Feeling stuck? How to approach making a career change


Guest Blog Post By: Jodi Lastman

‘Pivot’ has become the hot word in startup circles. YouTube did it, Flickr did it and we should be able to do it too. In short the message is that abruptly shifting in the face of obstacles is cool and easy.

Those of us who have tried to pivot in our careers know that it’s nowhere near that simple.

In dance, pivoting requires that you put all of your weight on one foot and swivel. It requires an aptitude for rootedness and agility. One foot planted and one foot changing direction. It’s simply impossible to swivel when one foot is stuck.

When it comes to career change the biggest obstacle to a successful pivot isn’t knowing where you where you want to go, it’s getting your stationary foot out of deep muck long enough to change direction.

Negative thoughts are like a swamp. The feeling of stuck is the mucky bottom that keeps you from moving on. The leverage you need to get your foot dislodged to pivot is to take hold of those negative thoughts and to start to control them (rather than the other way around).

Cognitive Behavioral Psychology has transformed the field of counselling by revealing that our thoughts about situations bring about our feelings. If we feel stuck, it’s not because we are stuck, it’s because we think we are stuck. As Shakespeare said there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Negative thoughts are keeping us in a swampland of our own creation.

Somewhere between the situation and the feeling are a series of automatic thoughts that fire so quickly that they act on you before you can even hear them. Consider: You hear about a great job in social finance and you’ve always worked in traditional finance. The voices in your head say “I have no experience in social finance”…..then “they’ll never hire me”….. then “I’ll never go anywhere”…..then “I’m stuck here forever…” and the downward spiral continues.

Your thoughts trigger you to begin feeling paralysed by the current situation. How do you act when you feel stuck? Most people act like stuck people, keeping on doing just what they’ve been doing out of fear. Stuckness becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, creating more of itself ad infinitum.

I like asking people a simple question: “What is another thought you could choose that would result in a different feeling?” But here’s the kicker, you need to be able to believe the thought. This isn’t just the power of positive thinking and there’s no incense required. Those of us who are deeply affected by our automatic thoughts (and that’s most of us) default to cognitive distortions like all or nothing thinking, or jumping to conclusions.

If you were to adopt a more fair and balanced thought, you might reframe the thought as: “I have skills in finance that might be in demand in the world of social finance. I’m going to do some research to find out.”

If you can learn to talk back to your distorted thoughts you just wiggle that foot a little and see if something starts to give. The other good thing about challenging distorted thoughts is that you can create a new default system by literally carving out new, more optimistic neural pathways. A more optimistic mindframe will allow you to see opportunities that weren’t visible when your field of vision was narrowed by distorted thinking.

It takes a lot of work. Like yoga, it’s a practice. Here are some thoughts to get you started:

1. Build Awareness: Try to pay attention to the thoughts that drive your feelings. When you feel anxious or down, ask “What thought did I just have?” and take a  moment to write it down.

2. Evaluate your Thoughts: Review the common distortions list and identify if your default thinking drive is warped. Ask yourself, where will that thought get me? Is it serving my goals, or am I just feeding the swamp monster?

3. Realize you have a Choice: You are not your thoughts. You can adopt other thoughts, but it’s a new habit and it’ll take time. Write your thoughts down, and work on adopting new thoughts that will serve you better.

4. Take Thoughts for a Test Drive: You don’t have to commit to a new thought for life. Try it on for a while and see how it feels and how those feelings might trigger different actions and results. If the thought works for you keep it. If you don’t quite believe it, keep adjusting it until you do.

5. Test Hypotheses. You think that your corporate finance background doesn’t make you good fit for the world of social finance.  How can you test that idea? You might do some research online looking at Linkedin profiles of others who have made the change you want to make. Where did they come from? Chances are it wasn’t social finance. I find nothing comforts my clients more than knowing that someone like them made the change they’re considering making and succeeded.

6. Cultivate Optimism. Research shows that people who spend 20 minutes a day just journaling about what their “Best Possible Life” might look like are able to measurably increase their optimism. Like the swamp, it’s a self fulfilling prophesy. Optimism is proven to generate more optimism. It’s a virtuous cycle, rather than a vicious one.

Jodi Lastman is in the final stages of completing the Career Development Practitioner program at Conestoga College. She favours a narrative approach to Career Counselling. Prior to transitioning to Career Counselling, Jodi had a long career in marketing.  For the past five years, she has been General Manager of Hypenotic, a marketing company that provides Meaningful Marketing Strategy and Design for values-driven brands like MaRS, The Gladstone Hotel, Toronto Food Policy Council, Fiesta Farms and many others.

Like what she has to say? Follow her at @jodilastman
Read more about her here.   


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