Guest Post by Eleanor Beaton, Women’s Leadership Coach

Have you ever found yourself thinking about your job and wondering, “Is this it?”

There are aspects of your work that you enjoy, but increasingly, you find yourself dreaming about making a change.

If you’re lucky, you know what that change is — maybe it’s a job teaching sailing off Bali, opening a bakery, manufacturing perfumed dog beds, or launching a new financial planning app for youth.

But if you’re like many women in business who are aching for change, all you know for sure is that you want to make a move. A move to what is the question that keeps you up at night.

Whether you’re clear on your next career move or not, in this tutorial, I’ll outline a process I’ve used to help highly successful women in business chart a new professional course.

Step 1: Expect to be afraid.

As much as you may want change, there’s a part of you that is very comfortable with the status quo.

That’s fair. Like most people, you have probably built a lifestyle that matches your current income. The thought of interrupting that income in order to pursue a more meaningful career is scary.

Or, you may identify strongly with your title of senior manager or vice president or CEO or business owner. The idea of leaving that identity behind to try something new is equally terrifying.

Here’s what I know about fear: it’s an inevitable and non-negotiable aspect of change. If fear is the biggest thing stopping you from making change, here are some tools to coax you through the impasse:

Notice your fears, don’t invest in them.

Fear is a little like a 25% off sale. It’s everywhere. You see the signs, but do you stop, drop and shop each time you pass a 25% off sign at Dynamite or Suzy Shier? Hell no. You keep walking.

That’s the difference between noticing and investing. When you notice the idea of starting a business brings up fears you won’t be able to pay your mortgage, say to yourself, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’m having a fear that starting a business means I won’t be able to pay my mortgage. INTERESTING.”

And then, like the sworn Saks 5th Avenue girl you are, breeze right by the 25% off Dynamite tube tops. 

Say a mantra.

When it comes to personal fear mongering, I have the ability to roll with THE BEST of them, OK? I’m comfortable with this, because I know my fear is a signal that I’m beyond my comfort zone…which is where the magic happens.

But despite my champion self-coaching skills, there are nights that I wake up with the frantic, pit-in-my-stomach fear. When that happens, I repeat a mantra my mentor taught me: May I feel safe. May I feel protected. May I be at peace. By the three-peat, I’m experiencing a significant drop in anxiety levels.

Step 2: Become a student of yourself.

The first prescription I give to women who know they want to make a career change but don’t know what that change should be is to become a student of themselves.

Thought and intellect is not helpful when it comes to choosing your path.  Rather than trying to think your way to clarity, you want to begin paying very close attention to the things, people and places that fascinate and physically energize you. Buy yourself a journal, or hang a cork board on your favourite wall and begin keeping track of the things that intrigue, compel and (most importantly) fascinate you.

In the beginning, this exercise will torment your Inner Critic and Inner Evaluator, especially given your Type A nature.  That’s because the things that fascinate you are likely odd, diverse and seemingly disconnected: you might have a picture of hot pink heels next to a photograph of Jane Goodall next to an image of the parliament building.

That’s OK. The creative process is non-linear. As you create your next career move, you first need to identify the “building blocks” from which you will ultimately design it.

Timelines are helpful here, particularly for impatient or results-oriented women. Give yourself a period of, say, three months to simply notice — and document — the things that intrigue, compel and fascinate you. Eventually, you’ll identify a couple of options you’re ready to explore. Now you’re ready to move on to Step 3.

Step 3: Validate, validate, validate.

THE failsafe way to stay stuck, afraid and frustrated is to try and figure out in your head whether or not a potential business idea, service offering or potential job change is right for you.

I speak to many women who have had the same 3-4 (or more) “next step” ideas swirling around in their heads for months or years.

That’s like trying to learn how to play basketball by watching the game on TV. To play the game, you have to step on the court. Validation is the process that takes you from the safety of your mental couch to the vigour of the court.

Here’s how it’s done:

First, make a shortlist of your potential next moves. If you know exactly what you want to do next, your list will be very short.

Validation Phase 1: Exposure + Learning

Here’s where you devote a set amount of time (say a few hours, days or weeks) gaining exposure to your area of interest, or learning more about it. For example, let’s say you dream of becoming a professional speaker, but you have very little experience in the field and want to learn more. You might choose to give yourself a month to gain as much exposure to the world of paid speaking. You could:

  • conduct online research
  • watch TED talks (they’re not paid to do the TED talk per se, but many charge hefty fees to speak elsewhere)
  • explore the websites of well known public speakers
  • navigate your network to identify a paid speaker you could interview. Once you have some exposure and learning under your belt, you want to move as quickly as possible to Validation Phase 2.

Validation Phase 2: Audition

You might dream of becoming the next great Broadway star. So you invest in singing lessons. You learn how to tap dance. You study method acting. But until you actually audition, you’re not on “the court”. You’re still warming up. And while it’s great you’ve made it this far, you’ve still got to do the audition. No audition, no Broadway.

Take a look at your Next Moves. What’s the simplest, most cost-effective and fastest initiative you could undertake to actually move from the couch to the court?

An audition is any move that gets you real, live feedback from “the market” — i.e., real people.

For example, if you dream of starting of jewelry business, an audition might be to make some bracelets and put them on Etsy.

If you dream of launching a new consulting business, an audition might be to offer a free 30-minute talk or workshop to a relevant business group and then offer 5 participants a complimentary 30 minute consulting session with you. (If you get takers, you know your concept is needed).

If you dream of working in a completely different field, an audition would be to tweak your LinkedIn profile and resume to fit that field, then begin applying for jobs in that area.

Validation is about trying and failing quickly. Your first attempt is rarely a rocking success. But by moving from the mental couch to the real life field of play, you:

  1.     get moving
  2.     get valuable feedback that can help you
  3.     pivot your idea and try again.

If your first attempt to validate your idea is unsuccessful, this doesn’t mean you give up on your idea. It simply means you need to approach it differently.

For example, let’s say you’re an entrepreneur and you want to launch a new offering. Your audition might be to create a blog post teaching about your new offering, and then invest in Facebook ads that drive people to your blog post.

If no one clicks on your ad, you now have some information: either people aren’t interested in your offering OR there’s something off with the way you are communicating that offer. Either way, you know have data you can use to pivot accordingly and move deeper into your field of play. (Read: bye-bye sidelines!)

Go to www.eleanorbeaton.com/nextmove for a free worksheet you can use to help you follow the process I’ve outlined above and navigate your next career move. Simply click the button to download the worksheet, and I’ll guide you through a process to narrow your options and begin testing them out.

To wrap up: most women in business arrive at a stage where they’ve been, they’ve done and they’re ready to move on. The key to doing this successfully is to:

  •     expect and notice the fear that inevitably surrounds change, but not to invest in it.
  •     to become a student of yourself, and choose a path that’s not only practical, but fascinating.
  •     to move from the mental couch to the real world court by validating your ideas as quickly as possible.

That’s it for now, ladies. If you found this article to be valuable, please share it with two women you know who are looking to make a career change.