Woman working from home with a child on her lap

Cultivating your career in a crisis

As a career fulfilment coach, I help women to create careers that they love. One of things I’ve often noticed is it takes a crisis at work for someone to decide they need to make a change.

The coronavirus crisis has had a huge impact on us all. Thinking about having a fulfilling career now might seem like a distant possibility when we are in the middle of a global pandemic, but there are many similarities between the journey my clients go on and the situation we are in today.

For many of my clients, the catalyst for working with me is a negative experience at work – a grievance, being made redundant, a health scare or the pressure of caring responsibilities. The women who come to me often feel overwhelmed, stuck and in need of some support to find their way through.

Typewriter with the words crisis on it

Our whole lives have been turned upside down and it can be very disorientating, but there are steps we can take to feel more in control and to make a plan.

Cultivating a fulfilling career isn’t about the big moments, the promotions or a new job – it’s about the small steps you take every day to make a career that works for you. It’s only by tending to our career every day, doing the work, that we achieve big results in the long run and now more than ever we need to be taking those small steps. We can’t change the situation, but there are lots of things we can do to get through it.

Recognising the scale of the change

When you are facing a difficult situation every day, it’s easy to underestimate how much of a challenge you are dealing with and the impact it is having on you. It’s only when you take a step back that you realise the pressure you have been under.

The last few weeks have been a huge period of upheaval. Families that often spent the day apart are now under one roof for most of the day. People living on their own who had a support network of friends and family are now physically isolated, and for all of us, something as simple as going to the supermarket has completely changed.

Take a moment to think about that – it’s a lot to deal with and however you are getting through this, you are doing a great job!

A pastel pink journal with a pen on it

Take ten minutes

While we may think that being at home all day would mean you have lots of extra time on your hands, in practice the day soon fills up with jobs and activities.

Have you actually stopped to sit and think about what has been going on or have you been rushing from task to task to get everything done?

Taking 10 minutes out of your week to journal what has been going on can help you to think about your situation.

Grab a cup of tea, a pen and paper (or a device if you prefer), find a quiet spot and write about how you have been feeling. Just let it flow. If you are struggling to write, then try these prompts:

  • How have I felt over the last few weeks?
  • What has been challenging for me?
  • What am I grateful for?
  • What would I like to change?

Try to write without judgment or criticism of how you are feeling and be kind to yourself. It is only when we take a step back from a situation that we can see what we need. Getting through each day is a big achievement and whatever you are feeling, know that this is valid and the first step to feeling in control and making a plan.

What really matters to you right now?

Women in particular are told that they can have it all. What we are not told is that this often means having to do it all, which at the best of times in unsustainable, let alone during a global pandemic. If we acknowledge that we can’t do it all, that we will have to make some compromises.

When you lose the things you once took for granted, such as being able to see a friend for a coffee and a chat, it can really highlight what is important for you. The same is true of our careers. Being faced with a change in situation can really make us appreciate what we love – or hate – about our work.

In the short term, we need to focus on what is important in our work right now and how that fits with our life. The boundaries between work and life are even more blurred than normal so being clear on what your priorities are will really help. If you have less time and attention to pay to your work, you want to make sure the tasks you are doing will have the greatest impact.

A flat lay of a to do list

The same goes for our home life, being able to let go of the things which are nice to have but don’t make the biggest impact can free up time and head space to focus on what will really make a difference.

To work out what is a priority for you, make a list of all the things in your career and life that are important.

  • For each area you list, write down what are the must haves that need to get done and what are the nice to haves that you could let go of.
  • Put the list into priority order.
  • When planning out your time work through the list of must haves first and then only move on to the nice to haves if you have enough time and energy.
  • Recognise that you may need to lower your expectations of what a must have is so that you can get everything important done.

Focus on what you can control

When going through a period of crisis or significant change, it’s really common to feel out of control. This can leave you feeling demotivated, frustrated and stifled from getting on with any work.

Focusing on what you can’t control is really unhelpful. It can cause you to feel trapped by the situation, that there is nothing that you can do to change it. It is also wasted energy.

By focusing on what you can control, you direct your energy and focus into things that can make a difference to you.

When thinking about your own situation try to reframe your thoughts and questions to put the focus on what you can control. For example, rather than asking “How can I cope with being asked to work from home” ask yourself “What can I do to make my home working space a productive place to be?”

Focusing on what you can control isn’t going to make the challenges go away, it won’t suddenly fix all of the problems in the world, but if you can feel even a little bit more in control of your life you will be in a better position to manage a new way of working.

Map with pins stuck in it

There is more than one way to get from A to B

When things don’t quite go to plan you can either give up or you can make a new plan. When a physical route has closed, we don’t just turn around and go home we instinctively look for the diversion signs, but in our careers, we don’t always think this way.

This situation has shown us just how adaptable people can be when the need arises. I’ve always heard that older people either can’t or won’t embrace technology and now we are seeing grandparents setting up Zoom calls to stay in touch with their grandchildren.

Employers that have been reluctant to embrace flexible working now find themselves with whole workforces stuck at home and are making it work. The route that they had planned to take was closed so they have had to find a new way.

To find a new route go back to basics, ask yourself:

  • Where are you trying to go?
  • Where are you now? Then you can see how far you have to travel. When you are clear on your destination you can start to look for new routes to get there.
  • What assumptions are you making about your career that could be holding you back?
  • Is there a different route you could take?
  • What is one small step you could take to get you back on track? It might be as simple as taking a proper lunch break or booking in call with a colleague to talk about how you are feeling.
Sign saying you've got this

You’ve got this!

When you are feeling stuck or overwhelmed try to remember to:

Reflect: Take time to appreciate what you are dealing with and be kind to yourself if you need to rest or take a break.

Prioritise: Consider what is most important to you and only work on the tasks that will have the biggest impact.

Control: Focus your time and energy on the things that you can control and try not to worry about things you can’t change.

Plan: When your work doesn’t go according to plan, take a step back and then make a new plan

You are doing a great job in an incredibly difficult situation. You don’t need to make big long-term goals right now. If you can get through the next few weeks washed, dressed, and doing ok in your work that will be a huge achievement.

Laura Cloke is a career fulfilment coach who helps women create careers they love. Based in Kent (UK) but coaching across the world, her action-orientated approach empowers her clients with the path, tools and mindset to transform their careers.

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