BUILD YOUR LIFE BY DESIGN
As a life coach and certified career counselor, I’ve had the unique opportunity to connect with folks from all around the world 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, career counseling, and executive career counseling clients — not to mention myself! — 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 these past couple of years. This instability is leading us to search for ways to deal with stress and burnout, and raising questions about work’s place in our lives.
Work is foundational to our lived experience, because our careers impact every other aspect of our lives. Think about it. Can you remember a single day when you didn’t think about your career even once? My guess is you can’t.
Work’s central place in our lives is especially salient as we round out 2020. So, let’s start with a quick check-in: How are you thinking about your career? What’s your current career narrative and how is it impacting your day-to-day life? And beginning from where you are now, how would you like to design the future?
Design the Future After 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, which had somehow vanished overnight from every store within a 50-mile radius (If you’d like some tips for staying calm through chaotic times, we have some for you here: “Intentional Living: How to Not Panic in the Panic.”). Even access to basics like food, water, and shelter — the foundational tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs — were drastically impacted due to a health crisis that changed the world in a matter of a few weeks.
In modern society, we meet our basic needs by having a reliable income (aka, holding some sort of a job). This system was disrupted when the virus prevented us from conducting business in the ways we were used to, causing rates of unemployment to skyrocket and leaving many Americans coping with job loss on top of everything else.
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 gatherings, from concerts, to weddings, to services at places of worship, was cancelled or closed to protect us from this devastating virus. Workplaces were shut down, entire industries and supply chains affected, and millions faced unemployment. Covid 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: having courage and being kind, 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,” and we watched dreams come true in magical ways, participated in virtual proms, and found inklings of hope in the uncertainty.
Flash forward to the end of 2021 and those days of quarantine seem like eons ago.
I share this spiel to shine light on the layers of the 2020 experience, because nothing really looks the same as it did before. We’ve settled into this “new normal” and are reflecting on the immense losses we’ve faced collectively, while also trying to envision what we want our lives to look like beyond.
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!
Build Your Life by Design: Constructing 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: In this model of career development, workers have certain traits that link them to certain jobs, where it’s assumed that their skill sets remain static over time.
- Career education: This model of career development presupposes that people should pursue certain educational opportunities to launch their careers 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. The “life design” paradigm assumes 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 you haven’t found 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, paired with life design strategies to design the future!
And, as you can imagine, finding hope and designing your life is more relevant now than it’s ever been before. We’re creating a “new normal” for how the world operates and it calls for creative professional development plans that incorporate new ways to think about your options to create your future self.
If you’re currently seeking work (or know someone who is) and trying to plan for the future, the following tips are for you. My hope is that you can use these tools to refresh your current narratives and beliefs about careers, with the knowledge that, regardless of the struggle, you can do this and you’re not alone.
Design the Future with Career Flow Job Searching
If you’re trying to stay motivated during your job search and feeling frustrated by the process, you’re not alone. It can be debilitating to put in so much effort to fill out job application after job application with no response from any employers. Often, 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” through a deliberate professional development plan.
To evaluate your own career flow in this moment, use the following prompts:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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 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? If you’re looking in an uncertain industry, 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 the job 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 percent 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. You have a warm network (made up of 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 through job boards.
Job boards are still great places 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 five minutes 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 your application being automatically filtered out if you’re able to tailor your resume. If you need some help with this, don’t hesitate to seek out a good resume writing service.
By implementing the strategies of career flow, you’ll be more intentional about your job search and on track to build your life by design. 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 as you work to create your future self, 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.
Design the Future
I’m a firm believer that career growth 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 financial insecurity, so a recent graduate who entered the world of work during that time might have the belief that the job market is unstable and uncertain due to a long, challenging 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 the adaptability to weather an uncertain career future.
Whatever your career or life situation is currently, we’re here to strategize with you about how to design the future in a way 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, life coach, and executive coach in Denver, 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.
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 as you begin to build your life by design.
Best wishes, warmest regards,
Meet Elise: a career development coach and therapist who 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.