? One idea was to write. I practiced and shared my writing, which helped my current work while leading to new opportunities -- this article being one of them. I needed to zoom in and focus on specifics to see past my uncertainty.
If you are someone who is stuck on the details, you might understand the skills you possess but haven’t connected them, recently, to your values or larger career goals -- especially if your environment has shifted. Consider taking a step back and using a reframing strategy [CV1] to acknowledge the truth of your situation while understanding how your limiting beliefs may be obscuring the opportunities around you. Reframing can refocus your career “Street View” and allow you to zoom out, take stock, and then zoom back in on the positive details that will help your career.
Here’s another personal example. When my work life shifted from an office setting to my home as a result of the pandemic, I found it challenging to juggle work and parenting. But by reframing my situation, I recognized that it gave me the opportunity to practice delivering engaging online material to facilitate equitable access for the students I work with. I also recognized the privilege of being able to work safely at home while getting to see my two children daily. By using a reframing strategy, I was able to focus on my positive thoughts rather than the negative ones, and this uncovered opportunities to develop my skills and build my career.
Reframing will not solve all your complex problems, but it can give you the hope and inspiration to identify your next step and general direction. Sometimes you’ll lose your way and may need guidance from those who went before you, or a wayfinding tool to illuminate your path. But, ultimately, you have to be the one to actively step into new spaces. You are the one who has to both sketch out the big picture map of your career and fill in the detailed side streets of your work. Only then can you see the full picture of where you are and where you would like to go, allowing you to chart new possibilities for your career.
About the Author
Rob Kim, MET’08, BEd’00, BSc’98, is a career strategist for the Faculty of Land and Food Systems and works with the Centre for Student Involvement and Careers. Rob favours a strengths-based approach to career education, which he uses in both his facilitation and coaching with UBC students and alumni.
Connect with Rob on LinkedIn