Most careers are not linear. They don’t begin at an ideal starting point and progress until they land at a dreamy ending. Chances are we will come to many crossroads in our careers that will force us to make an imperfect decision. We may not have all the facts or know how a new position will be viewed in our organizations. We may be moved to an unfamiliar department or asked to work with an undesirable boss or co-worker. It may be necessary to take on additional responsibilities that will totally topple our daily apple cart. Or we may just have to take on tasks that we feel are out of our job requirements and totally beneath us.
Can you relate to any of these? Conversations about how we end up in a certain career or a particular role are very common. In fact, many of my colleagues as well as people in my workshops have shared the haphazard path that led them to where they are today. But each story often ends with these same words:
That unlikely opportunity turned out to be a gift.
Here are six ways to turn an unlikely opportunity into an empowering career move:
1. STEP BACK TO SEE THE OPPORTUNITY
Although our first reaction to our career going in a new direction may be- “no way”, we owe it to ourselves to breathe and see what exactly is being offered. We need to ask ourselves what this change is really all about and how it might impact us. I loved being an English teacher and never thought about stepping into a business career. But when I was presented with an opportunity to obtain an MBA I needed to just process what that would mean.
2. OPEN UP YOUR MINDSET
Unexpected and different opportunities don’t necessarily mean bad possibilities. They may seem scary at first, but if we can keep an open mind to see where the opportunity may bring us, we are able to make a better decision. Leaders need to have growth mindsets according to Carol Dweck, “the belief that one’s skills and qualities could be cultivated through effort and perseverance.” Ask yourself these questions to help allay your fears:
- What do I most fear about this opportunity?
- How could this change complement my current career?
- What new skills or knowledge could I obtain by working in this new department?
- What fascinates me about this new possibility?
3. TURN IT INTO A “PILOT” DECISION
Before delving in deep to a new opportunity that you are unsure, think about making the change a “pilot”. Try it out and see how it feels. Go into the decision with a positive and optimistic perspective but allow yourself to test it out first and see if the fit can work. Sometimes a new direction is helpful to our career goals but sometimes it detracts. So make a pact with yourself to “pilot” first.
4. CONDUCT A TRUTHFUL EVALUATION
Once you begin to explore the new opportunity take a hard look at its impact on your career.
- How are you enjoying the new or different responsibilities?
- Are you being given enough guidance to learn the new tasks?
- Is there some part of the change you might tweak?
- Does it feel like a good fit?
5. TALK TO A FAN
It always can be helpful talking to someone in our fan club who has our best interests at heart. Colleagues or mentors who know our strengths and have a good insight into our career trajectory can offer meaningful suggestions. They may see things we don’t. They may understand how to integrate the new skills you are learning into your current career goals. They have another set of perspectives to consider.
6. WELCOME THE NEW GIFT
Had I not been open to trying a new direction in my career, I would not be where I am today. We need to be willing to take a risk and see where it may take us. All opportunities are not equal. Just don’t miss out on the ones that seem unlikely at first.
How has an unlikely opportunity turned into a gift for you?