Last year I was diagnosed with cancer. It was caught early, but I had to go through an operation followed by six weeks of radiation. After that, I had to be on a medication that prevents the further microscopic spread of the cancer, and I have to take hormone suppressant pills for five years.
When I talked with my oncologist about how to stay healthy and active, he told me to increase my aerobic exercise to 30 minutes a day because research has shown that aerobic exercise for at least a half hour every day works almost as well as the medication to prevent a return of this kind of cancer. He also said that the medication makes most people feel tired, but the best way to deal with that is to exercise. “You will have more energy if you exercise,” he promised.
When I heard my doctor say that exercise could prevent a recurrence and counteract the tiredness I already experienced on the medication, I was motivated to find a way to work out every day. But I also know how much I hate aerobic exercise! How could I get myself to work out at least 30 minutes a day and keep it going? I needed to figure out a way to set this goal and keep it.
Now, a year later, I can tell you about what worked, because it did work. And I can hope that these steps will work for you too if you are working on a career transition. Most people hate to network even though they know they need to if they want to transition to a new job or a new career. Here are five steps that helped me and that might help you too.
Step One: Identify a Motivator
If you are interested in or excited about something, use it as a motivator. When I dragged out my elliptical, which had been sitting in a corner of my exercise room getting dusty and generating guilt instead of sweat, I knew that if I set up a playlist of fast and slower music, I had a chance of carrying through a daily routine. The key was the music. I had to like the music and I had to have different tempos so that I would push myself to get my heart rate up but then give myself a break so I wasn’t too exhausted. I searched for good music and downloaded songs I loved. I set up a 30 minute playlist and started with slower beats at first. As time went on, I added faster tempos as I got more accustomed to the pace. I decided that my goal would be to get my heart rate up for the full 30 minutes in the range of 130 beats to 150 beats per minute depending on the song. I was interested to see if I could make that goal a reality.
Step Two: Envision the Activity
There have been many days when I have felt too tired to exercise. But I told myself I had to do it anyway. So I would envision myself on the elliptical and think about how I would move off the couch and get on the equipment. Envisioning myself moving from the couch to the machine and then doing the workout before I did it actually helped me to get going. The same thing is true for your career. When you imagine yourself doing something, if even it is something you do not enjoy, that active imagining can motivate you to get moving on your plan to reach your goal.
Step Three: Coach Yourself or Get a Coach
I would talk to myself and say something encouraging. “All you have to do is get on the elliptical and turn on the music. That is easy. You can do that.” While I was on the elliptical, there were times I was very tired. So my inner coach would say something like,” Look, you are saving your life by doing this! You are getting your heart in better shape so you can dance at your daughter’s wedding.” And sometimes, when I felt really tired, the only thing I could think of to say to myself was, “After you are done with this, you can fall on the floor and sleep. Just finish this and you can collapse.” The inner coach is a big part of your career success too. If you can encourage yourself instead of discouraging yourself, it makes a tremendous difference in your ability to grit it out. Do you need to go back to school to get a degree that makes you more marketable? Do you need to talk with a lot of people to find out the lay of the land and hear about opportunities that might work for you? Talk yourself into it. It is crucial that you have a positive inner voice to keep you going. Sometimes the inner voice might be yelling at you too. Most people need a mix of those two internal coaching voices. Some people get enough from their own positive self-talk. Others need another person to coach them. If you need to hire that help, though, do it. Making a career transition is not easy.
Step Four: Manage Failure
There were days I could not talk myself into exercising. I had to take a pass. I could call myself names because I failed to do what I said I would do, or I could think about it as a challenge for tomorrow and reaffirm my goal for the next day. I tried to make it into a challenge even though I didn’t always succeed in doing that. Managing failure in a career transition is important too. You may have hoped that after many years of working as a paralegal or doing document review, you could find a full time job working as an attorney, but every time you get an interview, it’s for another position doing the same thing you have done before. That can be discouraging. But if you reaffirm an achievable goal and keep at it, getting the additional skills that would help redefine you, or networking more effectively, you will be more likely to transition your career over time. Manage failure by reasserting your intention to get to your goal.
Step Five: Take Baby Steps
When I first began the 30 minute workouts on the elliptical, I started slowly because I wanted to be sure I did not get too discouraged. You use new muscles whenever you start something new. That’s true for your career transition too. If you keep your goal in mind and take small steps in that direction, you have a better chance of being successful. Doing something new uses a different set of skills that you can hone over time. Is it hard for you to have lunch meetings with people and ask them to brainstorm with you? Is it hard to feel comfortable asking for help by saying, “If you were me, who would you want to talk with, and would you be willing to introduce me by email or on LinkedIn so that I can talk with that person?” If that is very hard for you to do, then practice with friends and family before you talk with someone you have never met before. Small steps make it easier to make progress.
Identifying your motivators, envisioning yourself doing what you want to do, training your inner coach, managing failure, and taking small steps in the right direction can help you get to your goal. These strategies helped me get through a tough year and achieve my goal. I hope they help you too.