When you are in between jobs careers, relationships, or phases of life you are in a state of becoming. It’s a state that we all experience, but rarely discuss as a stage. This makes it even more challenging to navigate.

The School of Becoming is a place where we seek to understand how to navigate this space, learning from experts and people like you and me about what it means to become, professionally and personally.

If this is of interest to you, subscribe to get a weekly dose of inspiration, tools, and information that help you become.

I am looking forward to welcoming you all as Student of Becoming, hear about story, and supporting you on your journey.


Fuel Your Becoming

I think we didn’t know because we just found our ways without thinking about it too much. But getting to know these tactics and presenting them to the study participants was indeed eye-opening. We realized what we could have done differently and how our career transitions could have been less stressful.

Hence, a post summarizing the six tactics I identified in 2020:

  1. Jump – hold on to what you got until you find the new thing. Pros: You have an income and might be more attractive to head hunters. Cons: You might have to have thick skin to endure your old job.
  2. (Embracing) the gap – this was my default. You quit and take your time to figure out what is next. Pros: Gives you time to think without constraints. Con: Financing and staying proactive when you don’t have a work routine. People I talked to financed this based on their savings, unemployment benefits, or government-sponsored programs.
  3. Bridging – Quit the old work and find a temporary, part-time job that pays the bill. Pro: Gives you time and takes away the financial stress. Con: You might get stuck in the “bridge job” if you become too involved.
  4. Scaling – Slowly scaling back your old job to make room for a new (freelance) career. Participants I talked to gradually reduced their work hours to 80%, 60%, and 40% until they were sure that the next thing would work out. Pro: You still have the security of an income, and you can go back to your old job if your idea doesn’t work out. Con: You might find asking your employer challenging, and you will have to work two demanding jobs simultaneously.
  5. Dipping in and out – This is about doing the new thing during the evening, weekends, holidays, and unpaid leaves. Pro: Allows you to test the waters risk-free and on the side. Ideal for freelance or solopreneur projects. Con: A second job will leave little time for anything else and might require your loved ones to support you/reduce their expectations. Some interviewees found it challenging to go beyond first experiments.
  6. Fading – This is about changing your existing job profile slowly into a new one by volunteering for activities and assignments and specializing in a particular part of your job in team activities. Pro: You can continue your employment. Con: It might not be possible in small firms or very specialized roles.

Got another tactic? Share your experience in the comments!

I didn't realize that I had a career change tactic before an interview series with 52 career changes in early 2020. The interesting thing was, these interviewees didn't know they had a tactic either.

We are wired to blame others, circumstances, the economy, or COVID for what is “happening to us.” And while blaming protects the ego, it is also a disabling thought.

I just thought about it while I was contemplating booking a flight to Germany to visit my family during the holidays. The first thing that comes to mind is “COVID.”

But is COVID the thing that is stopping me? Of course, not! I can still fly. I think COVID is a convenient excuse not to fly – unless you have a severe medical condition, no vaccination, or are very scared of becoming sick. So if it’s not really about Covid, what is it?

If I am honest, it’s protecting myself from the inconvenience of travel, the hefty price tag, and from someone sticking a swap deep into my nose.

It’s Christmas, it’s my family, so I went and booked that flight.

How about you?

What is really holding you back?

Journal Prompt #12

This is why one of the first things we talk about in the Life Design course is purpose and how it can be understood and achieved. Below is one inspiration and two prompts that can help you cut to the chase when it comes to purpose(s).

To find purpose, we have to know what it is. Strangely enough, most people who tell you “follow your purpose” have a hard time telling you what exactly they mean by purpose. Here, I found the work of Prof. William Damon (Stanford University), really helpful. According to him “purpose is a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.” This follows that in order to find your purpose, you need to know three things.

If you want to know what is purposeful to you –  and yes, you can have more than one source of purpose – you can ask yourself two questions based on Damon’s definition of purpose:The first question concerns the world beyond yourself. Here you can ask: Which causes, conversations, groups, or individuals matter to me? Be careful not to make this too general, otherwise it is hard to find a way to contribute. In my case, I wanted to support people in becoming who they want to be next. The problem with that group is that it is way too broad. So if you end up with something like that e.g. “people who are treated unfairly” you will have to make it more specific. Otherwise, you won’t be able to accomplish something consequential to them. In my case, I went on to identify career changers who seek purpose and fulfillment.

The second question concerns what you want to accomplish for them. How would you like to contribute to the people or groups you identified? And while Damone does not specify how you could contribute, I would like to add that the best contribution you can make is one you enjoy. This does not mean you have to be the best at it. It simply means that what you do in service of this group is something you enjoy doing and that it energizes you. An example here is a course participant who wanted to contribute to animal protection using her writing skills. This resulted in her specializing in professional editing and proofreading of animal protection-related texts and supporting a local shelter by contributing to their email newsletter.

One limit of conceptualizing a purpose in your head is that you never know if it is true. To know if it is true or not, you have to experience what you wrote. One way to do this fast is to ask yourself a third question: “How can I experience supporting GROUP with AThingYouEnjoyDoing in a simple way?” Answering this question can help you increase the chance of experiencing purpose:

“I can experience purpose by empathically listening to a family member in distress for an hour.”

“I can experience purpose in writing a newsletter that focuses on supporting career changers in finding purpose.” 

I think I already shared with you that I changed careers and jobs way too often. What I didn't understood until later was that the thing that drove me to change was a lack of purpose. I always hoped I find purpose in the next job, but I never did. "Follow your purpose" did not work for me. It was a chase that never ended.

Do you feel stuck, or do you lack options? My guess is that you already know the answer!

My experience and belief are that people generally know the answers to the questions they ask. All I have to do is help them unearth it.

This is especially true when it comes to life and career transitions. We think that what we try to do is entirely new to us, and we never had an experience like this. But this is only partly true.

We never had the exact same experience, but we usually had similar experiences. Unearthing these similar experiences can provide us with important clues and options we haven’t considered yet.

Hence, if you wonder about the next move, ask yourself:

When have I experienced something similar?

Beyond this initial question, you can ask:

  • What did I do in these circumstances?
  • Who or what helped me?
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What could be a next step?

Journal Prompt #11

We commonly identify ourselves with our jobs. I am an executive; I am a professor; I am a manager. Identifying strongly with your job is a stage called “enmeshment.” Enmeshment can benefit your career – and your employer – as it makes you more focused and more invested. But it can also become a trap if it becomes all-encompassing. Anne Wilson, professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, stated in a BBC interview that “If you tie [your self-worth] to your career, the successes and failures you experience will directly affect your self-worth.

The chances of becoming enmeshed seem to increase in “high-pressure jobs.” According to a Harvard Business Review post by Janna Koretz, Psy.D, the pressure that leads to enmeshment can be the result of:

  1. A work culture that rewards long working hours with prestige and promotion. “What makes you leave early today? It’s only 5 PM?”
  2. Internalizing family expectations that link specific career achievements to self-worth. “There are only three career choices in this family … .”
  3. One’s socioeconomic status being tied to one’s career and a paycheck. “Who am I without … ?”

Being aware that you are enmeshed is the first step to change. The second is knowing how to think about yourself beyond your job. If you want to build awareness of who you are beyond your job, I have a little challenge for you.

Take a piece of paper (or a word document) and answer the classic networking prompt: “Tell me about yourself.” The trick, answer this without using your social roles (e.g. job, family relations) or physical features (e.g. brown hair, 180 cm/6 ft) or hobbies. Answering this question increases your self-awareness and is a first step to seeing yourself more holistically. It might also help you to have more exciting networking conversations 😉

This can be part of what Koretz describes as an important first step: developing a thorough understanding of what is important to you. Additional, often recommended, exercises popular include writing a eulogy, interviewing friends and family, and keeping a journal asking yourself, “What was important to me today?” Beyond these popular self-help exercises, coaches often recommend engaging in value and strength clarification exercises, which we also start with in the Life Design course.

Discovering yourself beyond work can support you in finding what Nilofer Merchant aptly named Onlyness Ⓡ. According to Merchant, “New ideas come from centering that distinct spot in the world where only one stands.”

Once you know what is important to you, Koretz recommends:

  • Start to engage in activities that help you discover yourself outside the job. Here, one might start small instead of overcommitting oneself. E.g. begin by writing a one-paragraph long short story instead of going for a novel.
  • Expand your network by strengthening meaningful connections outside of work.
  • Think about work skills you enjoy and how you could apply those in contexts outside of work.

If you are interested in talking about your enmeshment, career development, or career change, join me this Wednesday starting at 1 PM EST.

How would you answer, "So, what do you do?" generally? If the first thing that comes to mind is "what you do for a living," chances are you are "enmeshed," 🕸 Enmeshed is used by psychologists to describe when the boundaries between your job and your identity blur.

If you know me well, you probably know that I got a hard time speaking to a camera. I recently described this problem to my friend Tom McCook, saying “Somehow I face a barrier when it comes to speaking in front of a camera.”

Tom’s response “How is this barrier serving you?”

It was some of these moments where it “clicked”. I realized that the felt barrier was not about speaking in front of a camera was difficult. It was that I wanted to protect myself from failing or doing something stupid.

Talking to Tom about this made me realize that most of my barriers are protective mechanisms. No matter if it was not publising a blog post, saying “no, I did not enjoy my meal,” or shying away from addressing a fellow travel who watched an action movie without headphones on a packed flight, it all served me.

Thinking about the barriers as a protective mechanism helped me in two ways. First, it helped me to change perspective and see it as something positive. The barrier had a purpose instead of just being an annoyance. Second it allowed me to take control. It wasn’t something abstract that I couldn’t tackle. I knew it’s purpose and felt more in controle.

How about you? What barriers do you face and what purpose do they serve?

Journal Prompt #10

Confidence is vital. No matter how accomplished, knowledgeable, or creative we are, we won’t take action without confidence. A lack of confidence, which I am all too familiar with, can stop us short of achieving the careers and life we want. Missing confidence hinders us, even if others try to convince us that it is easy, obvious, or that we don’t have anything to lose. In her TED talk Brittany describes this situation eloquently in saying:

“A lack of confidence pulls us down from the bottom and weighs us down from the top. Crushing is with a flurry of “can’t”s, “won’t”s, and impossibles. Without confidence we get stuck. And when we get stuck we can’t even get started.”

But she also reminds us that a lack of confidence isn’t an excuse. Choice is a choice that we can and have to make:

“For some of us, confidence is a revolutionary choice. And it would be our greatest shame to see our best ideas go unrealized and our brightest dreams go unreached all because we lacked the engine of confidence. That is not a risk I am willing to take.”

In her experience, we can focus on three things that will help us gain confidence:

1. Permission burst confidence. Confidence can come from seeing role models or “people like us” succeed with the things we wanted to do. If you are thinking about switching careers search and find a person with a similar background, who has the job you want to get into. Here, Brittany herself is a courageous example of someone who started out as an elementary school teacher and who became an activist, a member of President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force, a TED speaker, to just name a few of her many accomplishments.

2. Community engagement nurtures confidence. It provides us with the support to rebuild our confidence when we feel low or mess up. Chances are we are not alone in your lack of confidence. When I was a Ph.D. student, I worked with Christi ZuberLisa Carlgren, and Maria Elmquist to launch a community called “Design Thinking Exchange.”  The goal was to bring together executives and researchers who work with #DesignThinking for peer-support and learning. It was amazing to see that “we weren’t alone” and to learn from each other’s failures, successes, questions and ideas. Coming together around a niche topic like #DesignThinking — at the time — gives me confidence that there is a group of people like you and me somewhere out there. Search LinkedIn groups, Clubhouse, Facebook, or Twitters Spaces to find active groups. In case you don’t know where to start, and you are looking for a small group to get started with check out Working Out Loud! Or follow us at the School of Becoming in case you want to connect to people who seek to find their way from paycheque to purpose.

3. Curiosity affirms confidence.  It invites us to learn from our “mistakes” and take charge of our development. Two things that reduce confidence are failures and intimidating goals. One of the simplest ways to rebuild our confidence in both cases is to journal. If you have failed, you could ask yourself: “What can I learn from this that will allow me to succeed next time I try this?” This will allow you to increase your confidence and your chance to succeed with your next attempt. If case you are intimidated by a goal, you could ask yourself: “What is a low-risk version of this goal?” Contrary to popular wisdom and the idea of stretch goals, this question allows you to make your goals less intimidating. Here are two examples of how this questions can help. A former client came up with the idea to test his idea pitch for a career change with his family and trusted colleagues before presenting it to top management. A former MBA students came up with the idea to volunteer in an organization for a week, before signing her contract.

I am sure there are many more ways in which we can build our confidence. If you have additional ideas or resources, please share them in the comments below.

“Confidence is the difference between being inspired and getting started,” says Brittany Packnett Cunningham, who's amazing TED talk I just watched.