Amid a pivotal election, a global pandemic, and an economic crisis, it’s normal to feel aimless. Our lives have changed, no matter how minor or major, and unfortunately we can’t predict what’s going to happen next week, next month, or next year. We can, however, be strategic about our career and life decisions as we navigate these chaotic times.
“Nothing lasts forever and this won’t either,” says Jill Massura, personal empowerment coach at Ignite Your Life Coaching. “Feeling lost is a wonderful opportunity to rediscover who you are and what lights you up on the inside.”
Maybe you’ve thought about starting a new side-hustle, making a drastic career change, taking time off to homeschool your children, or moving to a completely new city. Here’s some practical advice for determining the best options for you and your situation.
1. Think critically about your choices
While your current situation may feel dire, try not to let the fear of the unknown determine your path. The pandemic, like the seasons, will fade, and when that happens, you’ll have to reconcile with your decisions. Going to graduate school, or switching careers, while seemingly good pandemic choices, might veer you off your five- or 10-year plan.
”If you’re making a decision from a place of fear, it's probably best to wait until you feel more centered,” says Elizabeth Su, founder of Monday Vibes. She points to Barbara Frederickson’s broaden-and-build theory, which suggests that our vision narrows when we experience negative emotions.
Maybe you’ve been furloughed, maybe your hours have been cut, or you’re feeling more focused than ever. While making drastic life changes during this chaotic time may not be recommended, some of us have limited options and some of us feel compelled to move in a new direction. Before making any significant changes, consider the long-term goals you had this time last year. Are they similar to the ones you have now?
“You know what you would have wanted before the pandemic started,” says Valerie Martinelli, president and CEO of Valerie Martinelli Consulting, LLC. “Go toward that in terms of choosing a career.”
Any big decision—personal change, career transition, geographical move—should be made with a clear and critical mind. You don’t want to feel regret in a year. While this pandemic is life-changing for many, it will eventually end. Large conferences will return. Office meetings will be held in the office. And in-person networking will no longer require a mask or an outdoor table.
“You can’t give up on your goals,” Martinelli says. “With every positive comes a negative. You can pivot and you can alter your goals a little bit, but if you completely change them, you’re cheating yourself.”
Small business owners or entrepreneurs should avoid pivoting their company, and instead add on a new tiered service or a new virtual offering, Martinelli says. This allows you to earn money while continuing to serve your community, all while keeping your long-term goals in mind.
2. Analyze your strengths
“If you’re feeling directionless,” Martinelli says, “Look at your strengths.” This isn’t the time to focus on your weaknesses; doing so will only make you feel worse about yourself.
Martinelli suggests taking a character survey, which helps analyze your strengths and gives you insight into what will best suit you. The only free, scientific survey of character strengths, the VIA Survey, tells you which of the 24 character strengths you possess after answering 96 questions.
Another great tool is Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment (formerly known as StrengthsFinder). This hour-long online assessment is much more comprehensive and offers more concrete information to help you figure out what you naturally do best, how to develop your greatest talents into strengths, and how to use your results to determine your best career options. (Explore more quizzes here.)
From there, you can begin to ask yourself more detailed questions, Martinelli says: What’s most feasible? What jobs are available in this arena? Who’s hiring right now? Look at job boards. Look for virtual work if that’s what you need. Just make sure you’re honing in on your strengths.
3. Utilize SMART Goals
Knowing what you want doesn’t always mean it’s easy to attain, which is why it’s important to adjust your mindset. You can set achievable goals. They will depend on what your plan is, how feasible that plan is, and how quickly you want it to happen, but setting aside time to determine what you want will move you one step closer to making that a reality.
“Work on your goals day to day and break them down into SMART goals,” Martinelli says.
Created by George T. Doran, a consultant and former director of corporate planning, SMART goals are used to to clearly consider and define your goals, making them more likely to be trackable and, of course, achieved. At the very least, SMART goals will help you feel less overwhelmed.
You’ll want to take the following guidelines into account as you begin determining your goals. Be:
Measurable (or meaningful)
Achievable (or attainable)
Relevant (or realistic)
If, for instance, you’re considering homeschooling, you might decide that homeschooling is the safest and most beneficial option for your family, but it requires you to make changes to your work hours and get access to the right curriculum for each child. You may give yourself a deadline of December 1 to have everything figured out. You can then break down the tasks so you know what exactly needs to be done to achieve this goal.
This tool can be used in any aspect of your life, including your career. If you’ve been wanting to pursue your side-hustle full time, you’ll want to map out the steps you need to take to make this possible. No matter how large or small the goal, you can use SMART to determine how to make it happen.
4. Practice meditation
It’s far too easy to get caught up in the social media scroll, the news cycle, the political discord, or the self-criticism. Step away from your digital devices, even if only for 15 or 30 minutes a day, and focus on ways to address your feelings. Meditation, like walking or journaling, is a great option and one that Su highly recommends.
“By meditating, you learn how to pay attention to present moment experiences without trying to change or get rid of them, as well as cultivate non-judgmental awareness, [allowing you] to accept things as they are,” Su says.
Many studies have revealed the positive impact of meditation in reducing stress and enhancing general wellbeing, as well as treating everything from anxiety to insomnia and while more studies need to be conducted to determine which types of meditation are more beneficial and how long one must practice, it’s clear that meditation benefits our mental health. And maintaining strong mental health is critical right now.
For those in need of more self-compassion, Su recommends trying loving-kindness meditation, or Metta. This type of meditation focuses on the following two principles: loving yourself and loving others. When practicing, Su suggests using the following as a guide:
Focusing your attention inward on your own wellbeing, reciting phrases (or mantras) such as “May I be safe from inner and outer dangers,” “May I be at ease.”
Focusing your attention outward on the wellbeing of someone who loves you, reciting phrases such as, “May you be safe from inner and outer dangers,” “May you be well in body and mind.”
Don’t be afraid to try different types of meditation and see which one(s) work best for you. You can easily download an app like Headspace, Calm, or SmilingMind (which is free) to get started.
5. Turn problems into actions
“The sooner you begin to shift your feelings about the current problem into action, the sooner the situation can open itself to solutions and the sooner you will feel empowered in your life again,” Massura says.
Massura works with many women and often uses an eight-step process to help them identify their feelings, identify the problem, and take concrete action to solve that problem. Here’s what you can do, step-by-step, to determine the best actions:
Identify the problem, considering why you might be stuck.
Identify your feelings about the problem.
Identify your preferred outcome.
Identify the story or context you are creating around this problem, and consider why this might not be working.
Identify an alternate story.
Take action, noting what actions you can take in the next minute, day, week, and onward.
Create a list of action items broken into columns of “today,” “tomorrow,” etc. that can be used as a map.
Reevaluate your feelings after taking action.
This is a great strategy for anyone feeling lost, stuck, or in an uncompromising situation. Ask yourself questions, as you go through each step, and carefully consider where you’re at and where you want to go.
“Have patience with yourself and don't force anything that is not right for you,” Massura says. “Commit to becoming your own best friend during this time and act like a best friend, who wants the best for you, would act. Know that every step you take on your own behalf is a step closer to what you want.”
6. Prioritize mental health
One in four women in corporate America is currently contemplating downshifting her career or leaving the workforce, according to a 2020 McKinsey & Company report.
These decisions were unthinkable last year, but 2020 is unlike any other year, and it has taken an emotional toll on all of us. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), 53 percent of American adults feel pandemic-related worry and stress has had a negative impact on their mental health and 60 percent feel the worst is yet to come.
During times of uncertainty, taking care of our mental health is paramount. If you have the means, Martinelli suggests virtual therapy. (Managers, talk to your teams about mental health and formal and informal ways your company can help.) If you have recently left your job or have lost your health insurance, she recommends using a free mental health app, which can be used anywhere and will connect you with professionals. There’s everything from Talkspace to BetterHelp, making mental health care both accessible and affordable.
“Wherever you are in your mental health journal, be gentle with yourself,” Su says. “We are all being tested in new ways.”
About our sources
Jill Massura is a life coach, EFT/(Emotional Freedom Techniques) coach, and speaker. With her support, her clients discover how to live their lives with excitement, free from negative thoughts and behaviors.
Valerie Martinelli is an executive career coach who helps male and female professionals find their dream careers and shatter their salary aspirations. She’s also a leadership coach for women and has helped women discover their leadership potential by reaching new levels of success in their careers.
Elizabeth Su is the founder of Monday Vibes, an all-in-one weekly personal growth newsletter. She has a master’s in clinical psychology from Columbia University with a concentration in spirituality and mind-body practices and an advanced certification in sexuality, women, and gender. While at Columbia, Su’s work around burnout and perfectionism in corporate women and the science of happiness was given the honor of "Distinction in Research and Creative Work." She has since dedicated her career to empowering women, teaching about emotional and spiritual wellness, and changing the rules of the game.