How to stop breaking your New Year career resolution

As January begins many of us will find ourselves setting a New Year career resolution. This will be the year. The year that we get clear on what we want from work and make the break, moving into something bigger, better, more fun and altogether more suited to us.

The trouble is, if you’re like most people you’ve been here before.

The euphoria of good intentions soon gives way to the perilous cycle of uncertainty, fear, over commitment and defeat. 

Before you know it, another year has passed and you are still in the wrong job failing to realise your potential. 

But what if you could cheat the system and override the habitual challenges that cause you to break your New Year career resolutions?

This blog outlines the three most common pitfalls to realising career change goals, with practical tips on how to beat them so that this really is the year for positive change.

Pitfall 1 – The Great Unknown 

Most of us find it extremely easy to articulate what we don’t want from work, but working out what we do want is often the biggest barrier to a successful transition.

So how do you figure out what path or role is right for you?

Understanding your personal values and strengths can provide a useful framework for career decision making. Consider them right-fit check boxes that can be used as a filter for any job you might contemplate. 

Defining your values  Values are your personal reference guide for the way you need to live and work in order to be happy. By defining and aligning with them you can avoid value conflicts in your chosen career path and benefit from the fulfilment that comes with values-based work choices. This ebook includes exercises to help you articulate your own values.

Determining your strengths  Strengths are the natural talents we each possess. Often we don’t recognise them because we tend not to value what we’re good at. By identifying your innate talents and ensuring a career or job role that enables you to use those strengths every single day, you are much more likely to feel engaged, motivated and successful. To identify your top five strengths, check out the CliftonStrengths assessment.

Pitfall 2 – Fear of Failure

When you’ve got a reasonable idea of what you’d like to do for a living, fear of failure is likely to raise its ugly head. What if I don’t succeed? What if this isn’t realistic? What if I end up penniless and living on the streets?

Fear of failure does a fantastic job of standing in our way and encouraging procrastination. And if you have tested the water with a new idea it’s likely something hasn’t worked the way you’d hoped and that failure might have stopped you in your tracks.

Meeting this challenge head on requires an approach that isn’t intuitive – deliberately trying to fail.

The 100 rejections project – Take some time to identify a roadblock that is preventing you from moving towards the career you want and make that barrier the focus for the 100 rejections project. For example, is your roadblock about skills, what friends and family will think, or asking people for help?

The purpose of this exercise is to try taking lots of actions to tackle your roadblock, where you are actively aiming for 100 knock-backs or failures. 

For instance, it might see you filling out numerous applications to different schools to learn a new skill; testing out your career idea on friends and family to see what feedback you get; or asking industry gurus to give up 15 minutes of their time on the phone to share their own experience with you – all with the expectation that you will be turned down, ignored or unsupported.

This might sound ridiculous, but the psychology behind it is clever.

By aiming for and expecting rejections, rather than immediate success, any knock backs or outright failures will be less likely to cause you to give up. And the reality is, in having lots of go’s at it, some things will inevitably work. A school will accept your application; you’ll get positive feedback from several people on your career idea; one or two gurus will respond and happily talk to you.

Effectively, in trying to lose you’ll likely experience some important wins along the way that propel you forward and build all-important momentum towards the career change you really want.

Pitfall 3 – Over commitment

With a clear idea of your career goal, watch out for a natural instinct to over-commit. Our tendency is to set the bar extremely high on what we will achieve, and then assign an impractical timeframe to achieve it.

The truth is that over commitment makes our goal feel onerous, miserable, overwhelming and unrealistic, causing us to give up after a short time.

To outsmart this pitfall, break your career goal down into small steps – and I mean seriously small steps. 

Creating a baby steps plan – Get a piece of paper and write your career goal on the far left. Then work backwards, identifying some of the key components to achieving that goal. For example, if you want to set up your own café, key components might include the food you’d serve, the venue, marketing, financial backing, and so on. Then choose the component that feels the easiest and most fun and start working that one backwards, asking yourself what you’d need in order to have that piece up and running. Keep going until you have some really tiny steps. 

This is what the food component for the café idea might look like:

Food > a winning menu > decide what’s on the menu > test out menu options on friends > cook different recipes > research and clip recipes > create a Pinterest recipe board.

Once you’ve got some really small steps, have a go at one or two of them, all the while treating it like an experiment that might just give you useful feedback.

Building up to it in this way actually prevents your mind from fighting you on moving towards your career resolution because it takes the ‘big deal’ out of it. It stops the mind chatter we all have that argues why the goal is hard and why we should give up.

Small steps require less discipline, lower the mental barrier to change and importantly, feel good as you start to build momentum at the right pace for you.

So for big change, and to increase the probability of keeping your career resolution, determine your values and strengths, aim to fail and think small!

Originally written for, and published by The Guardian