I recently took a significant family vacation, which required a lot of planning, organization, and communication. As I thought about how we prepared for and experienced the trip, it occurred to me how well this process paralleled the career transition process.
When we decided to take a big trip, we started by gathering everyone involved, and discussing where we wanted to go. Not specific attractions or activities, just listing major cities/locations, and figuring out which destinations would work together. Before too long, we had agreed to a basic itinerary. In the same way, when you’re thinking about the next phase of your career, you want to start by discussing various options with other interested parties. You may have a general idea of where you want to go next, but it will be modified by requirements from others such as a spouse who can’t relocate, a desire for more or less travel, etc… Eventually, you will come to an agreement about what is required, and what is merely desired, in your next professional destination.
Once we had our list of destinations, we obtained as much information as possible about each one. We looked online, at both official and unofficial sources, as well as reading books (yes, actual dead trees). Learning about our destinations, their history and current offerings, gave us a better feeling for what to expect, and allowed us to enjoy the actual visit more. We added some things to our itinerary, and deleted others. In the same way, researching career options that appear interesting will reveal hidden aspects that will make them more or less attractive to you. The more you learn about a new field, the better you will be able to determine if that path is right for you.
We talked to people who had recently visited these locations, as well as people who currently lived there. When researching new career options, do you talk to people who have been doing that for a long time, as well as people who have just moved into that field? Both novices and experts have useful information, and provide information not found in any printed publication.
We also used a travel agent who was based at our destination, not in our hometown. Like a good recruiter, she had the inside track on current issues, but because we had done research on our own we were able to communicate effectively with her, and make more informed decisions quickly when she presented us with options.
Before we could leave on the trip, we had to think about what we would need for the journey, and pack it. Some things we already had, but others we had to go out and acquire. Similarly, a new job or new career path may require new skills, which you will need to acquire through education or experience.
Once on the trip, we pretty much followed our itinerary. However, we had purposely left some time unscheduled. An advertisement we saw while on the trip made us aware of a new attraction, and we used one of the gaps in our schedule to visit it. That detour turned out to be one of the high points of the trip for everyone! Just like in your career path, taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity can lead you in a whole new direction that you never knew you loved. You should always be on the lookout for new professional experiences, and don’t be afraid to take a chance and try something different.
Throughout our adventure, we tried to balance the interests and desires of everyone in our group. By the end of the trip, everyone had done something they really loved, many things they liked, and had spent some time completely bored waiting on the others. We adjusted our plans along the way as some activities turned out to be better than expected, and others were disappointments. Just like a career, where you will love some parts of the job and dislike others, overall you will hopefully find a balance that satisfies your own personal situation.
Now that we have returned home, the only thing left to do is sort through the pictures and memorabilia, and put it neatly into the scrapbook for whenever we want to revisit our adventure. The sorting and reflecting is important, as it allows us to look back at the experience as a whole, and learn from it for the next time. When you move on to a new stage in your career, do you take time to review the highlights and lowlights of the previous stage, or even of your entire career (maybe while you’re updating your resume)? Spending some time reflecting on your professional journey to date can provide valuable insights, and prepare you to make more informed decisions about your next destination – be it vocational or vacational.
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.