Over the past year, I’ve spoken with several people who went through a career transition during the pandemic. At some point, they woke up to the fact that they didn’t want to spend their one precious life in dead-end positions with pressures and challenges they couldn’t resolve because the world was still in flux.
Add to that the stress of family and navigating a new home-life balance and it’s no wonder one word kept rising to the surface of our conversations – empathy. I feel a sense of gratitude that friends and business colleagues reached out and openly discussed matters of confusion, sadness and strength. That isn’t always a common practice in the business world and their vulnerability was not lost on me.
My friends were not the only ones searching for a new path as I was also at a crossroads on the next ten steps of my own journey. After a successful non-linear career, I left a c-suite role without any plan B. This alone was daunting, not to mention we were in the midst of a pandemic and global economic turmoil. I started applying for positions only to come in as a finalist, (always the bridesmaid, never the bride).
However, instead of reaching out to anyone for help I allowed shame, embarrassment, fear of looking like a failure and the fear of actually failing to keep me isolated.
It was during these rejections, and after failing to find a resolution on my own, that I took a step back to seek counsel from trusted individuals. I bonded more closely with my sister, mom and daughter as they helped me see my situation more objectively and guided me to step into my strength. With help, I was able to break down the emotions, fears and doubts I was holding onto that were still residuals of my negative work experiences. Processing through these inner saboteurs was a powerful step I needed to do to gain clarity on what I wanted to do next.
As my perspective sharpened, I acknowledged that my friends and I were mourning our past identities, forgiving ourselves for time lost to unpleasant work environments and were just beginning to open up to one another about our experiences. I felt a kinship with those who were also looking for their next job, role or transition. It felt like we were part of an invisible club, the transition club, and we were all in limbo and disconnected.
The added number of people in transition made it so daunting and I felt like a salmon swimming upstream. Each rejection or ghosting was like hitting a wave or a rock as I tried to swim to my destination. I saw, for the first time in a very long time, how challenging it can be to get your foot in the door, even when you have an excellent track record.
People don't return calls or they fail to follow through on a lead, connection or referral. People that you thought you could trust, somehow just don’t keep their word and the repeating statement of “you’ll find something soon, I’m not worried about you” is so deflating that it makes you wonder when the last time was that they were in this position.
This is where empathy became the key to how we could move forward, together.
As I listened to my friends talk about their desire to make a change, I thought about who I knew could help them and what opportunities I might be able to connect them to. I made calls and introductory emails to put people in touch.
This is not just networking; this is empathy in action.
If you are in a career transition, I encourage you to do these important things:
1 – Take the time to go inward and listen to your inner sage to discover what it is you truly want to do next. There’s no sense in making a transition if you are still guided by the same fears or inner saboteurs who landed you in this position to begin with.
2 – Don’t let your ego get in the way of asking for help. Reach out to your community and talk about your plans. Explicitly ask for introductions. Show up in rooms you haven’t been in before, like new networking groups.
3 – Consistently follow up on your leads.
4 – Show yourself empathy. Remember how far you’ve come and what you’ve already achieved. Find gratitude for this new phase of life and for all the wonderful lessons you’ve learned until now.
And if you know someone who is moving through a career transition, put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Remember a time when your future felt uncertain and how nice it would have been for someone to offer you hope and encouragement. Here’s how to put your empathy in action:
1 - Don’t assume someone doesn’t need your help simply because they have been successful in the past! (They might be like me and take a while to figure out how to ask for support!).
2 – Look at your networks or close circles and take the extra step to make an introduction.
3 – Reach out and let someone know you are cheering them on. Even if you are not able to directly assist in their transition, your enthusiasm and moral support is still extremely helpful.
It’s also important to remember that not all life/career transitions are by choice. Things like losing a job, graduating from school during a recession, or having to care for an ailing loved one also spur on transitions. Also, be mindful that transitions don’t usually happen instantly. If you are unsure about what’s next, it is ok not to have an answer. It is ok to sit with it for a while. Take the time you need to listen in, ask for guidance and take one inspired action at a time. Change is inevitable; but if we navigate it with empathy, we can learn to take one step at a time in the right direction.
If your are in a career transition and are looking to map your next steps, I hope you'll reach out. As a corporate consultant with an expansive network, I have the resources and relationships to help you connect with your next big dream. You can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.