Finding your North Star as you carve out a new career  

Smiling young African American businesswoman working on a laptop at her desk in a bright modern office with colleagues in the background

Many of us are considering what our future career looks like.

We have all read about the great resignation, great reshuffle and, finally, the great revolt. Many of us are using the period of great reflection to work out what we really want out of our life and our career. So how do you best prepare yourself for a personal career transformation, and find a new purpose and direction?  

This starts with exploring your North Star. What is it that gives you a sense of purpose – be it career, volunteering, health, family or something else? Imagine what your best possible future looks like and challenge the assumptions you are making about yourself as you do this. To find your purpose you need to keep asking yourself the ’why’ question. For example, if you want to transition from CFO to CEO, keep asking yourself ‘why?’ to get to your purpose. Your purpose is your guide and anchor to come back to. Whatever you do, it needs to bring you joy. The best advice I had was to focus on what you want to do, not what you used to do, or you are doing or, most importantly, what others think you should do.  

It’s then about getting to the practicalities of how to make it happen and asking yourself regularly the ‘how do I do it?’ question.

This often involves:  

  • Building capabilities relevant to what you want to do next. This is about identifying the knowledge and skills you’ll need to cultivate now in order to grow towards your personal and professional goals, and then determining which opportunities might be a good fit. 
  • Defining your personal brand for those new opportunities, figuring out what makes you unique and what value you bring and then testing out your brand with others. Just as you wouldn’t launch a business brand without feedback and input, test out your personal brand to ensure it is relevant to your target market, and that it’s differentiated and memorable for them.  
  • Experimenting with new ideas which often involves taking micro bets and seeing if they pay off without necessarily going ‘all in’ at once. If you want to be, for example, a portfolio Non-Executive Director, think about joining one board whilst keeping your current role to test if a pluralist lifestyle is one you want now. Or, if you want to start your own business, test the concept whilst still in your current position. If you are making a radical shift and starting in a completely new field, you may need to be prepared to go into apprentice mode for a time. 
  • Networking with purpose so you have people you can call upon who you support, and they support you. As the saying goes, you probably have 80% of the people you already need in your network. To test that out, it’s about considering ‘Can I count on my network, do I have both strong, weak and dormant ties?’ and ‘Does my network give me access to what I need in the future?’, remembering the importance of building ties well before you need them. Once you have your target list, it’s time to start reaching out.  
  • Managing the negative chatter in your head for why things won’t or can’t work out. This can often be the most difficult challenge of all. One strategy to help is to build your own personal board of directors who will support you, question you and constructively challenge you through your transformation. Tempting as it may be to only put people on it you like, it’s a good idea to find a couple of people who will play devil’s advocate and a couple of people you really admire, perhaps who are doing something close to what you want to do. 
  • Keeping your radar sharp and attuned to data around you which might point to new directions or course corrections. This data is very useful and it’s important to keep attuned to it as it may be pointing you to new options and ideas. Whilst it can be tempting, particularly if you are in a challenging career situation, to focus on moving away from something, it’s better to focus on moving towards something. 
  • Remaining patient – personal transformations take time to fully evolve. It’s about avoiding the comparison trap and comparing yourself to people who have been doing what they do for years. Again, like a business, think about your transformation in quarters of the year. Quarter 1 might be finding your purpose, your new mission and brand, Quarter 2 might be focused on networking for new opportunities and so on. Setting aside time each week to reflect on what you have done on your personal transformation and what are your next steps can really help you stay the course.  
  • Finally, and most importantly, being kind to yourself, but at the same time being ruthless about what you need to leave behind. As the saying goes, get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Any personal transformation really tests your emotions as personal growth and comfort rarely co-exist and often you are trying things you have not done before. It’s easy to be nostalgic about the past, especially when facing uncertainty in the present, but the trick is to keep moving forwards aligned to your purpose. 

Karen Thomas-BlandAbout the author

Karen Thomas-Bland is a Global Board Advisor, Consultant, Coach and Non-Executive Director with over 24 years’ leading business and personal transformations. She is a trusted advisor to many boards, executives, and investors and has been a NED on several private equity boards. Before founding her business Seven, Karen was an executive in IBM, KPMG, and several boutique consultancies, based out of New York, Dubai, and Sao Paulo. Karen is a Chartered Organisational Psychologist, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and is an INSEAD accredited Board Director.  

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