Is Your Career in a Valley?

- Sometimes the lows in our career can actually provide the best insight

It is April and Southern Indiana is blowing up with blooming trees, flowers, pollen...but today was back to more cold, wind, and snow flurries. YUCK! This spring I had the opportunity to spend some time away from the cold in the Caribbean, FL, and Phoenix. It was amazing, but the stark contrast in the weather has made this protracted winter even more disheartening. In a similar way, our career can have these same dreary and frustrating times as well.  

As I look back at my career over the past 20 years, I now recognize the peaks and valleys were as predictable and cyclical as the seasons. Those valleys held lessons for me. Lessons that would ultimately guide me through and to a career that I love. What lessons have I learned?

Valleys Provide Perspective

While I get discouraged after a prolonged winter, I find hope in spring and summer. It is easy to see this predictability in the seasons, but why do we have such a hard time appreciating and understanding the winters in our careers? First off, the seasons are predictable. Summer follows spring and fall follows summer. Every year. But, when we find ourselves shivering from the cold in our careers we're surprised and we lack certainty that spring is on the way.

Our lives are complex and cyclical.  Personal trials, in multiple varieties from multiple sources, are a given. Trials of any type or source can dramatically impact how we feel about our careers. Challenging events and change in any area of our lives can fuel our discontent.  Awareness is key in recognizing all the triggers for cold spells in our careers.  And, how our feelings and emotional reactions might be blocking the sun.

Valleys Teach Us

Even during the worst of times in my career, I can say that at a minimum I learned what I didn’t want to do. But also looking back, I recognize that the valleys weren’t just pointing out the aspects of the career that I didn’t like. They were forging me. The circumstances were teaching me valuable lessons about the ability to achieve contentment regardless of my circumstances. Not only contentment, but also finding joy in aspects of my work. How do we find contentment? One of the first steps is gratitude.  Sometimes it takes some dissecting and reflecting in a challenging situation, but in every day there is reason to be grateful. Try it with consistency. The practice of looking for reasons to be thankful has powerful consequences.

Finding joy in my work and pursuing excellence were keys that opened up opportunities to move into new positions that better suited my gifts and talents. Over the past 20 years, I have mentored a lot of people who seek out new jobs and new cities to improve their happiness. They ultimately find a job shift or new city only provides temporary happiness.  Unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way early in my career.

Valleys Motivate

The darker times in our careers can serve as inspiration to change something about ourselves or our circumstances. Like I discussed above, the first place to look to change is within. Our first question should be “What do I need to change about myself or my perspective to thrive in my current circumstances?” Valleys should cause us to assess and analyze our current status (you can use our free burnout quiz and resources to help) and deeply seek what we want out of life.

Valleys can also serve to motivate us to change our circumstances to better suit our gifts and talents. Maybe we need to start working to expand our skills to put ourselves in a better position for a promotion or a new job. Maybe we should seek the advice of a trusted mentor so that they can provide feedback of what we need to improve.

Further, you will want to define what ultimate life success looks like for you.  If you haven’t defined your personal and professional why (mission) statement, I believe defining this is essential for ultimate career happiness.

Looking back, the valleys in my career were important for developing a mindset shift that has allowed me to enjoy my career. I am thankful for the valleys.  The valleys became my peaks.

Is your career currently in a valley? Try this exercise by answering the following questions

  1. Write 3 three things you are currently thankful for in your job
  2. What POSITIVE perspective can I gain from my current circumstance?
  3. What action should this valley spur me on to have the courage to do?
  4. What should I learn or how should I shift my mindset in this valley?

Please share this post so that others who might be going through a valley in their career might get some hope.

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