Baby steps to help you through career fog

Q: I’ve been doing the same job for the past 25 years – retail sales. I was reared in it and about 15 years ago I inherited the family shop. It’s all I know, and, to be honest, I am very happy doing it. But it’s fairly obvious my business is going downhill in these difficult times and I’m thinking about going before I am shoved, so to speak. But I have no idea what I might do next, and no clue where to start. Any tips – and I mean ‘early-stage’ stuff, not advanced? Baby steps. (DR, email)

A: Career fog is a deep fog: it can take over your life.

Self-doubt, uncertainty, anxiety – all of these are formidable foes, if not properly managed. Our capacity to make informed and appropriate decisions can be compromised by economic factors, and, if we are not careful, we find ourselves entering careers that are destined to leave us dissatisfied, unfulfilled and angst-ridden.

Based on what you have told me, I think your first port of call is to look into yourself. Get to know what competencies you have, what way you like to work, how you like to inter-act with other people, how you like to be managed, how you like to manage others, and so on.

Once you start to understand all of that about yourself, you can then start to look at careers where a person with that profile might look for career satisfaction.

A tip here is to look at yourself as if you were somebody else. That may take some of the emotion out of the matter. Be your own client, for the want of a better phrase. Whichever way you do it, you should mark yourself out of ten for the following competencies and attributes:

Communications – verbal, Communications – written, Interpersonal skills, People management, Problem-solving, Critical thinking, Numeracy, Statistical, Research strategies, Evaluation of information, Team working, Working alone, Influencing, Self-awareness,

IT skills, Commitment to learning, Customer Support, Cost-saving, Business intelligence, Business development, Quality control, Process improvements, Service driven, Project management,

Time management, Computer maintenance, Multi-tasking, Empathy, Assertiveness, Assume responsibility, Detail-oriented, Sociable, Tactful, Mentoring, Group facilitation, Meeting targets, Delegation, Idea generation.

From all of the above you should start to form a better understanding of yourself. People who have been ‘embedded’ in one sector for many years often struggle to see the broader application of their competencies and attributes beyond that sector. This exercise should help you to find the language you need to have about yourself so that you can project yourself into a new sector.

You could then isolate the competencies and attributes where you scored seven or higher. Does a pattern emerge? Show it to other people and ask them what pattern they see.

Others questions you might like to ask yourself at this juncture are:

  • Would you like to work in a small company?
  • Would you like to work in a medium-sized company?
  • Would you like to work in a large company?

We could go further with this, but all you wanted for now were baby steps. Next week, I will write further about this – I will create an imaginary profile based on some ‘seven or more’ scores and tease out where a person with that profile might go next to further explore ways of successfully exiting the career fog.