A few times in your life, you may have asked yourself, “Am I at a crossroad?” It is not always apparent to us when we are in the middle of a transition or headed in that direction, but there are usually signs pointing the way. These signs or factors can be internally or externally driven—or even a combination of the two.
An internal crossroad is when we find ourselves in need of making a change due to a conflict within ourselves. For example, if you find yourself getting bored or feeling your work is not stimulating enough, you may be at a crossroad requiring further investigation.
Many clients over the years have come to my office feeling they have learned all they could in their current position and just need a change. They are not deeply upset by it, just ready to move on to the next chapter of their life.
On the other hand, an internal crossroad can turn into an existential crisis. You may have a nagging thought or hunch that you are under-delivering on your life. You feel your life lacks meaning or purpose. You may be compelled to step up to your full potential—even if you can’t exactly define what that potential is. Not growing or feeling stuck is the hallmark of an internal crossroad.
An external crossroad occurs when we find ourselves in need of making a change due to a factor outside ourselves. For example, you may find yourself working for a despicable boss or disliking your coworkers. Perhaps senior management lacks vision, is autocratic, or proves to be incompetent. Or you may find your employer is not responsive to your requests for additional training or further professional development.
Other external crossroads arise out of values-based conflicts or ethical dilemmas. You may take exception to the quality of decisions being made by your coworkers or by management. Worse, you may observe illegal or unethical practices. The impact of your employer’s decisions, products, or services on people or the environment can also cause you to reconsider your situation.
External crossroads are not limited to the workplace. Personal or family circumstances can also catapult us into a crossroad, such as when a spouse or partner gets a new job in another city and you are forced to find a new job. Other examples include an illness in the family, financial challenges, or a troubling personal relationship.
A crossroad does not always have to be painful. It can be triggered by a tremendously happy occasion or even overwhelming success. For example, you might blow up on social media and suddenly become a rock star. A promotion or new job can exceed your wildest dreams and send you into an identity crisis as it may seem too good to be true. A more common but no less miraculous event of bringing a baby into the world or adopting one could pull you out of the labor market and make you realize that being a parent is the career you’ve always wanted.
The starting point of a transition can be complex. Multiple aspects of your life are affected. The crossroad can creep up on you or hit you like a ton of bricks. Emotions like anger, disappointment, frustration, plummeting self-confidence, and resentment are common reactions to feeling stuck or lost without direction. Another sign pointing you to a crossroad could be resenting having to go to work or self-medicating to cope with the demands of your job.
A particularly distinct crossroads period is what I call the “early-stage crossroads.”
Early-stage career crossroads
The early career crossroad is unique because you are at the launching point of your career. You could be in high school or out of school and drifting, in college or beyond college and unclear about what you want to do with your life. It’s fair to say you don’t fully know who you are and have more questions about life than answers.
Your self-discovery process will likely feel like a roller coaster. One day you think you want to be a professional snowboarder and the next day that seems unlikely, so you give up on the idea. This process of “trying on” possible futures is healthy and necessary, but it can wear you down. The best approach is to trust yourself and be patient. Later in this chapter I will share my own roller coaster experience to offer some perspective.
You may currently feel stuck or rudderless, just know you are doing a good job. You have to struggle to find yourself.
You may currently feel stuck or rudderless, just know you are doing a good job. You have to struggle to find yourself. Settling on what your friends are doing or what your family is telling you to do may keep you from realizing your full potential.
Having said that, if your family and friends have proven to be trustworthy, loving resources, do not dismiss what they have to tell you. Determine if you agree with some or all of their good ideas. If they offer you new information, be open. Be what I call “coachable.” That means honor the mature, responsible people in your life who know more than you do. Trust your gut. You will know when you are being pushed in the wrong direction or when you are being stubborn.
Be on the lookout for mentors. These are people outside your family or friend circle you can learn from—maybe a supervisor in one of your jobs or a teacher at school. Ask them what they observe about your strengths. Ask for suggestions on how you could explore your interests. Let them know you are grateful for their help. Life will offer you lots of unexpected doses of support and inspiration—even when you least expect it.
You can’t put a clock on your growth. Clarity about your future will likely come more slowly than you want it to. Meanwhile, you have to make the best decisions you can about school, work experience, and your personal life. As long as you are being exposed to new experiences, you will be adding information to help you determine what you are naturally talented to do.
From Elevate Your Career: Live a Life You’re Truly Proud Of by Helen Horyza. Copyright © 2020 by Helen Horyza. Reprinted by permission of Merack.
Helen Horyza is a career development expert, founder of the Career Coach Entrepreneur Academy certificate programs and inventor of the Elevations® career assessments..