I’ve seen many people who leave the Mothership go on similar trajectories, where they go from contract to business idea to job to consulting then another business idea and so on. They circle through the same small set of options in a random order, without really making anything stick. I know this pattern because I’ve been through it myself.
When I was made redundant (properly) I got outplacement and I spent 6 months applying for roles, going to interviews and getting down to the last two without actually landing a job. Then I started to get some consultancy work through my contacts, so I did that for a year or so. One of my clients was looking for a senior marketing person, encouraged me to apply and I duly got the job. It was the wrong job for me, in the wrong industry, working for the wrong sort of people but, hey, it was a job! And a well-paid one, at that.
Of course, the job didn’t work out and after a couple of years we agreed to part (let’s call it ‘artistic differences’). So then I went back to consultancy but, as I was now more distant from my network, opportunities were harder to find. I did get a chance of a job, however, although I was treated so disrespectfully by the interviewer that I decided to ‘do my own thing’, which led to me buying a franchise.
It was not a good decision. I am the wrong sort of person for a franchise and the people who ran it, it transpired, were not my sort of people. After 3 years we agreed to go our separate ways (it was complicated…). So it was back to doing a bit of consultancy, and some coaching. Then I got involved in someone’s business for a few months but that fizzled out. The consultancy leads dried up. I played around with the coaching stuff. I got involved in someone else’s new business, which turned into a sales role. After a year I realised it wasn’t right for me and I went back to coaching and consultancy ….
And so it goes on. Ever decreasing circles, going through the same narrow set of options, with less and less energy, as your world seems to be getting smaller and smaller …
I may have made particularly heavy weather of it, some do manage to make something stick and make enough to get them by. For many of them, however, they are keeping still at best. There’s something missing. In fact, there’s quite a lot missing, like satisfaction, meaning, purpose, connection and fun.
This sort of spiral can be dangerous, especially if it continues downward. Spirals, however, can go upwards as well and the name of game is to change the direction. You see, there is nothing inherently wrong with moving between these different types of activity, that’s the nature of a career in the modern workplace. In fact, it’s quite possible that you will find yourself doing several of these at the same time, the ‘portfolio’ career as it’s sometimes called. The objective is to make them work with each other to propel you upwards, not downwards. To create a virtuous circle, one with increasingly richer opportunities and options. Ever expanding circles, you could say.
The first step to making this change in direction is to acknowledge where you are. Are you on a downward trajectory, cycling through the options, going around in ever decreasing circles? Have you stabilised on one but feel that it’s not really enough, that you are working hard just to keep still? Not going downwards, perhaps, but still going round in circles.
It can be very hard to see where you are and to be really honest with yourself, so you really need to speak to someone else who can take a detached view and will push you to answer the hard questions. That could be a trusted colleague who knows you well or perhaps two or three, to give you different perspectives and ideas.
If you feel you lack those contacts, you can use a coach who is trained to listen, question and hold you to account in order to get to the nub of the matter. A coach will also be able to help you decide what the options are and work out the things you can do to turn those circles into a virtuous upwards spiral to a better future.
Whichever you choose (which could be both), take some action to make sure you don’t keep going around in those ever decreasing circles.