Career transitions and mindset
Let's say it as it is: going through a transition - either in our careers or in any other areas of our lives - is a deeply disruptive process. The degree of disruption varies according to the individual but it is a fact that all of us embark on a challenging journey.
Not knowing where to start, a sense of loss, throwing away our investment in the old career, no time to explore options, no intention to start all over again, fear of making a mistake again, uncertainty about how it will be... does this sound familiar to you?
Most of the time we have a hard time articulating what we want to do but we clearly know what we don't want to do.
The truth is transition is not just change. Transition is a deep psychological process where we are moving away from something familiar while approaching an unknown territory.
Career transition can be quite challenging as we gradually leave a known world of meanings, roles, identities, and connections that we have built and strengthened along our journey.
Work can be such a central identity: quite often we identify ourselves with our work; our job becomes our "calling card" to others; it represents our achievements, our agency, our relationships; it is our habit, our practice, containing so much information about ourselves.
While we have evolved in our careers, we have developed a complex constellation of attributes, beliefs, values, preferences and experiences that we have encapsulated in our professions. We have built relationships and created expectations from ourselves - and from others. Along the way we have created our own story to the extent that this story has become us. This same story offers us comfort, safety but at the same time can hold us back from moving.
Transition is a very subjective psychological process. It takes quite some time because we need to disengage with the old identities that have anchored us and start to gain experience with alternative possible selves.
What is a list of possible selves that can guide us through this transition? This is a question I invite each one of us going through a transition. The list allows us to be who we are at this very moment (incoherent, inconsistent, divergent and multiple).
As we embark on this journey, we start to open up possibilities that are not always coherent (we can compare and contrast, taste information, we don't commit to something immediately). We can start building new connections in the periphery of our networks, we talk to people who manifest our possible selves in their jobs, we can volunteer, work on side projects, start our own side hustle business - whatever helps us to get into a place where we can commit to something more permanent, and most importantly, something that brings us energy, vitality and purpose.
There are different phases on a career transition journey - each one of them is unique and presents its own challenges. We can very often experience conflicting emotions and ambivalence because it is really a process of questioning our own identity. There is also plenty of evidence saying that the key to getting the most out of this process is living it as an opportunity for self-innovation, liberation, pleasure and expressivity.
One of the key strategies for us to make this journey more pleasant - and successful - lies in our mindset. Our mindset is a set of beliefs that shape how we make sense of the world and ourselves. It influences how we think, feel, and behave in any given situation.
Carol Dweck, one of the world's leading researchers in the field of personality, social psychology and development psychology, maintains that there are two basic mindsets: fixed and growth. If we have a fixed mindset, we believe our abilities are fixed traits and therefore can't be changed. We may also believe that our talent and intelligence alone leads to success, and effort is not required. If we have a growth mindset, we believe that our capacities and talents can be improved over time.
This is too hard, I won't be able to do it. This is not playing to my own strengths, therefore it's not worth my time. I haven't succeeded in the job interview because they already had in their minds who they would hire. I'm not good enough to make the change. This task demands far too much effort - I should do something that can prove my intelligence.
Does any of this sound familiar? The list goes on and on. Needless to say, if we remain in this frame of mind, it will be very unlikely that we will make any change happen. So, what do we do?
First of all, we need to acknowledge that we all have a certain amount of fixed mindset. Acceptance is the first step. Once we embrace this, we need to observe - not judge - what specifically triggers our fixed mindset. What is the situation that causes our fixed mindset to show up? How does it come across? How does it make us feel? What behaviours does it drive?
Let's just distance ourselves from it and get to know our fixed-mindset persona. Let's evaluate whether this approach serves us to get where we want to be. This is a very delicate process where we want to be gentle to us and maybe apply some self-compassion. This is an exploratory phase where we have a deep dialogue with ourselves, assessing how our mindset is moving away from what is important to us, and what actions it causes that move us away from what is meaningful to us.
Once we have built more self-awareness, we can take our fixed mindset along our journey where we commit to educate it, by taking actions that move us towards what matters to us. It's not just about taking actions and suppressing the mindset that holds us back. We need to acknowledge that it is there to keep us safe, to guarantee our comfort zone, to protect us from potential threats. We need to recognise that the fixed mindset is our ancestral brain doing its job of protecting us from our enemies, even though it doesn't feel like this to us.
Let's think about how we approach failures, deadlines, feedback, disagreements, and see what we can do to see these - and really anything in our lives - as opportunities for learning, improvement, growth, even when it takes a great deal of effort.
Moving towards a growth mindset and applying it into our career transitions - and any transitions in our lives - is a constant work of education, where we also think about plans to maintain our constant growth. This is when we can bring our possible future work selves to life, we start making sense of our new self-narrative, we start crystallising a story that makes sense to us.