Navigating Career Transition

We navigate many transitions both personally and professionally over the course of our lives.

As you navigate transition, it may be helpful to reconnect with what you are really wanting for yourself in your career and life and adopt a bias toward action.

Having the ability to articulate what you want in a career and life enables you to see your work and career (what you do and where you do it) in a way that is personally meaningful, engaging, fulfilling, and in alignment with who you are.

Many successful leaders will tell you that they did not have plans for their careers or specific career goals. Rather, they had an idea (an image) and an understanding of what they liked and did not like, as well as some general guidelines for how to lead their work and personal lives.

With this in mind, knowing what you want in a career and life is not the same as being able to define a specific job in a specific industry at a specific company. That may be a career goal, but it doesn’t tap into the deeper level elements related to satisfaction.

Having clarity about what you want out of a career and life is an essential ingredient to find job satisfaction and success. Knowing this will help you create a road map for where you want to go, keeping you focused on your long-term objectives.

It can be quite challenging to define what you are looking for in a career and life on your own. A career coach may be a helpful resource to guide you through this process but certainly isn’t a necessity. Regardless, it will take time for you to develop a vision for career and life, but it’s an investment that will pay dividends time and time again. 

The following exercises are tools to help you develop a vision for your career and life.

Exercise #1: A Glimpse into the Future

In just 10 minutes, write down thoughts on what you would like to have said about you at a dinner honoring you 5, 10, or 20 years from now. Questions to consider include:

  • What and/or whom did I impact or change?
  • What were my major accomplishments?
  • What did I show dedication or commitment to? What was I passionate or enthusiastic about?
  • What character traits and values did I consistently demonstrate over my lifetime?

Exercise #2: Peaks and Valleys

  • Peaks (3 minutes): Write down a situation in your life — whether you were at work, at home, or elsewhere — when you felt completely energized and fulfilled. What were you doing? Who was present, and what was going on?
  • Valleys (3 minutes): Write down a situation in your life that you really disliked or found demotivating and unsatisfying. What were you doing? Who was present, and what was going on?
  • Discussion and reflection: Describe your peaks to a friend or confidant. Ask them to listen for what these stories say about you and about what matters most to you. When did your energy rise or fall? Have them reflect your insights back to you.

What did you learn about yourself by completing these exercises? How could you use this information to create a vision for your future?

With new more insight in hand, it’s time to embrace a Bias Toward Action! What does this mean? It means instead of sitting and crafting a long plan of action, ask yourself: What is one step I can take right now? Go do it and see what happens.

Western Alumni Career Management has been working with the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (aka the to leverage design thinking as a principle to manage one’s career and life. Design thinking is a method of innovation that relies heavily on rapid prototyping and testing of new ideas, which can be applied to a career as readily as it can to a product or service.

If you are thirsty for more, check out Dave Evans and Bill Burnett of the Stanford Design Program bring a design-thinking approach to life and career questions