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Feeling Stuck in Your Career? Design Your Way to a Better Future

Feeling Stuck in Your Career? Design Your Way to a Better Future

You are not alone if you feel stuck, stalled, or stagnated in your career. I work with many clients who have been in the same role, or with the same organization for multiple years and feel that the spark is no longer there when it comes to their work. They feel drained; lack focus, and are running on the treadmill loop of work, sleep, repeat.

Life is precious and too short to wait for things to get better. It’s time to own your power and be proactive about how you can re-engage in your current role or find something new to stimulate your career satisfaction and gratification.

Design Your Future

The concept of design thinking can empower you with practical and creative strategies to reboot what’s not working so you have more control over your future.

With design thinking, a concept birthed in the tech world, it empowers you to create solutions to match your needs for a life that is empowered, authentic, and true to your unique values.

Design thinking starts with a framework of five tools that enable you to tackle complex challenges. Unlike methodologies that focus on the problem, design thinking is solution and action-focused, enabling you to create your preferred future.

Design Thinking 5-Step Framework

1. Empathize – relate with compassion to the end user and understand the problem.

2. Define and Frame – explore, research, and understand context and culture of the stakeholders involved - then analyze, interpret, and plan.

3. Ideate – imagine, research, and ponder innovative solutions.

4. Prototype – create authentic and tangible tests or models.

5. Test – try, iterate, revise after feedback, and try again as needed to fine-tune.

More Than One Solution

As a career and executive coach, I often see individuals who are so laser-beam-focused on a single outcome that they are chronically disappointed when the goal is not exactly achieved. Design thinking gives you permission to explore different scenarios and results that will gratify you as the end user.

Design thinking celebrates curiosity, which makes everything new and invites exploration. If you embrace the concept of being a designer in how you approach problems and challenges in your life – you will gain more control over how things play out. Designers try things, test things out, revise, find what works, and embrace change. Whether you are a lawyer, an accountant, an entrepreneur, or a stay-at-home parent – you can be the designer of your own life.

Unleash Your Curiosity

Living in the constant stress of a joy-less, or unhappy career is debilitating. It can dampen your creativity and squelch your curiosity. It’s up to you to make space and dedicate quiet reflection time to consider what you really want.

Curiosity does that. It’s the gas in the tank that moves us forward. It’s what opens new doors and creates new possibilities – whether it’s writing a book, applying for a patent…starting a business or leaving a relationship that no longer serves. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel beckoning us closer.

So, what are you curious about? Whatever it is – explore it. Fully. Pull the thread. See where it leads. When I ask clients what they’re curious about and their answer is “I don’t know,” it means it’s time to start excavating…time to start un-numbing those natural instincts to step out and explore.

Fear can impede curiosity, but your unabashed interest can circumvent the fear. Consider these 5 tips for exercising your curiosity muscle:

1. Find what fascinates you. If you don’t know what that is off the top, think about the types of articles, movies, TV shows, books, etc., you’re drawn to, the things you love doing on a day off, or even what you naturally loved doing as a kid as places to start.

2. Don’t allow boredom to become you. Even in the most mundane circumstances – in a restaurant, at the grocery store, or waiting in a ticket line – you can exercise your curiosity and find things and people that fascinate you.

3. Ask questions. This will go a long way in helping you further discover what fascinates you. While it can feel risky, at times, to ask questions, don’t let fear stand in the way.

4. Go to people. Not Google. I love this tip, and it’s so true! Asking questions of a real live person can inform and inspire far beyond searching Google.

5. Do things you don’t know how to do. Find ways to challenge yourself – even if it’s just picking up a crossword puzzle, or knitting needles, or studying a new language.

Curiosity is a natural human instinct, so if you’re not immediately aware of what you’re curious about, I promise you it’s there bubbling just below the surface. I encourage you to push the boundaries of your curiosity and follow your nose. It’s your custom-made guide to enjoyment and expansion in this life!

Getting Un-Stuck

Often the problems we face seem so large that they paralyze us from moving forward. Instead of trying to figure out the rest of your life all at once – start smaller and more simply by focusing on the next baby step towards a solution.

Take a step back, examine your biases, and move forward toward a solution using the design thinking process. Reframing is a change in perspective, and in most cases – we can all use a perspective switch.

  1. What perspective do you have?
  2. Where are you coming from?
  3. What other perspectives could other people have? Name them, and then describe the problem from their perspective, not your own.
  4. How will this problem look a year into the future?

It Takes a Village to Design a Solution

Design thinking is a process and requires you to have patience, resilience, and open-mindedness to embrace change. Write down all the questions, worries, ideas, and hopes that you have, and then ask yourself what to do next. By addressing the magnitude of emotions (Step 1 - Empathize) you may feel differently about how you move forward.

Successful people ask for help and this is no different in design thinking. Radical Collaboration means you aren’t alone in the process. Find a supporter(s) to share your situation with and ask for feedback. Then you can build a team and even a community of design thinkers who can assist each other with the iterative process.

Your Inner Compass

As you embark on the process of design thinking in your life be sure to stay focused on your values. Are you on track for what really matters in your life? Are you honoring who you are and what you believe? Only you have the power to hone your inner compass so check in regularly to evaluate your best fit.

The slate is clean for a new beginning this year and you have control. Design the life you truly want to lead and surround yourself with others who celebrate your intentions. Design thinking leads to greater creativity and better solutions. Think of your life in Beta and be ready to iterate, revise, and try again.

Future by Design in Chicago - January 26, 2024

If you live in or plan to visit the Chicagoland area in January – join our Future by Design: Activate Your Best Life Women’s retreat. I’m co-facilitating with Jenny Henderson and we’ve created a day-long retreat to help you get unstuck and design the life and career you deserve to live. Details here:

As the Dalai Lama says, “The goal is not to be better than the other man, but your previous self.”

Caroline Dowd-Higgins is passionate about unlocking the art-of-the-possible in her work with individuals and organizations as a certified executive coach, a best-selling author, a dynamic speaker, and a sought-after consultant. Her new book, “Your Career Advantage: Overcome Challenges to Achieve a Rewarding Work Life” is empowering people to enjoy their careers and love their lives. Caroline hosts the award-winning podcast, Your Working Life with listeners in 16 countries. Her celebrated TEDxWOMEN talk about reframing failure is available on YouTube. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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