January is when many of us will find ourselves setting a new year career resolution. This will be the year we focus on what we really want from work, moving on to something bigger, better, more fun and more suited to us.
The trouble is – if you’re like most people – you’ve been here before. The euphoria of good intentions soon gives way to the cycle of uncertainty, fear, over-commitment and defeat. Before you know it, another year has passed and you are still in the wrong job failing to realise your potential.
But what if you could cheat the system and override the habitual challenges that cause you to break your new year career resolutions? Well, here’s how:
Identify your personal values and strengths
Most of us find it easy to articulate what we don’t want from work – but working out what we do want is trickier. So how do you figure out which path is right for you?
Understanding your personal values and strengths can be useful for career decisions. Consider them checkboxes to filter out what you don’t want from a job.
Values are your personal guide for the way you need to live and work in order to be happy. By aligning your job with them you can avoid value conflicts in your chosen career and benefit from the fulfilment that comes with values-based work choices.
On the other hand, strengths are the natural talents we each possess. Often we don’t recognise them because we tend not to value what we’re good at. By identifying your innate talents and finding a role that enables you to use those strengths, you are much more likely to feel engaged, motivated and successful. To identify your top five strengths, check out the Strengths Finder 2.0 book and related online test.
Overcome fear of failure
This is likely to raise its ugly head when you’ve got a reasonable idea of what you’d like to do for a living. “What if I don’t succeed? What if this isn’t realistic? What if I end up penniless and living on the streets?”
Fear of failure does a fantastic job of standing in our way. And if you have tested the water with a new idea and it hasn’t worked, that failure might stop you in your tracks.
Meeting this challenge head on requires an approach that isn’t intuitive: deliberately trying to fail.
Take some time to identify a roadblock that is preventing you from moving towards the career you want. For example, are you worried about your skills? Or what friends and family will think?
Use those roadblocks as the focus for an exercise where you actively aim to get rejected. Take steps to get rid of any obstacles in the way of your career goals. For example, this might involve applying to different colleges to learn a new skill, testing out your career idea on friends and family and asking for feedback, or asking industry gurus to share their own experience with you – all with the expectation that you will be turned down, ignored or unsupported.
This might sound ridiculous, but the psychology behind it is clever. By aiming for and expecting rejections, rather than success, any knockbacks or failures will be less likely to cause you to give up. And the reality is, in having lots of attempts, some things will inevitably work. In trying to lose you’ll likely experience some important wins along the way that propel you forward and build momentum towards the career change you really want.
Watch out for commitment overload
With a clear idea of your career goal, watch out you don’t overcommit. Our tendency is to set the bar extremely high on what we will achieve, while assigning an impractical timeframe in order to achieve it. This makes our goal feel onerous, miserable, overwhelming and unrealistic, causing us to give up after a short time.
To outsmart this pitfall, break your career goal down into small steps – seriously small steps. Get a piece of paper and write your goal on the far left. Then work backwards, identifying some of the key components to achieving it. For example, if you want to set up your own cafe, key components might include the food you’d serve, the venue, marketing, financial backing, etc.
Then choose the component that feels the easiest and most fun and start working backwards, asking yourself what you’d need in order to have that piece up and running. Keep going until you have some really tiny steps.
Once you’ve got some really small steps, have a go at one or two of them, all the while treating it like an experiment that might just give you useful feedback.
Building up to it in this way prevents your mind from fighting the move towards your career resolution because it takes the big deal out of it. It stops the mind chatter we all have that argues that the goal is hard and why we should give up.
Small steps require less discipline, lower the mental barrier to change and, importantly, feel good as you start to build momentum at the right pace for you.
So for big change, and to increase the probability of keeping your 2016 career resolution, determine your values and strengths, aim to fail and think small.
Alison O’Leary is a career coach and founder of Live True.
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