Tatiana Voloshina, TECHIIA's HR Business Partner, shares her experience on what you should and should not do during a career crisis.
This could be yet another column about 5 life hacks on how to act during a career crisis. Or a motivational speech on what not to do when you got sick and tired at work. But here I want to talk about something else:
- why it is crucial to distinguish between job burnout and crisis;
- what exactly you should not do;
- what points of reference will help in your career path.
Spoiler. The main idea of this column is to focus on the internal response. As a small exercise, I suggest you look for an internal response right now. Any point from this article that will touch you (make you happy, angry, upset) is probably the most valuable at the current stage. Try to pay special attention to it and think about what it means for your life and career.
Is everything okay with me?
A crisis is a transition between states. During this period, the old meanings no longer help, and new ones are not yet formed. The bonus is the search for answers to the question "Who am I and where am I going?" which might be quite painful.
From the work perspective, it may look like this. A person has a job and really likes what he/she is doing. The company appreciates his/her work, gives new tasks and opportunities for career growth and salary raise. Everything seems perfect. And this “perfect” can be within a year, three, ten. And one day this person starts tearing himself/herself with the "Why am I here and will I make history?" question.
Career crises often coincide with the age crises described in the classic works on developmental psychology.
For example, Eric Erickson defines the period from 19 to 60 years as Young and Middle Adulthood, during which a person seeks an answer to the "What legacy will I leave?" question. This period has two turning points:
- The quarter-life crisis. It is connected with the choice of life and career path.
- The middle-age crisis. The point when a person determines whether he/she has lived the past years as he/she wanted. We have to re-evaluate our desires and resources, let go of the impossible and make plans for what is still possible to achieve.
In addition to existential anxiety, there is also social anxiety: economic problems, pandemic, family needs. There is also some pressure from "successful people" from social networks. There are thousands of jobs and potential opportunities here and there.
Every day we are forced to make choices, to say no to something. And it hurts. As a result, the vast majority of us at least once in the last year had the thought: Am I stuck in my career?
Therefore, having this frustration every couple of years or more often is OK. And it probably will not go away. Rather, you will gradually get used to making choices more easily.
Crisis or Burnout?
Are crisis and burnout the same? It took me hundreds of career counseling sessions to learn that it’s not completely correct.
Job burnout is often the result of a broken "give-and-take" balance. An emotional and/or physical exhaustion is a clear sign of it. A human actively invests in this world but forgets how to “charge” from it: how to be recognized, how to rest and relax, how to accept support and help.
For example, you have long ignored the internal question "Why?". It blurred, and you carried on the hard work convinced that the new mission would come by itself. But what if you’ve run out of energy, and the new mission did not come yet? And you are simply too tired to understand what was the reason for this and who is the one to blame.
Therefore, the main thing we should do when we burn out is to get treatment. That is, rest, relax, recharge. In parallel, we learn to keep a balance between the World and Ourselves. Some people have enough discipline for this, others can be treated by short-term sessions with a psychologist or long-term work with a psychotherapist.
If a person had a good rest and recharged but did not see any new mission, this may be a sign of a crisis.
Because during a crisis you may be full of energy. The crisis is more about anxiety, which is always there every time we make a choice. You feel an inner tremor, a gap between the old and the new, or you have several unknown paths to choose from ‒ and you don't know what to do or where to go. You can turn this anxiety into suffering and self-indulgence. Or you can use it to explore your new abilities and learn more about upcoming changes.
The main thing is to forget about the "Everything is bad, so I just need to find my mission and everything will be fixed" myth.
Things to do and not to do during a job crisis
I will analyze some harmful stereotypes during the crisis and "mission seeking period" as well as their useful replacement.
Of course, if you are an adventurer by nature and/or your close ones are not heavily dependant on your life choices, you are unlikely to listen to the recommendations below. On the other hand, such people rarely seek advice :)
1. Do not quit the job if you do not have a cushion
By cushion, I mean money savings, which might give you the option not to work for three months. Another, more dependent option is to get help from the closest ones.
First, for most people in a career crisis, quitting without having another place to go is a big risk. As soon as the savings runs out, a person is forced to work not where he/she wants to, but where he/she has to.
Second, if you change your profession to one that you believe will make more sense to you, you will probably have a lower income first. In order not to be forced to drastically change your lifestyle and habits, you should be morally and mentally ready.
So what to do instead? Instead, you can go on vacation. But a real one. During which you can switch from current activities and observe different professions from the "What else could I give to the world and receive from it?" perspective.
Another option I’ve learned from my colleague at TECHIIA. If it was due to a career crisis that he wanted to quit, he first set himself a 2-3 months probation period. During this time, he tried different options that he had not previously considered. In one of the companies, after several such "probation periods", he tried everything he wanted and made sure that it did not work out for him. However, he improved his competencies that came in handy for the next job.
In such cases, I ask myself: under what conditions am I ready to stay? If you give it an honest answer, it becomes clear what to do. For example, I went to the manager asking to change something or asked what could be done with something I wasn’t comfortable with.
2. Do not decide on quitting during a vacation or immediately after it
This one is a trap. Your emotions are no longer intense and you might believe that everyone will support you in anything. But there’s no guarantee for this.
It is reasonable to think about this for some time, not just a day or two. A hobby or studying something new will help. An extra income in an area of interest to you is also beneficial. This is an easy and safe option to try something new. And also a test of how much time you are willing to give to another activity and time is the most valuable thing.
Seeking an interesting niche can take years. One day in a career counseling group, I asked my colleagues how and when they understood their specialization. It turned out that many, like me, realized theirs only after 5-6 years in the profession.
3. Keep the focus
In a crisis, a person can shift from one side to another ‒ from a six-month retreat to the opening of his/her own company. Especially if this person is multifunctional. In a sea of possibilities, it can be very difficult to make a decision.
My recommendation is to choose a specific intermediate goal in one of the directions and completely focus on it. For example, talk to five representatives of the job you strive for to better understand it. Or take an introductory course. Or find a mentor.
I studied law, but before graduating from university the list of professions I was interested in turned out to be as follows: journalism, editing, SMM, HR. I especially liked the HR direction, but I didn't really believe that I could, so I went to various interviews. It took a lot of effort, but the effect was zero. Then my boyfriend recommended: "Don't go anywhere until you have an offer for an HR position."
It turned out that if we keep focus, we will find a resource for non-standard solutions. In addition to the resume, I had recommendations, asked opinion leaders for advice. Three months later, I got my first job as an HR.
For those who find it difficult to choose, it is important to take a step at random so as not to keep wondering what’s next. If you have not guessed from the first time, then one way or another you will get to what you like the most. The rest of the options can be left as a hobby or something extra.
I also recommend contacting a professional career consultant. Not even one but several, because each of them has a professional view that is limited to certain areas.
4. Do not blame the whole profession
Crisis and burnout do not necessarily mean that it is time for you to move to another profession.
For example, the person might have internal reasons and the job itself has nothing to do with it. Or a family crisis is projected on a career, and a change of job does not solve anything.
If you blame the job, then perhaps you should dive deeper into the context. For example, the company demands too much from employees but gives little in return. Or you don’t feel right about companies’ direction. Or you don’t like the management style.
During my consultations, I suggest people describe the perfect job. These are a series of questions about how you want to see the activities, the manager, the workplace, the colleagues. On how you see your role in the company.
This way we define the pain points. For example, the problem is not in the job itself, but in poor interaction with colleagues or in the inability to fulfill all your opportunities.
Suppose a person understands that he/she does not like what he/she does and think: "Now I will change the job, start from scratch and grow my skills." I strongly recommend evaluating opportunities at your current place. Are there any ways you can benefit the company and gain new experience at the same time?
A career starts growing when a person goes beyond "what I can take" to "what I could do".
Bringing value to the company during a crisis is a remarkable thing. Once your opportunities meet the company needs, and no one else has done that before ‒ it’s a win-win.
Asking questions is yet another great option. Especially if you do not understand where you want to grow, but feel the potential. In a smart company, your initiative will be picked up.
So don't look for your mission just because everyone does. The start of something bigger comes from excitement, play, interest.
1. Crises come so that we find new ground and use it for ourselves and the world.
2. Do not quit before looking for new opportunities, explore, listen.
3. Energy is the main criteria of your needs. Ignore recognition and self-promotion. A calm but expressive inner response is important.
4. It is OK to worry about multiple choices and to stagger between them. It is important to keep the focus and to look for additional opportunities for your experience and income.
5. In today's world it is important to keep your hand on the pulse. But don't get a dead grip on opportunities. Study, consider, try. And allow yourself to give up on something you don’t need.
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