The economic impact of COVID left many people hunkering down in their roles, not wanting to cause a stir during a daunting time of uncertainty. Maybe you were one of them. The good news is that now we can come out of hiding and enjoy the new landscape where talent wields the power. In a job market that is suddenly awash with remote work roles from global companies the opportunities to level up your career are more plentiful than ever before. So now the question is, are you happy with your current role? Or is it time for a change? 

If you’re not sure you want to leave

Do an audit of your current role and your organization. What do you love about them? What drives you up the wall? Have there been enough opportunities to grow within the company? How does it align with your lifestyle and your purpose? Taking a good look at both your role within the company and the levels of growth available for you to access can help you determine whether it’s time to move up within or move up outside of the org. 

If you know you want to go

What are your reasons for seeking a change? Understanding your “why” will be key in taking the next step that moves you ahead – even if it’s a lateral move in the short term that provides longer term opportunities for promotion. Walking out of one poor fit and into another isn’t going to get you closer to achieving your personal and professional objectives. It will be different of course, but not necessarily better. If possible, build in the time you need to line up the best next opportunity for you, so you don’t have to choose an underwhelming role under duress.

If you want to stay, but change roles

If you see opportunities to move up within the company, assess what it will take to get you there. What are the paths forward and the blockers that could get in the way? Are there leaders and other team members along that path that you can talk with to get a better understanding of the options before diving in? Seeking out advice from trusted colleagues and champions can be a significant asset in finding – or even creating – the ideal new leadership role for you. 

Be thoughtful about education

There are more programs than ever before for mid-career professionals making a transition, and some of them can be mighty expensive with minimal benefit. There are also a plethora of free or low cost learning options available to help you test drive a field of study. This is the time to explore before taking a leap into a multi-year degree. You don’t want to commit years of your life and thousands in savings only to discover you 1) Don’t like it, or 2) Don’t need it. Deeply consider your reasoning before making a significant investment of time, effort and money. Is this a degree that’s required for the role you want and will it unlock career growth and earning potential while fulfilling your sense of purpose? Great – that makes perfect sense. Is this an optional program in a field you’re not totally sure about with no certain outcome? Hit pause and take your time to think it through..

Consider a career coach

Like therapy, but for your professional life, career coaching can provide the external, unbiased perspective you need to explore the scenarios you’re considering before launching them into action. Depending on your industry, you may be able to find a coach that specializes in the field that you’re in – or want to be in. They have access to market trends and intel that you may not have and can use that knowledge to guide your exploration and planning. 

Revitalize your network

The upside of going through a global pandemic is that a lot of people are overdue for reconnecting and many of them will be having a similar itch for change. Now is the time to reach out to people, ask them how they’re comfortable meeting and get together. Consider your level of trust with them, and how much you can share without anything coming back to bite you in the ass. If you have limited time, be strategic about who you want to prioritize. Is it someone working in the field you’re considering? Someone who has left a similar role? Maybe someone in a company you’ve had your eye on. Similar to Googling someone before a first date, do your research on the places and roles you are considering to help ensure you’re not switching one not-so-great situation for another. 

Navigate anxiety and fear

Change can be scary. How scary it is for you specifically can involve many variables including your confidence, support system, self-esteem, financial situation, dependents, health and more. One way to understand these fears is to write them out so they exist outside of your head and can be dealt with. Once you have a list of fears, consider the validity of each one. Is this an actual challenge that you will need to overcome? Or is it negative self-talk getting in your way? There may very well be tough ones that are hard to solve, but you may find that at least some of them are worries, rather than realities. If you find that anxiety or any other mental health challenge is getting in the way of your ability to move forward, you may want to consider professional help as part of your journey toward change. 

Avoid the fear-mongers

Speaking of fear, there are those who live in it. They won’t change anything in their own careers due to fear and may have a lot of suggestions on why you shouldn’t either. Sure, there may be a gem or two they share that could be valid for you, but for the most part your willingness to reach for something new is scary for them. Simply pursuing new options can cause them to feel insecure about themselves and their own choices even though it truly doesn’t have anything to do with them. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be open to constructive criticism, but that is very different from consistently negative voices projecting their own fears. If you find these people and their worrisome voices creeping in, it may be time to move to a new topic of conversation and then create some space. 

Immerse yourself in the doers and believers

On the flipside of the fear mongers are those who are out there doing something similar to what you have in mind. There are those who think the world of you and your skills and cheer you on. Listen to them and see what resonates for you. What has merit? What truth are they showing you that you haven’t been willing or able to see in yourself? What possibilities are they illuminating for you? Listening to those who have done the hard things and are the better for it can be especially empowering when you’re facing the uncertainty of change and cheering for them can help you reinforce connection with people who improve your outlook.

Reinforce your support system

If stepping into a new role or a new company will create change in your personal life as well, then it’s time to make sure you have as many of the needed hands on deck as possible. If you will be earning less to get a necessary degree, you’ll need to make a financial plan that includes your partner if you have one. If a change in your working hours will require adjustments to child or elder care, those need to be done. If you have a village that can step in to help (without causing additional stress!), then ask them to do so. And if you’re doing this solo, lean on resources when available to alleviate pressure where possible. It won’t be perfect, but any advance planning and communication you can do to establish expectations and set yourself up to succeed will be time well spent. 

Take care of yourself

Of course it’s easier said than done, you are the person who can best take care of you 24/7 and you need to do it. Moving into a new role or org requires a lot of time and energy and you don’t want to be launching the next phase of your life with a low or empty battery. Some rest and relaxation is better than none, and a lot is better than some. So as much as possible, try to build in some battery refueling before the next stage kicks off and ideally maintain a level of self-care that keeps you healthy for the long haul. Figure out what you need and how you can achieve it with the same level of commitment that you use to tackle your professional goals.