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Four Ways to Overcome “Career Drift”

By Kathleen Winsor-Games
NABBW’s Associate for Women and Work

kathleen winsorgamesIs your career moving forward on a path of your choosing and in a fulfilling direction?

Have you begun to feel that your career is something that is happening to you, without your guidance or input? If it feels as though your career has gone into a sideways skid and you aren’t sure how to regain control, read on for sure signs of career drift and what you can do about it.

For us Baby Boomer Women, career drift can happen for a number of reasons:

  • We took time off to be full-time mothers, or worked only part-time until our children were in high school or college
  • We were raised to expect that we would work for one company until we retired, and never learned how to look for a job
  • We were taught it is not polite to brag, so “self-marketing” and “personal branding” are foreign and uncomfortable concepts

Career drift happens when you proceed on your professional career course with no plan, or when a career strategy goes awry due to conditions beyond your control.

Consider these examples:

  • You made a series of reactive career moves, taking the next job because it was offered (without building toward long-term goals) and now you feel stuck
  • The company you’ve worked for these past 20 years has announced a massive layoff and you have discovered that the entire world of work, job search, and career transition have changed drastically
  • The boss who hired, mentored, and championed you within the company has moved on, and the new boss has gutted your job, thus halting your immediate growth path

If you are experiencing career drift, what can you do?

Before you decide to blast your resume to everyone you know, take a deep breath and develop a plan. Here are some crucial steps to a successful plan to get you back on track:

  • Get your story straight.

Give yourself time to process the feelings of resentment, disappointment, or guilt that may accompany the shock of recent changes. Why are you moving on? What are your greatest strengths and value to the next employer or client? Leave the emotional baggage out of your story, accenting what you learned in your most recent assignment and how that will help in your next role.

Take time to gather all of your “career assets” such as documentation of accomplishments, performance reviews, client letters of appreciation, and recommendation letters. Embrace the fact that you need to be your best promoter by organizing your success stories. How did you save money for your employer? Did you streamline processes, reduce errors, improve collections, or help retain key clients?

  • Think both short-term and long-term.

Buy peace of mind with interim assignments that strengthen skills for the future while ensuring current income. Use that breathing room to ask yourself challenging questions about what constitutes meaningful work for you. Pursue that work with passion, focus, and energy.

  • Mobilize your network in a targeted way.

Be thoughtful about how you ask for help. For the most part, it is more productive to ask for introductions and ideas about growing companies than direct leads to specific and current job openings. Establish a “give and take” mentality. Be respectful of other’s time. Be courageous and ask for help.

  • Find unique ways to stay top of mind.

Just because you invited a contact to coffee six weeks ago doesn’t mean they are thinking about your search today. What can you do that creates mutual benefit and keeps you top of mind? Pay attention to their interests and challenges, and keep them posted on your progress periodically, while also forwarding a relevant tip or brief article.

A final thought:

Find the opportunity inherent in this latest challenge. So many women in their 50’s, 60’s, and beyond are successfully reinventing themselves and creating meaningful second and third acts in their careers. This could mean inventing a new product, starting a consulting business, working for a nonprofit, or embarking on a new career closer to your values and passions.

One of the best ways to avoid career drift is deciding that you won’t ignore the warning signs. Hesitation can prove costly to your financial and career health, so make the commitment to take charge of your career now and for the long-term.

Kathleen Winsor-Games is the principal of The Winsor Group, a Denver-based boutique firm offering high-performance career and business coaching. Our mission is helping you to define career success on your terms. We help you find the work you are meant to do, and help you navigate the path. Check out our blog at www.thewinsorgroup.com/blog

Kathleen Winsor-Games Associate for Women and Work

Kathleen Winsor-Games brings over 20 years of experience as a coach, strategist and confidential advisor to professionals and executives from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies throughout the United States.  As an innovative thinker and published author, her programs integrate powerful techniques, processes and practical tools to promote positive change and encourage dynamic workplace communication and collaboration.

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