Purposeful Pivots: Finding Confidence and Success in Times of Unexpected TransitionFeatured

In January 2020, all my plans fell apart overnight and COVID-19 had nothing to do with it.

Let me explain: I had been living abroad for the two years prior doing a combination of consulting and nonprofit work and had just landed a full-time gig that would allow me to stay in the city I had come to love much more permanently. I came back to the US for what I thought was a temporary holiday to see family and get all the paperwork sorted out for my new position.

Simple, right?

I was confident, excited, and eager to continue establishing deeper roots abroad. Even when the timeline for approval kept extending, I stayed optimistic - I just rescheduled flights, adjusted my start date with my new organization, and apartment-hunted from afar with my soon-to-be roommate.

But one extension led to another, and ultimately I found myself opening an email on the morning of January 24th, 2020 to a very definite “no” on all my plans.

For all that I didn’t know at that moment, I knew one thing clearly - I had to make a pivot. The question was, how?

First, I acknowledged my expectations and tried to distinguish what I’ll call my “hierarchy of wants.” I knew I wanted to pivot from nonprofit to for-profit work, and I knew I wanted to continue to live abroad in the city I had come to love. I had hoped that I could do both, and thought that I had found a way to do so, but when that option disappeared I was forced to identify what I wanted most.

When faced with that decision, I quickly realized that what I wanted most was the career pivot, not the place. This helped me answer the biggest question of whether to pursue other paths that would get me back overseas no matter what my job was, or paths that would help me find a job I loved no matter where I was. I realized that my priority was what I was doing next, not where I was doing it.

My next step was to drill deeper into that “what” - simply saying, “I want a for-profit role in the US” is not exactly going to narrow down my next steps. Plus, since I was trying to switch industries AND roles, I knew I had to be a lot clearer on my priorities.

In order to do this, I identified themes in the things I had done. Even though I had had a wide variety of jobs, I saw that what I loved most in each of those were the times I was able to work directly with people and that I got to help look across a whole organization and set strategy. As I evaluated this, what has now become my personal and professional North Star began to emerge. What I love to do, no matter where I am is to help remove what isn’t needed and protect what is in order to unlock a person's or organization's full potential.

Once I realized this, I saw again that this was something I could do almost anywhere, so the main priority didn’t need to be finding a certain type of organization in a particular place, but rather finding a place where I could help fulfill that personal and professional mission.

With this in mind, I evaluated my long term goals - I tried to get out of the “perfect” next step mindset and into the “best” next mindset - if my dream job was x, what role would be the best next step to achieving that? What would set me up to continue to learn, grow, and challenge myself?

Next, I simply started to take action. There’s nothing so profound or glamorous about this stage, but it’s critical - even if we identify all the “best” answers to the questions above, it still won’t land us a job or give us a next step unless we start acting on the realizations we’ve made.

I applied to jobs, I scheduled networking calls, I did a LOT of writing trying to figure out how to explain my unconventional resume, and ultimately, I found a role that was a wonderful fit for the time. But my journey to answer the questions I shared above has been an ongoing process - I loved the job I landed in March of 2020, but I knew it probably wouldn’t be my job forever.

As I learned and grew there, my answers to those questions became more clear, and eventually led me to start the job search all over again, and make another big pivot from a small business to tech in March of this year. But the decision to make that change felt much less like a total shift, and more like another step on the journey towards my long term goals, and another opportunity to follow that North Star into a new environment.

It’s now been over two years since everything fell apart, and in many ways I’ve never felt more confident in who I am, what I’m good at, and how I’m supposed to make my impact on the world. It’s not because unexpected things haven’t continued to happen - in the past two years the pandemic has raged on, I’ve been through another round of job change, and I see news stories everyday that remind me just how out of my control the world can be. And when things feel out of control, or circumstances surprise us, it’s tempting to focus on that and operate as if we’re victims of the things that are out of our control instead of proactively taking ownership of the things that are in our control.

So that’s my call to action for you today: If you’re in the midst of transition, pause.

Take a deep breath, acknowledge your expectations, and then start taking stock of what you know rather than what you don’t.

Think about your hierarchy of wants and needs, and use that to determine what your long term goals are.

Look at your experience and try to identify themes in what you’ve enjoyed, then use those themes as clues to determine what it is you really want to do next, and make a plan for how to achieve it.

I know from experience that this can be easier said than done, but I hope my story is proof to you - the same way it is to me everyday - of the value of taking those unexpected things as opportunities to step back, assess what you really want, and make some powerful changes.

Sarah, I'm in a similar transition phase. I have been for a while. What keeps me grounded is focusing on what I can get done and achieve today, rather than wasting energy on anxiety about the future, much of which is beyond my control. Maybe this is growth on my part, as in past transitory periods of my life, I had focused on the latter. As you likely encountered roadblocks, rejections, etc. in your journey, what other questions did you journal answers to which kept you motivated?
Hi Sarah! So glad to hear that you have been able to stay so grounded in this phase - progress like that needs to be celebrated!! You raise a really good question - I think a lot of what I journaled really boiled down to going layers deeper into those first, broad questions I mentioned. I took that theme of removing barriers, and I looked back on the details of all the roles that I had had to try and pull out themes of how and when I had done that, and what the outcome had been. So I think returning to some of the same questions that you've asked at other phases, and diving deeper into them with fresh eyes (and with the progress you've undoubtedly made!). I also would be remiss if I didn't mention how integral my faith and support network were in the transitory periods - I think that having people around you to remind you of your worth and greater purpose when you did face roadblocks and rejection is so important, and thankfully I think they can be found in a myriad of places (like this Elpha community!) when we put ourselves in positions to see and receive that support! Do you feel like you've been able to find a good support system in your own journey?
Yes, I am drawing support from various places and my heart is filled with gratitude because of it. I feel that I have a strong foundation, but I also feel sure and confident in myself in weathering the current macroeconomic storm I've been uprooted in and furthermore, I am certain there is sunny day after this storm passes. So in the meantime, I am just working on myself (and in ways beyond just career) to prepare for seizing opportunity when this storm passes.
There is always a sunny day!! It sounds like you have a great perspective. I just added you on LinkedIn - let's stay connected here and there! I'm excited to see where your journey takes you!
@sarahgray, thanks for sharing! I am also seeking to transition from the non-profit sector to tech and I realized that my biggest hurdle was feeling worthy, deserving and qualified for a position in tech. I am struggling to quantify the work I've done because I was responsible for ops/marcom/programming, finance, outreach. I am going to implement your suggestion of trying to identify themes and see what comes up. :)
Feeling worthy & quantifying work is such a big challenge! I've often felt like I'm literally translating skills into a new language, but I'm certain you'll be able to do it!! I hope the exercise of identifying themes is helpful to you - would love to hear what you come up with once you do! :)