3 Ways to Turn a Crisis Into a Career Upgrade

UPDATED: November 18, 2020
PUBLISHED: November 17, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted nearly every single facet of life on this planet in some way. And now, an entire generation of workers is coming to terms with new career trajectories, scrapping old goals and dreaming up new ones.

These moments of change offer the unmatched potential for personal growth, but they can also feel paralyzing. Fear and courage are locked in a standoff, and decisions become weighty and unwieldy as we try to conquer health, happiness, creativity and purpose in a single move.

In order to come through these soul-searching moments with excitement and hope for the future, you need to become comfortable with the idea of the unknown. You don’t have all the answers about your next career move, but by prioritizing self-knowledge and discovery, you can forge a path toward your own definition of success.

How I Built a Career in Leaps

Looking back on my career so far, I can see that my trajectory was largely shaped by moments of crisis. 

My first job out of college was a financial analyst role at Colony Capital, a premier investment firm based in Los Angeles. It was a fascinating introduction to the world of work, but my exposure to such diverse deals showed me just how many options there were for how I could spend my time. Also, I started to realize I was wired to work in an entrepreneurial environment. So I handed in my notice without knowing what I was going to do next.

I was overwhelmed by the options ahead, so I committed to following whatever thought was most exciting to me. This became a process of elimination—if something didn’t work out, I took a lesson from it and moved on. I worked at a film company, then I went back to school at UCLA, then I took my biggest leap so far and moved to Argentina to learn Spanish and make a black-and-white film. 

I made each one of these leaps because something about my current career position was at odds with my needs. I didn’t know how things would turn out, of course. But in that unknown, I found confidence and perseverance (and accidentally created a résumé that looks like no one else’s).

3 Ways to Turn a Crisis Into a Career Upgrade

There are so many clichés about finding the right career path that it’s hard to give advice that doesn’t sound like “follow your dreams” or “listen to the universe.” But if you’ve listened to the universe and are still confused about where to go next, these three steps should help:

1. Understand yourself. 

This advice might sound obvious, but people at a turning point in their careers often make decisions based on a version of themselves that isn’t real. They think about who their parents want them to be or the person their partner expects to come home to. Or they imagine their ideal self: the one without failings or bad habits.

Achieving self-awareness and acceptance will be crucial to making a good decision for you. When I moved to Argentina, I was terrified of making the trip alone. I had always surrounded myself with people. So when the friend I was supposed to travel with pulled out, I saw it as a sign. The move became a personal challenge to resolve whatever childhood experiences had made being alone so uncomfortable.

This kind of mindset will also help you accept feedback and advice when it’s offered. Understand yourself, your needs and your fear triggers better, and you’ll be able to take the advice that works for you and leave what doesn’t.

2. Commit to the unknown. 

When you ready yourself to make career jumps, people might warn you against making rash decisions. Someone could say: “You can’t quit your job. Your résumé is going to have gaps.” But are you truly interested in having the perfect résumé? Adventurous souls might be more interested in the gap itself and the unknown that it represents.

You’ll never learn anything new if you do the same thing every day. If you want to open yourself up to a transformational career experience, you need to venture outside of your comfort zone.

To visualize this, picture the Johari Window: It shows four categories of knowledge, from the things you know about yourself that others also know about you to the things that neither you nor those around you are aware of. If you can spend time trying to shed light on this unknown category, you will learn and grow so much more.

3. Do all of the above while practicing self-care. 

When you’re challenging yourself and diving headfirst into your own blind spots, it’s easy to forget to also take care of yourself.

Documenting your thought process can help. Write down how you’re feeling about your career leap in a journal. Not only will this ground you in the present, but you’ll also be able to look back later and see how much courage you showed.

Part of this self-care also involves remembering to take risks when you’re feeling strong. If you’re burned out and stressed, you might need to take solace in your comfort zone for a bit. When life is calmer, start with manageable risks, such as trying a new hobby or talking to someone different at work. This will build your confidence and self-worth until stepping out of your comfort zone becomes second nature.

There is no definitive career pathway to follow, fall back on or provide a sense of security—but that’s one of the best parts about entering the working world. Look after yourself, make friends with the unknown and prioritize self-knowledge. These are the tricks you’ll need to step forward with confidence and hope when you come to the next inevitable leap.

Photo by @jjjjjujjjjj/Twenty20.com

Seth Casden is the CEO and co-founder of Hologenix, a company dedicated to developing products that enhance people’s lives by empowering them to take charge of their health. Before founding Hologenix in 2002, Seth earned a degree in business administration and worked in private equity. His mission is to continue exploring how responsive textiles can improve the quality of people’s lives and amplify their potential.