Career & Work Life Matters, ISSN 2150-6299, Vol 6, no. 1
Create Your Personal System of Career Triage in 3 Steps
Nobody wants to have to go to hospital for a medical emergency. But if you do, you want to feel confident that the staff there will be able to make good decisions under stress.
If you’re changing careers, you too are likely be making important decisions in a context of uncertainty and stress. So what can we learn from how emergency departments handle this?
Yes, the staff are trained. Hopefully some of them are highly experienced. But training and experience is not enough.
Emergency departments have systems. One essential system is the triage system.
Triage provides a standard method of assessment that enables staff to decide quickly how to allocate resources and prioritize who to treat first.
Career change may not be life-threatening, but it involves core aspects of your life. It involves important decisions.
You may or may not have chosen this career change. You may have a lot of experience or little experience of career change.
Whatever your circumstances, developing your personal triage system will help you reach your goals with less overwhelm.
So what should your personal triage system involve? Here are three simple steps you can take to enhance your ability to manage overwhelm.
1. Identify and Practice your Personal First Aid Response
Even if you initiate your own career change, it can be stressful. You may feel surprised about how deeply it affects you. To some extent feelings of overwhelm is a protective response. But if you don’t understand what is happening, your response can be another source of worry.
As human beings, we have evolved to scan the environment for danger. Negotiating the terrain between your familiar professional identity and the new one that you are creating can feel like you are under threat. Physiologically you may respond as if you are in physical danger with symptoms such as increased heart rate and dry mouth.
This is why you need a first aid tool that you can draw on. In situations when you notice that your sympathetic nervous system is ramping up, you can take steps to counterbalance this. The good news is that by being aware of what is happening, you can take simple steps to rebalance your physiology.
One of the most effective tools is to simply focus your attention on your breath. When we’re stressed our breathing speeds up and becomes more shallow. We may not even realize it is happening. The simple change of slowing and deepening the breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system. By doing this you enable your body to counterbalance the stress response.
If you choose this one first aid response and practice the skills every day, you will automatically know what to do you first notice your stress response. You have an effective tool to reduce overwhelm.
2. Create a Vision
Career change is often a non-linear process. There may be detours and readjustments as you get clearer on your goals and the opportunities available. So how do you stay the course when the future is still unclear? How do you stay motivated when you are still building your path?
One of the most effective things you can do is to create a vision for where you want to go. This may seem counterintuitive. How can you create a vision if you’re not yet clear about what you want to do? This is a time to draw on your imagination and personal experience.
Luckily your imagination is happy to operate without specifics. Use your imaginative powers to jump to the future. For example, you could imagine and describe a perfect day at work in words and/or images.
You can also draw on your experience up to now. The chances are you know more than you first think. Rather than focusing on what is still unknown, begin to record what you do know. For example, what are your strengths? What kinds of work environment have you enjoyed in the past?
By reflecting on your personal experience and tapping into your creative self, you can begin to create a vision for your future. Keep this handy for those days when doubts creep in and you wonder if you’ll ever get out of this messy period.
Think of your vision as a lighthouse. When the sea is turbulent, the lighthouse will always be there shining in the distance. You may not be able to see land yet, but you can chart your course in the direction of the light.
3. Carve out Planning Time
Many of the professionals I work with have invested a great deal of time, effort, and finances in education and training to become experts in their profession. However, this preparation often omits career management skills. This means that there is often a lot to learn at a demanding and stressful time. So how do you avoid the overwhelm of too much to do? How do you know where to begin and how to focus your efforts?
One of the best ways to keep overwhelm at bay is to think of your career change as a project that you need to manage. Regardless of your professional background, you have experience of managing projects. Even if it’s a while since you’ve changed careers, and you’re worried that your skills are rusty, you can draw on the skills you do have.
The first step of any project is to plan. Think about previous successful projects that you have completed. How did you plan the project? Did you have a process of regular review? If you get into the habit of setting aside a time each week to plan your career change and taking stock of where you are, you will have taken one of the most important steps you can take to reduce overwhelm.
Although you may share similar experiences with other career changes, the experience of career transition is also very personal. It is influenced not only by your unique situation but also previous experience and personal history.
Just as emergency departments need triage systems to function effectively in stressful situations, you too need tools to manage the stress that is often part of career change. You need a personal triage system. Your most effective approach to managing career change overwhelm will be the system you customize for yourself.
If you take these three steps – develop your personal first aid response, create your own vision, and take the time to plan on a regular basis – you will be well on your way to a more manageable career change.
|Jennifer Bradley helps professionals lead their own careers, empowered with the information, tools, and resources that they need. She offers individual coaching and consulting, teaches classes, and publishes articles on career development and career transition. If you’re new to the Career & Work Life Matters Blog, and would like to discover more about your personal career management skills, request a Free copy of the Career Scorecard.|