No need to figure out your entire career right now!
Updated: Mar 25, 2022
Discover your career one chapter at a time.
In the last few years I’ve started reading more. I had completely given it up when my girls were babies. The combination of “fog brain” and total exhaustion did not lend itself to focusing…on anything. Now that my daughters are a little older, I love curling up with a good book and getting carried away to other worlds.
When I’m reading, I can usually only manage one chapter at a time before I nod off, get a hankering for a snack, or get pulled into some household task. I assume that authors don’t use chapters just to give me a signal that it’s a good time for a snack or to head to the loo! They also use them to break up the story into digestible parts, give me time to reflect on what I've read so far, and draw my attention to the progress I'm making.
Each chapter of a book is like its own mini-story. It reveals a little more of the story to you: a new character or conundrum, important information to fill in the storyline, an exciting plot twist. What you learn in one chapter helps prepare you for the next chapter, even if you aren’t aware of how they're connected yet.
What would it be like if you approached your career like a good book, the story unfolding chapter by chapter?
Well, what would it be like if you approached your career like a good book? If you saw each chapter of your career as it's own mini-story with a storyline you're following throughout? What you learn in one career chapter is helping your prepare for the next, even if you're not aware it's happening.
Here’s the thing. You probably already are moving through your career chapter by chapter. You just haven’t looked at it this way before.
Take a minute right now to review your career trajectory so far. List out your jobs and experiences in chronological order and then group them into chapters, or mini-stories.
Here are my career chapters, starting in high school:
Chapter 1: Server at a terrible, cheesy (pun-intended) Mexican restaurant
Chapter 2: Teaching Spanish and English as a second language
Chapter 3: Immigration law and advocacy
Chapter 4: International education and study abroad
Chapter 5: Higher education and career services
Chapter 6: Career coaching/running my own business
I could also look at these same chapters like this:
Chapter 1: How can I make money to do the things I want to do?
Chapter 2: Testing out my college majors (Spanish/Education) - do I like teaching?
Chapter 3: I want to use my Spanish but I don't want to teach, and I want to help others
Chapter 4: Study abroad was so powerful for me, can I make a career out of it?
Chapter 5: I want to work directly with college students, what are the ways I can do this?
Chapter 6: How can I take what I learned in chapter 5 and make it more interesting for me?
Once you write down your own chapters, zoom out and reflect.
How does it feel to see your career laid out this way? What do you notice? What happened in each chapter? What did you learn or discover? What questions were you asking and answering? Who did you meet? How did that chapter help you land where you are right now? How did you know it was time to move on to the next chapter? Do you feel differently about a certain chapter now than you used to? How did you decide what your next chapter would be? Are there any overarching themes? Is there a thread throughout that connects all the chapters? What's your storyline?
The benefits of looking at your career in chapters
#1 - It helps you track your progress.
Look how far you've come! I’m not just talking about moving up the ladder here, though that can be great too. I'm talking about your personal and professional growth. What did you learn in each chapter? About yourself? What you're capable of? What you enjoy? About how to work with others? I bet you’ve worked hard, learned a ton, made important decisions, and tried to do what’s best for you time and again.
#2 - It helps you see your career in a whole new way.
You're so used to seeing your career one way. You have a certain story you've created to explain it to yourself and others. But when you see it broken down into chapters, it can give you a new perspective on the same experiences. Often, it helps you see the value in all the things you've done, even the jobs or chapters that felt misaligned with your goals at the time.
#3 - It relieves some of the pressure to figure out the rest of your career right now.
If you can actually see that your career has been a series of chapters so far, then there’s no reason to think that your next career move has to be THE ONE. The ONE job that’s perfect for you. The ONE position you’ve been building up to all this time. The ONE job that you’ll have for the rest of your career. All you have to do right now is figure out your next chapter.
You just need to figure out the next chapter of your career, not the rest of it.
I realize that even figuring out the next chapter is not always easy. Your story has to go somewhere, so where do you take it?!
Figuring out what your next chapter will be
Here are some prompts to help you start working through your options:
What do you want to learn?
Who do you want to work with?
What strengths do you want to use more frequently?
What do you want to prioritize?
What do you want your life to look/feel like?
What’s holding you back from starting a new chapter?
Your career story is unfolding as we speak! What you are doing right now is preparing you for the next chapter, whether you know it or not. There's no need to skip ahead to figure out what is going to happen at the end. You wouldn't do this in a good book, would you? That would ruin the fun.
I would love to hear how this way of looking at your career resonates with you. Or even see your career laid out by chapters. Share with me and others in the comments below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.