By Melanie Allen
There is always a way
There is always a way - but it may not be obvious. As a species, humans have survived through creativity in adversity, our ability to adapt, solve problems and take opportunities. We're hard-wired to find a way through and out of situations. Individual experience suggests that life generally does go on and things do change - somehow. The flipside of adaptability is that we get used to things. Institutionalisation and routine can blunt our creativity and make us risk-averse and wary of change.
This is not to say that you have to be relentlessly optimistic. It may not be easy to find your way out of difficulty (if it were, you'd be out by now) but it is possible. You need to use both your head and your emotions, thinking the problem through rationally and testing the options you generate to see how they feel. If you're reading this because you're in the middle of a career crisis, you'll know how your feelings about work can infect your life.
The following three-stage process will give you a framework for thought and reflection. You may need to adapt it to suit you. If you do, stick to the three-stage principle. The stages are:
- 1. Think about all your options
- 2. Gauge your feelings about each of the options
- 3. Give yourself time for reflection.
You can then revisit your map and change it as often as you like before you make a decision or take action.
Think it through
A mind map is a good way of capturing your thoughts in one place. It will help you to think through your options rationally, and gives you a structure to work within. If you don't do this to begin with, you may miss the seeds of an idea because you've ruled out an option too soon. You can find yourself thinking round and round in a closed loop.
The mind map will take about an hour to complete and you will need:
- a large piece of paper - you need to be able to fit everything on it, and to access it again
- coloured pens or highlighting pens (one colour to draw the mid map, three colours for the next stage)
- an impartial helper (optional but very useful).
Start with a word in the middle of the paper (‘crisis', ‘stuck', ‘career'). Draw and label a ‘leg' for each option available to you, including the ones that you don't want to consider. Follow your thoughts for each option, adding and labelling lines as you do so. You can add a ‘leg' wherever you like if your thinking doesn't travel in a straight line. Carry on until you have exhausted all the options. The diagram of a generic mind map, below, may help you get started.
If you stop here and don't follow the process through, you will end up with a list of options that takes no account of your feelings and has no meaning for you.
Take a break before the next stage. You need to change the focus from thought to feeling. Do something physical if you can. It can be hard to access feelings if your head is full of thoughts.
Factor in your feelings
Using the three coloured highlighters or pens, follow each option, colouring the words according to how each idea makes you feel. You could use blue for positive energy and excitement, red for negative feelings and yellow for unsure.
What you will have is a snapshot of your thoughts and feelings about the situation. What you won't have is an action plan - that can come later. Now for the most important bit: do no more. Leave it. Get on with your life, go to the gym, do some gardening, then get at least one night's sleep before you go back to it. You need to let it loose in your mind.
The drive towards action and tangible productivity in our culture is not new: ‘doing nothing' has always been frowned on. Do it anyway. Let the ideas settle. You'll probably find that other ideas will emerge and, when you go back to your map, things will have changed.
When you have revisited your mind map, look at each of the ideas that are positively coloured and come up with one thing you could do tomorrow or next week to get that action started. For example, talking to your manger or colleagues, exploring jobs on a website, finding out what friends think of your ideas.
When you have a career crisis, take your time and carefully consider what to do about the situation, from a rational and an emotional perspective. A decision based only on intellect, however rigorous, may lead to a dead end. If it feels wrong, it won't happen. A rash decision based on emotion and impulse, with no reflection, could be just as problematic. But letting things carry on as they are may just grind you down further and sap your confidence. Come to a decision in a balanced way, in your own time, and whatever it is, apply yourself to it and see it through. There is always a way.