Life Design: How to Construct Your Pathway with Hope for the Future

Design Your Life

As a certified career counselor and life coach, I’ve had the unique opportunity to connect with folks from all around the world this year through 45-minute Zoom coaching sessions. What I love most about what I do with clients is helping them build hope by understanding their career narrative and how it’s impacting them so they can move forward with new strategies for success. 

Many of my life coaching and career counseling clients – and myself included! – are experiencing a deep upheaval of what we know about ourselves and the world of work because we’ve needed to adapt so much of our lives this year. 

Work is foundational to our lived experience because our careers really impact every other aspect of our lives! Have you thought about it this way before? In fact, I bet you can’t think about a day where you haven’t thought about your career! That’s especially salient as we round out 2020. So, let’s start by having a quick check-in with yourself: how are you thinking about your career? What’s your current career narrative and how is it impacting your day-to-day life?

A Year That Changed Everything

I remember at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us were adjusting to working from home and trying to understand how to be in quarantine with family members, roommates or on our own, all while attempting to find toilet paper products and hand sanitizer that had somehow vanished overnight from every store within a 50-mile radius. Our basic physiological needs – the foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid – including access to things like food, water, and shelter, were drastically impacted due to a health crisis that changed the world in a matter of a few weeks. 

In modern society, the way we meet our basic needs is through having a sustainable income (aka having some sort of a job) and the rates of unemployment skyrocketed across the board because a virus prevented us from conducting business in the ways we were used to. 

And, yet, we were doing our best to cope by baking bread, watching Tiger King, and learning how to host Zoom happy hours to connect with our people. We went on springtime walks to get fresh air, read books or did DIY projects, and watched as social media transformed into an information sharing platform and a vessel for social change, rather than a place to simply view cat videos and share photos of our weekend escapades. 

I recall checking news headlines more frequently than I ever had, even though I knew things were bleak, and watching case numbers rise seemingly exponentially day by day. Every large group gathering from concerts to weddings to places of worship were cancelled or closed to protect us from this devastating virus. Workplaces were shut down, entire industries and supply chains affected, and millions faced unemployment. Anxiety and fear were commonplace as we awaited some sort of hope to grasp onto.

One of the highlights of hope from March to May was seeing people doing what people do best in times of crisis: showing kindness, rallying together in support of our essential workers, and staying at home as much as we could to flatten the curve. John Krasinski hosted the popular YouTube series, Some Good News, during that time as well and we watched dreams come true in magical ways, participated in virtual prom, and found inklings of hope in the uncertainty.

Flash forward to the end of 2020 and those days of quarantine seem like eons ago! Since then, there has been a continued deep sense of turbulence felt with no end to this global health crisis in sight. And, now that it’s December, we’re also continuing to address systems of power and privilege, dealing with an election year, and trying to figure out what the holidays look like in the middle of a pandemic. (Thanksgiving dinner on Zoom sound familiar, anyone?) Maybe the hope we need is that we’ll get a glimmer of hope in the coming months; but hope seems to be in short supply.

I share this spiel to shine light on the layers of the 2020 experience because nothing really looks the same nowadays as it did before. We’re settling into this “new normal” and reflecting on the immense losses we’ve faced collectively while also trying to envision what we want 2021 (and beyond) to look like. 

So, how do we plan ahead when nothing is certain? As a career counselor and life coach, I argue that the answer is through a process I like to call career flow and life design. Here’s what you can do RIGHT NOW to amp up your hope and construct your pathway forward!

Using Life Design to Construct Your Career

We are in the midst of the third paradigm of career development known as life design. But it hasn’t always been this way! Don’t know much about career development? Here’s a very brief history: 

  • Vocational guidance: workers have certain traits that link them to certain jobs, where it’s assumed that our skillsets remain static over time

     

  • Career education: people should pursue certain educational opportunities to train them on how to launch their career in a certain industry, where it’s assumed that industries and jobs will remain stable
  • Life design: individuals can gain understanding of who they are and what they have to offer the world, where it’s assumed that nothing is static or stable so we must design the future ourselves

Which paradigm does your career currently exist in? If it’s vocational guidance, you probably knew that you were good at something from a young age so you pursued a pathway that lined up with that skill. If it’s career education, you probably have some sort of educational background that linked you with a certain career path. OR, if you’re like most of my clients, you thought you had an idea of your skills and pursued certain training options like we’re “supposed to”, but aren’t finding a fit in the modern world of work or are overwhelmed by the options.

What you need is career flow experiences to build your hope and life design strategies to build your future!

And, as you can imagine, finding hope and designing your life is more relevant now in 2020 than it’s ever been before because the way the world used to be is no longer the reality – at least, for now. We’re creating a “new normal” for how the world operates and it’s met by a need for creative solutions in how we think about our options.

The following tips are for those of you reading this who are currently seeking work (or know someone who is!) and who are trying to plan for the future. My hope is you can use these tools to refresh your current narratives and beliefs about careers, knowing that regardless of the struggle, you can do this and you’re not alone

Career Flow Job Searching

If you’re currently job searching and finding yourself feeling frustrated by the process, you’re not alone. It can be so debilitating to put in so much effort to fill out job application after job application with no response from any employers. Oftentimes, when I meet a new client who’s experiencing this hopelessness about their job search, I want to check in on their process that led to where they are now and help them focus on the specific aspects of their search that are stifling their progress.

To do this, we talk about career flow, which includes six competencies that help us build hope in our process. Career flow is not like psychological flow – it’s recognizing that our careers will evolve over time and our task is not to simply “go with the flow” but to “be the flow.”

To evaluate your own career flow in this moment, use the following prompts:

  • Hope
      • If I’m feeling stuck, do I believe I can solve this problem and find a job?
      • Do I believe there’s hope for my career future?
      • Can I make a difference in this situation?
  • Self-reflection
      • Can I identify what makes me happy right now?
      • Do I reflect on what’s important to me before I make important decisions?
      • How are my career circumstances influencing me right now?
  • Self-clarity
      • Have I thought about what motivates me in my career or studies?
      • Do I know what I’m good at, what I enjoy, and what is important to me?
      • Can I identify the life roles I hold, besides my career?
  • Visioning
      • Can I imagine future possibilities for myself?
      • Have I thought about what my life and career could look like in 5 years from now?
      • Do I have a clear vision for my future?
  • Goal Setting & Planning
      • Have I set any long-term goals for my future?
      • Do I have several things I’d like to accomplish on my way to seeing my long-term goals achieved?
      • Can I set specific goals for myself for the next month?
  • Implementing & Adapting 
    • Am I currently monitoring my plans and actions so my goals are met?
    • Have I evaluated the effectiveness of my plans recently if I’m not meeting my goals?
    • Do I know how to adjust my plans – even in the midst of uncertain, trying times?

 

If you answered NO to any of the questions posed above (very common!), here are some useful action steps you can take to develop your career flow:

Take the time to reflect on the outcome you’re hoping for from your job search

Are you looking for a long-term position but having no luck tracking one down? With the uncertainty in many industries, or if you’ve been in job searching mode for months on end, it might be time to find a bridge position. 

What I mean by this is landing any role that you’d be willing to do for the next few months as you continue to look for a long-term job in your field. My best advice is not to worry about what the job is itself; think about it in terms of the types of skills you have and the experiences that would be enjoyable to you.

Tap into your network and build connections 

We’ve all heard it: network, network, network! But how many of us actually know where to start on that front? Networking is important, as it’s been found that around 80% of available jobs never make it to a job board. So, think about who you’d be interested in connecting with to learn more about a job or an industry from: you have a warm network (folks who you know or who know someone you know) and a cold network (literally anyone else!). Ask for a virtual informational interview and see what you can learn!

Tailor your resume when applying for positions through job boards

Job boards are still a great place to keep your eyes on, because you never know what will be posted. Ensure that if you’re applying to a position through a job board that you’re tailoring your resume to that job and company. 

To do this, look at the keywords in the ‘required qualifications’ section – take 5 minute to list them out and include as many as possible on your resume and cover letter. The best way to do that is to use what you already have written and then switch up the keywords as necessary. 

Many employers and recruiters use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and will see how much of a match your materials are to the job search. You won’t have to worry about that if you’re able to tailor your resume!

By implementing the strategies of career flow, you’ll be more intentional about your job search and have a direction to go in. Take the time to think about what your end goal is, who you might be able to network with, and how you can tailor your current materials to any jobs you apply for. And, consider working with a career counselor if you’re feeling a bit lost on where to begin. It’s completely normal to be feeling this way and we’re here to help you build the career that you’re hoping for! We can also help you navigate a tricky job market and find your confidence in that process. 

Life Designing for the Future

I’m a firm believer that career development work requires a sense of creativity to truly access breakthroughs. The things we subconsciously believe about careers based on our experiences or the experiences of those around us really do impact how we progress in our career development. 

Let’s use the Great Recession from December 2007 to June 2009 as an example. In terms of careers, many families experienced job loss or money insecurity, so a recent graduate who’s entering the world of work during that time frame might have the belief that the job market is unstable and uncertain due to a challenging and long-term job search process. This could impact their current career beliefs in 2020 when that instability and uncertainty is back in full force. So, if they’ve lost their job this year, they might find themselves in the same headspace as they did more than 10 years ago because they’re experiencing yet another tumultuous job search. 

We repeat what we don’t repair.

If you’re holding onto tough career-related experiences from your past, it’s time to see what can be healed in this current moment. Or, if you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed by your career, it’s time to move from this passive suffering into active mastery and see what advice you can lend yourself in times of struggle. And the way to accomplish that is to tap into your career story and narrative and to construct your career with hope for the future, while also developing career adaptability to take you into the uncertain future!

Whatever your career or life situation is as we approach the end of the infamous year of 2020, I’m here to strategize with you about how to create a hopeful career pathway that will allow you to plan ahead and continue to dream, all while developing your career resilience in the face of uncertainty. As a career counselor and life coach, I help clients from all over the world create a hopeful career narrative that allows them to confidently move forward and build momentum through my three step coaching process of exploration, clarity, and action. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck in your career, this article was written for you and I’d love to connect to provide additional support in your own journey!

Best wishes, warmest regards,
Elise Ross, M.Ed., NCC, CCC, LPCC 

 

 

Dr. Rachel Merlin, DMFT, LMFT, M.S.Ed.

Elise Ross, M.Ed, CCC, NCC, LPCC, helps people get unstuck! Whether it’s a career concern, personal challenge, or the need for something new, she will partner with you to identify strategic ways to achieve your goals and be your best self.

 

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

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