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Can’t Make a Career Decision? Avoid the Traps with the Career Decision Lifecycle

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If you or someone you love can’t make a career decision, then you’re in the right place.

In this free video training, I walk you through the Career Decision Lifecycle—the real truth about how we make career decisions, and how we get stuck. If you can’t make a career decision, you’ll have a clearer idea of what’s getting in your way by watching this lesson.

Listen to this on audio-only here.

Where are YOU in the career decision lifecycle? Download the Career Decision Lifecycle here and follow along.

I mention decision traps in the video. More here and here.

If you’re trying to decide whether you should stay in your job or move on, take my quiz here and get a plan for you.

Can’t Make A Career Decision?

Here’s a rough transcript of the video above.

Now in this video, I want to take you deeper behind the career decision-making process. There’s a science, there’s a strategy, I call it the career decision lifecycle, you can actually download a PDF right here on this page and follow along as we go into the deeper training. But this is a proven process that when you follow, it will ensure that your decisions will stick. And when you don’t, when you skip around, you end up going in circles. Because there are traps, there are places where people get stuck. And if you’re feeling stuck, right now, well, going through this lifecycle is going to surprise you and help you understand why you’re stuck, and more importantly, how to get out of being stuck and move forward. So let’s go into my office, and I’m going to show you the career decision lifecycle. Okay, we’re back here in my office. And before we dive into the career decision lifecycle, I just want to recap some of the things that I’ve been hearing from you. I hear things like, oh, I should stop complaining and just be happy where I am. You know, after all, others love to be in my shoes, what’s wrong with me? And hear things like? Well, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it. But I’m afraid to make a change. What’s wrong with me. And then I also hear how I’m a smart person making this decision should be easier than this. What’s wrong with me? Well, if that sounds like you, you’re in the right place.

And I have breaking news for you just stunning news. There is nothing wrong with you. Let me say that, again, there is nothing wrong with you, you are not alone. These are such common things that I hear from my clients and my students. Because there’s some things that you have never been told, you’ve never been told the career decisions. They have a predictable pattern. They have a way of happening. I call it a life cycle. And when we understand the stages of that lifecycle, and we know where we are in it, we stop going around in circles, anybody out there going around in circles, going doing the same things over and over again, and just not moving forward?

Well, I’m glad you’re here, because we have put this together for you in what I call the career decision lifecycle. And when you skip over any of the stages in the life cycle, that is the trap, that is where you get stuck, where the decision comes undone, it doesn’t fully get made, it doesn’t stick. My goal for you is to have a process that makes decisions stick. And that’s what I’m going to show you in the career decision lifecycle. Now as we go along, you can download the career decision lifecycle here on this page. And you know, take some notes, make some marks write down where you believe you are, right now.

Here’s the first stage. I call it the whispers. You know what the whispers are right? There, the little thing that pops up, kind of just speaking at you kind of gnawing at you because your whispers in many ways are not about your brain are not about what you think. But they really are about what you feel what you want, what you need. You know, they’re those little voices in your head that start to question, but you know, when we’re not listening to them or not ready to move through this stage, we talk back to them, Oh, I’ll worry about that later. Or I yeah, that’s probably true. But I’ve got all these other things I have to focus on now.

Well, if you really want to move forward and make a career decision, you’ve got to listen to the whispers. You got to pay attention to what’s pulling at you. And one of the things we focus on in our process of helping people make better career decisions is to find those spaces where they can hear those whispers where they can understand what their body, their mind, their soul, everything about them is trying to tell them there’s an old phrase that says you can only see yourself in still water. Well, we’re all moving pretty fast today, right? One of the things that investing in a coaching program or individual coaching or just taking some time for you once in a while. To be able to get that clarity to see yourself in that Stillwater and we have some processes that are built into our programs and courses to allow you to do that while still living your busy life we can all go off on a sabbatical or just put life on pause, right? Man, wouldn’t it be cool if we could just do that I want a remote control for life. But I don’t think I’m going to get that right away. So the whispers, they may not tell you what to do. You know, they’re probably not going to tell you to build a baseball field in Iowa, right. But the whispers always tell you that it’s time to do their the time nudge when the whispers start to get louder. That’s the time that you need to act. And you do have to get quiet enough to hear them, you have to have the strategies to be able to focus and understand what they’re trying to tell you and how to move forward from there. So now Stage Two that I call the pain, the pain. None of us wants to go through pain. None of us wants our loved ones, our people we care about to have any pain, because we think of pain as this big, dramatic, awful, terrible thing.

But here’s the secret. Pain can actually be really good pain can be a motivator. But we have to understand where we are on the pain scale. And this may look familiar to you, right? If you’ve ever been in a doctor’s office, you’ve probably seen something like this, the whole series of smiley, to sad faces to say, on a scale of one to 10 Where’s your pain. And I’m going to tell you something that might be really mind-blowing right now. So hold on to your hat. You know, just be careful. Because this is something that most people are not talking about. Pain is perceived. Pain is not equal. Pain is based on our experiences, our comparisons, and our own level of self-knowledge. So here’s how pain works. Pain is just something that registers in our brain with all the other things in comparison to other things, against all the other things that we have in our brain and just our brain. This is why one person’s lousy job might be another person’s Great job, even if the work and the environment are exactly the same. Pain is perceived, you know, one experience that some of you may have moms and people who love moms who’ve given childbirth, especially in the developed world where we’ve used things like an epidural to numb the nerve, then what the epidural does is blocking that nerve from transmitting pain to the brain. It doesn’t change the experience stem below that it’s very painful and physically damaging. But it helps the brain to experience less pain.

So we need to make sure that we’re really understanding the pain that we have and taking away our own personal epidurals like putting it aside, or just staying really busy or focusing on things that really don’t matter. We teach I teach a lot of that in my programs and with my clients of really focusing on what is the pain? What is the thing that I need to solve? So what’s your pain level right now? You know, how much does what’s happening to you hurt you, maybe you have some urgent pain, you know, that you have, you’re going to need to make a move. And so you’re going to need to make some career changes or some professional changes, you know, or maybe the pains not quite there yet. But understanding the pain is important.

And now wait a minute, I got to tell you, this is a trap. Right? I call this a decision trap. And you’ll find on the career decision lifecycle handout that there are these little circles, these circular arrows that are marked along the way. And there are places where we can get stuck going round and round and round. And the place between the whispers and the pain, we can get stuck because we can start to hear something and start to feel it. And then our natural protective epidural kicks in again. We’re like, oh, it’s not that bad. And then we go silent again, and then the whispers come up again. And then we start to feel the pain but then we push it aside.

So if that’s you, you need to know the ways to move through and past that pain, to use it to motivate you to move to the next step, so you can move forward. So watch out for the trap. You know, as human beings, we are all programmed to avoid pain. And so if we don’t let ourselves actually experience it and admit it, we can’t move forward. And a lot of times, especially in our corporate environments, we were not encouraged to admit that something’s wrong. Especially most of us have become successful, because we’re the people, we’re the go to people, right?

We’re the people that get everything done. We’re the people that just make it happen, even if it looks impossible. So we’re not very well practiced in saying, hey, something’s broken here. Something’s wrong here. Something’s not working here. So we have strategies to be able to do that, to move forward to the next step. And the next stage is what I call the catalyst. Now, what do I mean by a catalyst, if you heard my story earlier, you know, my catalyst actually happened in a cold McDonald’s parking lot when my boss called my boss who I admired and who had taken really good care of me and move me forward and just was a great sponsor and advocate as well as a friend. And she told me she was retiring. And, in the same breath, told me that I wasn’t getting her job. And I realized, darn, I didn’t want that job. And that wasn’t sour grapes, it really was an honest, few. But then at the same time, the thought emerged as to So what now.

So you might have catalysts that have happened or will be happening to you. And for many people, many of the clients that I’ve worked with a catalyst can be varied. And the catalyst can be something as simple as a birthday, right, that symbol that, you know, life is moving forward. And maybe it’s joyous in the sense of, oh, you know, this is a marker. And I’m so proud of where I am today. And I want to continue that. But sometimes it’s another year. And then, of course, first, like first of the year, first of the month, those are always markers. Sad events, like illness and death, remind us even death of somebody you don’t know that there was celebrity or death of a neighbor or somebody that you maybe knew.

Tangentially, I know, it’s happened to me several times when there’s been the death of a colleague who I worked with years ago. And it wasn’t even friends with them today. But it can hit me hard because it looks like you. You know, then there are business changes, like resignations of your manager, your leader or colleague. And of course changes like mergers or acquisitions, or even the rumors of those.

And finally, another major catalyst that can happen is a personal health scare. I have several clients right now who have their own health challenges, and need to be making some changes and some decisions. Or maybe like me, they need to figure out ways to take better care of their family, maybe an older relative. Couple years ago, I had a catalyst of realizing that I needed to be closer, I wanted to be closer to my family, in my dad’s final years, and that made a huge difference to recognize that and to start making some decisions around where I needed to be and what I needed to do. So one of those catalysts is probably if you haven’t experienced it already, if you aren’t experiencing it, now, it is on the path for you. And what the catalyst does is help elevate the pain it helped bring the pain forward. So what’s that catalyst? So one coming up? Is there one that’s happened? When you recognize the catalyst, the thing that’s going to drive you forward, you move into what I call the exploration? Now, let me tell you a secret. This is the place that most people start, right. And it is probably the biggest mistake that I see when anyone starts to think that they are ready for career change, because they do stupid things. Like, you know, they said, Oh, well, I, if I want to change, then I guess I better put my resume together. And I guess I better start sending it out to lots of people, lots of people, whatever. And then nothing. Crickets. Right. I won’t go into it here. But I have a whole article on my blog at red cape called don’t update your resume, do this instead. And so if you’re somebody who started right in the middle of the process in exploration, and you’re like, let me get the resume and let me get that out there. I urge you take a minute, read this article and be sure to come back here. So effective exploration when you’re doing it right when you’ve listened to the whispers and you’ve noticed the pain and let yourself feel that pain and had the catalyst that’s going to turn the corner make you move forward. The exploration starts with getting clear on who you are, who you really are, who somebody else thinks you should be, and getting clear on what you want in your life at work. And it comes, when you do these four basic things, you have to understand your values, you have to confirm your long-term vision. And that includes things like geography, where do you want to be financial? How much money do you need, this is such an important thing that so many of us, it stops so many of us because we don’t have a vision about money. It’s just about your family, your community, other things that are important to you. Clarity is also essential to define your superpowers, the things that make you unique and special and soaring through a world of work and your strengths. And then specifying your ideal environment. What’s the kind of culture? What’s the kind of place that you want to work in? What does it look and feel like? So many things, we miss getting clear on these things. And so we dive into opportunities, and they’re not a fit. We don’t understand why. So, hey, could this be a trap? Hey, absolutely. You’ve got to watch out for the trap here. This trap is that we start looking at things and look at things and they look good, and we’re smart. And we think we could do a lot of different things. But we haven’t done all the work on the clarity. We haven’t answered the questions for ourselves. We don’t have a clear template to follow a roadmap that says, This is what I want for me.

Exploration is an inside job first, not before, not you know, it comes on before looking outside, we make the mistake of looking at what the world wants, what the world’s advertising for, and not what do we want. And then we can go seek out the places the people that situations that need what we have. Okay, stage five, stage five is the decision. And let me tell you a little bit about the word decision. Let’s define it Jawi, well, let in Latin decision, the translation of decision actually means to cut, to cut. So it means eliminating options. It means closing doors, it means shutting down possibilities. Now in a world that we live in, it has so many options and so many possibilities, that can get really, really hard. And so what happens is that we start to waffle, you know, we if we are not solidly making a good decision, and not following the steps and the steps that will come, we go back and forth and round and round, and it becomes another trap, right? So because we think we’ve made a decision, yes, I’m going to take the new job, the new opportunity at the company, a different company, or yes, I’m going to take the new project within my own company, because it’s going to give me some more exposure, or I’m going to be able to learn something different. You know, the decision doesn’t have to be made to do something totally different. Or even to leave your company, it could be a decision to do something or change something right where you are. But when you hit the decision, are you done? Oh, no, my friends, you are not done yet. And this is more secret sauce that nobody’s talking about, except me. And you’re right here right now. So you’re in the right place. If you want to have a decision that sticks, you have to manage the transition. This is a place where a lot of people fail. Have you ever had a friend who started a new job or took on a new project? And it was, she thought it was a solution to something that she that was broken that she just didn’t like in their old job. And it became just as problematic as the thing she had left it for. I see this happen way too many times. And it’s because we don’t do the work to make the decisions stick. We don’t manage the transitions. And I recommend a lot of books. But this over the years continues to be one of my favorites. It’s called Managing transitions. It’s by a gentleman named William Bridges. And it’s a short, easy read. But it is so simple and clear about how it’s not the change that breaks us. It’s the transition, you know, bridges talks about the stages of transition and the stages and we’re going to and I’ve adapted his work into the remaining stages in our plan. So I’m fully giving him credit, please go by the book, read his book, study his work. But what he talks about is that over time, we have to start with ending and then we move through this big ugly place called the neutral zone and we had to do that before we get to a new beginning. So let me go into depth in that in the way that I look at it on our career decision lifecycle, and the one that can work for you So I like to call this stage the intentional ending. Because so many times we start something new, while our foot is still in another world, has anybody done that? I’ve done that, especially if you’re taking new opportunities within your own company, or you’re starting a new project or taking on working with a different group of people, we’ve got to be intentional about what’s ending. And so what has to end before you can move ahead, if you’re making a decision to start a new job, or to start a new career, what are the things you have to let go to make that successful. And they might be things like attitudes or beliefs, they could be relationships, or assumptions, habits, or even commitments, things that are on our calendar that worked for who we had been, but aren’t working for who we want to be.

And that’s a great segue into the next stage, which, you know, in Bill bridges, words called he calls it the neutral zone. And I love this idea because it so encapsulates places where we get stuck. Because the neutral zone is where we haven’t quite left behind the old but we’re getting we’re probably getting past it. We’re not quite to the new stage yet. Whoa, share, we might physically be working in a new office, hanging out with a new team, maybe we have a new boss. But there’s something that’s just not fully formed yet. The future is not exactly clear. The picture is we’re not there yet. And sometimes we don’t even know what where there is. It’s a time of chaos and creativity. And so because it is this is a trap, right? We get the chaos that makes us upset because we like things to be in control. We like things to be in order. And so we think, Oh, this is chaos, so is this a bad decision? Did I make a mistake, and then maybe we go back and, you know, we start to revisit that maybe we go back to exploration, or maybe we even, you know, go back to the pain and we live in that place for a while, we can go round and round. The way to get out of the trap is to intentionally choose creativity is to be okay with the chaos. And to know that this is a time when something new is happening, something new in you. And something new around the organization, the role wherever you are. And so it’s time for you to take control, and make new rules, to make changes to do things differently, and maybe ways that they haven’t been done before, and especially ways that you may not have done them before. So intentionally being brave, and choosing that creativity. It’s one of the reasons I think that building our career courage is so important as well. And then you’re at stage eight, that’s the new beginning. That’s the time when you feel like I got this, right, you know, down deep, you are doing what’s right for you. Those whispers those little nudges in your brain, that bird pulling out that worm, they settle down. And maybe you don’t relax, because hey, you’re busy, and there’s a lot going on. But you really feel energized. You’re what I call wearing your red cape, you’re soaring through your work and your life. That’s my wish for every single one of you. And so now back to you. Now that you know the career decision lifecycle, where are you? Are you just doing the whispers? Are you feeling the pain? Are you experiencing a catalyst or something that’s pushing you forward? Are you in the exploration? Maybe you haven’t done the other work? You know, have you made a decision and it’s kind of unsure you’re not sure if it’s right or not. Maybe you’re having the attentional ending right now you’re trying to close out something or maybe you’re in that neutral zone where you’ve made some decisions, but you’re kind of waffling you’re, you’re in the chaos. You’re it’s your it’s just crazy. Or maybe you’re in the new beginning, you’re ready for whatever comes along. There’s different work to do at different stages. So where are you in the career decision lifecycle? Did you see yourself in one of the stages? Maybe you’re in the whispers? Maybe that’s why you’re here is that you’re starting to hear those little voices that say it’s time to think about change. Or maybe you’re already in exploration, you’ve been swirling around and looking at things and nothing’s really coming together. In or maybe you are sitting in a cold McDonald’s parking lot. And you’re having a catalyst moment? Well, wherever you are, I want to help you get out of the decision traps and move forward to make the best career decision that you can make. And I have good news for you. You’re not alone. I’m here to help to be your guide. Also, I need to warn you, there’s a lot of rotten career advice that’s still out there. I think it’s well-meaning, but a lot of

it is outdated, and just doesn’t fit today’s successful professional. And so I want to show you what’s broken so that you can avoid those traps. I want to show you what’s working so that you can build those decision-making muscles. And whether you have a decision to make today, or a decision sometime in the future or whether it’s your decision, or you’re forced into a decision. I want you to have the tools that keep you in control. So you can make your decisions with more competence and less stress.

So here’s my question for you. If we were to meet here a year from now, would you be able to say that the career that you have is the one where you feel like you are wearing that red cape where you are soaring through your work and your life? And if we were to meet here three years from now, would you be able to look back and say that you made a difference made an impact for yourself in your own growth or for your family, or your community or your cause something that matters to you? Well, your career decisions today are the backbone of all that. It’s my honor to be your guide in helping you make better career decisions with less stress, and more confidence. And if this was a value to you, I hope that you will share it with a friend or family member or a colleague or somebody who may be in your world who’s struggling to make a big career decision. It would be my honor for you to give this gift and share it with them. I love hearing from you. Thanks for being here. And we’ll see you soon.

My book, Red Cape Rescue: Save Your Career, helps you learn how to take back control of your career at any point in your life. If you can’t make a career decision, get it now at

dan pink endorsement of Red Cape Rescue by Darcy Eikenberg