Taking Control of Your Career in Uncertain Times
Striving for a New Normal
In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to. -Dave Hollis
A friend of mine sent me this quote, and I have been ruminating over it ever since. It’s at once both simple and complex. What is my normal? How has my normal been upended personally and professionally? What will my new normal look like? Maybe the new normal will be better than normal, or maybe normal will be a thing of the past. How do I parse the parts of normal that I want to hold tight from those that I want to discard?
People who reach out to me are usually “stuck” in their normal, seeking clarity on how to be more fulfilled by their work. It is the “normal” that is causing them angst. In thinking about a new normal, people inevitably get mired in questions such as:
- What can I do?
What am I good at?
What do I want?
Where do I start?
How do I think about transition?
The transition from normal – whether in the face of a pandemic, an unfulfilling career or the loss of a job – can be extraordinarily stressful, unsettling, confusing, jarring, even debilitating. But if we can exert some modicum of control and get clarity about what is important to us, the exercise can be grounding and productive.
Here’s the secret. Success in transition comes to those who know themselves – their values, their strengths, their wants, and their needs. If you are methodical about considering each of these elements, you will create your vision and transition to the new normal with clarity and confidence.
What is important to me?
Values are “Principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.” Values are the cornerstone of our being. We only have one set of them, so whether we are considering a personal or professional transition, the same set of values applies.
Peter Drucker, the well-known business consultant, offered the following powerful observation in the Harvard Business Review, “…there is sometimes a conflict between a person’s values and his or her strengths. What one does well - even very well and successfully – may not fit with one’s value system. In that case, the work may not appear to be worth devoting one’s life to (or even a substantial portion thereof).” Values are arguably the ultimate test to gauge whether our vision for transition will be successful. Moving forward in a way that is not aligned with our principles may chip away at the core of what makes us who we are.
So, how do we define our values? Here’s the smell test. Do you know that feeling you get when something just doesn’t sit right? It is likely because your value system is in conflict with what you are doing or have been asked to do. This might also be an ethical dilemma. But there is a difference between your ethics and your values. An ethical decision is the difference between right and wrong, and the rules are pretty universal, while a value conflict concerns what is most important to you.
The smell test is useful in identifying situations where your values are being tested. But to proactively think about what is important to you in transition, consider the list of values contained in Brené Brown’s book Dare to Lead. Brené Brown’s research makes the connection between daring leaders and clarity of values. She sets forth a list of values in the appendix and suggests that the reader pick two that are most critical. I believe it is more useful to consider a dozen values that resonate with you. Those handful of values will be a good jumping off point as you consider what is important to you in your new normal.
What are my strengths?
In contemplating next steps, it is critical to take stock of what’s already working. What was going well in your normal? What did success feel like? When were you feeling like you were in the zone, and what strengths did you bring to bear in those moments?
Strengths are innate natural talents that can be enhanced with skills and knowledge. For example, you may have a natural talent for making connections with others, and by effectively networking, your talent develops into a strength as a rainmaker.
Research reveals that people who use their strengths every day are three times more likely to report an excellent quality of life and six times more likely to be engaged at work.  Tom Rath, author of Wellbeing and StrengthsFinder 2.0, notes that “Each person has greater potential for success in specific areas, and the key to human development is building on who you already are. You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.” 
Unfortunately, many of us have blind spots that stand in the way of identifying the strengths in ourselves and others. Here is one way to get started. First, create a personal inventory of your strengths by considering the following questions:
What is the compliment or acknowledgement I hear most often?
What makes me unique?
When was I most successful? What personal attributes contributed to my success?
Second, choose five people you know well (friends, family, colleagues) and ask them to consider the following questions as they pertain to you, and to share their thoughts with you:
What are my talents?
What are five adjectives you would use to describe me?
What makes me stand out from others?
Now, compare your inventory with the answers from these trusted individuals to help you identify your core strengths. Regardless of the type of transition you make, incorporating your strengths into the decision-making process will ensure that you are bringing your best self forward.
What Do I Want and What Do I Need?
When my son was entering middle school, he declared that he needed a cell phone. I suggested to him that he didn’t NEED a cell phone – he WANTED a cell phone. I clarified to him that needs are necessary for survival and wants make life more enjoyable. Clearly both are important for our happiness, but prioritization and trade-offs between the two are part of the deal.
The distinction between the two becomes blurrier as we mature, however. What was once a want can more readily become a need. Consider the employee who must care for an aging parent. Would a part-time schedule become a need? Or is it a want? Or consider the young married couple that lives and works in two different cities because one can’t find employment in the other’s city. Is geography a want or a need?
Whether wants or needs, there are certain non-negotiable items that are necessary for each of us to thrive. What would those be? More travel? Feeding your entrepreneurial spirit? Volunteering in your community? Working in a smaller office environment? Spending more time with your children or your significant other? Making exercise a regular part of your life? Changing your career direction? Moving to be closer to your family? Going back to school? The list could go on and on, but the important question is what are your wants and needs?
Once you have taken a personal inventory of your wants and needs, the last step is to ask yourself, “What would I leave behind?” and “What can I do without?” The first question uncovers the parts of your life or career that are dragging you down. They might be the day-to-day responsibilities that cause you to question whether you want to continue doing the type of work you have chosen, or the personal commitments you have made that are causing you burn-out, or the choices you have made that are leaving you wondering if there’s more to life.
The second question, “What can I do without?” requires you to make some honest observations regarding what is most critical to your happiness and wellbeing in the new normal. By thoughtfully pondering this question, and considering alternatives, you may conclude that you really don’t require all that you have. Perhaps you might even decide that the trappings in your normal are standing in the way of long-term satisfaction.
To be fair, life is a negotiation, and while you may have to compromise to get what you want or need, if you don’t try, you are simply settling for your normal. Mick Jagger’s words are apropos.
You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need…. 
Create Your Vision
Once you have defined your values, strengths, needs and wants, you are 90% there. The final step is to create your vision. Your vision will serve as the beginnings of a road map for your ultimate destination and a precursor to putting an action plan in place.
In creating your vision, the world is your oyster. Taking stock of all that makes you unique, what if your new normal turned out just as you wanted it to? What would that look like? How would you need to pivot to get there? What information would you need? What additional skills might you want? Who would you need to talk to? All options are on the table, and nothing is out of the question, because whatever you incorporate into your vision will define for you what it means to be personally and professionally fulfilled.
While we don’t know what will become of our “normal,” we should remember that we are in control, and by getting out in front, we can prepare ourselves for seizing opportunities that may come about in the new normal.
Elizabeth Hofmeister is the Founder of B.side Coaching & Consulting LLC. She works with clients to help them to develop their leadership skills, find passion in their work, navigate transition, and develop effective job search strategies. For more information on B.side Coaching & Consulting, visit www.bsidecoaching.com or contact Elizabeth at Elizabeth@bsidecoaching.com.
© 2020 B.side Coaching & Consulting LLC. All rights reserved.
 Oxford English Dictionary
 Drucker, Peter, Managing Oneself, Harvard Business Review, 1999
 Brown, Brené, Dare to Lead, 2018
 Rath, Tom, StrengthsFinder 2.0, 2007
 VIA Institute on Character
 Rath, Tom, Wellbeing, 2010
 The Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want