How to build hope and momentum in a zone of unknown

I have enjoyed many careers. I was Daisy the Clown, a college instructor, primary caregiver, a University Academic Advisor and most recently, a Registered Clinical Counsellor in private practice. This is my 10th career transition. Through each career I derived a sense of identity, purpose, and worth. In each career transition, I felt self-critical, fearful, and untethered: Adrift in an uncomfortable ‘zone of unknown’.

Recently, I found some comfort in a book by Jon Acuff called Do Over. Acuff suggests that transitioning careers is brave, requires a strong character, and is a valuable opportunity to realign with core values and grow professionally and personally.

To help you grow through your career transition feeling brave and strong, here are 10 tips that I have learned over time through my own transitions as well as in my training and work as a Career Counsellor:

  1. During this uneasy time do things that spark joy for you. Having trouble remembering what you like to do? Think about yourself when you were a child. What did you like to do then? Go do that. Or, perhaps try Marie Kondo’s approach. It is amazing how tidying up can unstick a person and build momentum for decision making.
  2. Buy yourself time. If finances are a stressor that you cannot ignore during this transition process, consider taking on a job for the money that is not overly trying and allows you to do something somewhat pleasant while making a bit of necessary cash.
  3. Spark your imagination. Career Transition can leave us feeling stuck and like we are in a “crisis of imagination” (Amundson, 2009), not knowing what we can do or want to do. So, do things that inspire your creative side, whatever that may be.
  4. Surround yourself with people who think you are awesome. Friends, family, even old colleagues can see the good and special in you when you can’t see it in yourself. Socializing can also take your busy ruminating mind off the fact that you are in a career transition or even lead to your next career! Networking is said to be responsible for 60% to 85% of job opportunities.
  5. Be at the right place at the right time. Consider the ‘Planned happen stance” theory of career by Krumboltz (2009) who’s advice I heed in my work: “career counselors should teach their clients the importance of engaging in a variety of interesting and beneficial activities, ascertaining their reactions, remaining alert to alternative opportunities, and learning skills for succeeding in each new activity”. Be ready for unexpected opportunities by being in many places where it just might be the right time.
  6. Get in touch with a past boss or colleague and ask for a reference letter. Borrow from the past to boost your self-confidence and build some momentum. Not only will reading nice things about yourself feel good, it will also help you reidentify yourself what your strengths and unique qualities are.
  7. Assess your values and strengths. Doing a Strengths Finders assessment can acquaint you with yourself in a way that can increase insight, assist you in making a decision, or understanding the decisions you make.
  8. Build hope by thinking of a time when you were in a transition and go through it. What were the strengths and qualities you used to get through? Remember you have been through a transition before and have the power and capacity to come out the other side!
  9. See this phase as temporary. Remembering you have been able to muscle through other transitions can remind you that this discomfort and not knowing will pass and you can overcome it.
  10. Remember there is not usually one best choice. Momentum is lost in our career transition when we think we can only go in one absolutely right direction. Decisions are options. If you have the privilege and luxury to have more than one option, know that any decision can be a good one that you can change later.
  11. See career transition, not as a problem but as an opportunity. A shift in mindset is a powerful momentum builder. This can be a new and exciting phase of your life!

I endeavor that my experience and these tips can help you see your career transition in a light that inspires you to take a leap into the career transition abyss, builds some hope and momentum for you, and enables you to grow through your current career with confidence and strength!


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Author Biography

Leah MarksLeah Marks, BA’11, MA’18, is a Registered Clinical Counsellor, experienced academic advisor, and career strategist in private practice in Vancouver. She specializes in supporting individuals through life decisions and navigating the world of work, school, and relationships. She is passionate about building hope and momentum for a wide range of clients especially in times of transition.

Her approach is informed by over 25 years in the education field, through her experience as the very proud mom of two amazing university students, and her work at UBC; in academic advising, the UBC Life and Career Centre, the Centre for Student involvement and Careers, and alumni UBC .

Leah holds a Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology and Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Gender studies from the University of British Columbia. She has recently completed level three practicum training in Gottman Methods Couple Therapy.

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