Finding Success in a Career Identity Crisis

Have you ever suffered a career identity crisis? If so, you know how scary it can be to navigate those choppy waters, while at the same time trying to make the best decisions for your future career. For those of you who aren’t sure what I’m referring to, you’re either not paying enough attention to your career, or it’s something you’ve experienced without really dealing with it.

A career identity crisis can occur at any time. You might feel as if you’ve outgrown your dead-end job and you’re unsure about the next step to take. Or, you’ve discovered some new skills that could take you in a completely opposite direction from the career path you’ve been working towards. Either way, we’re all bound to face a career identity crisis at least once (if not many times) throughout our careers.

When I think back to my very own career, I can identify at least two specific instances when I faced a career identity crisis. Even as I write this article, I’m currently facing my third. Although our instincts tell us to run from such situations, would you think I’m crazy if I told you I actually look forward to each career identity crisis that comes my way? It’s true. I’ve learned that if I look at each career identity crisis as an opportunity, I’ll ultimately find success and growth at the end of the tunnel.

You, too, can do this for yourself; it’s simply a matter of changing how you react. Here’s what I’ve learned about each career identity crisis I’ve faced.

You Can’t Avoid It.

career identity crisis

When a career identity crisis strikes, your options are limited. One thing is certain: you can’t avoid it. Don’t get me wrong; you can choose to ignore it. You can even pretend it’s not happening and resolve yourself to inaction. There’s a lot you can do to keep it off your radar; however, you can’t avoid the ramifications of your decisions, or more importantly, your indecisions.

Life is constantly sending you signals, warnings and red flags about the world around you. These signals usually start small, like a small pebble being bounced off your head. You may notice it, but you’re not paying attention to the meaning of it. Over time, these signals become stronger, and before you know it, it’s like a piano being dropped on you from the 100th floor.

Are you avoiding your very own career identity crisis now? If so, snap out of it! People who avoid the ebb and flow of their careers end up adrift. Failing to grow with your career will ultimately derail it. You’ll start feeling stuck and conflicted about a job you’ve outgrown. You’ll become uncertain about the future, and ultimately paralyzed with the fear of making a decision.

Your Career is Always Evolving.

career identity crisis

A career is like an evolving life form—it’s constantly changing, growing and redefining itself. How you deal with those changes determines the outcome. My first major career identity crisis occurred in 2009. I was working for Kohl’s Department Stores as a Loss Prevention Supervisor in Casa Grande, Arizona.

In the spring of 2009, I had the opportunity to join the Kohl’s Corporate Loss Prevention Team in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At the time, I knew this was my opportunity to jump into a salaried position and further my Loss Prevention career. I was now working as a Loss Prevention Training Coordinator—I was a “corporate guy” with a career trajectory.

During that first year in my new job, I helped develop a new onboarding program and single-handedly developed five new eLearning courses on how to catch shoplifters. I learned how to use my first eLearning authoring tool (Articulate Studio ’09) and several graphic design tools. I also uncovered hidden talents for presentation design and visual communications.

As exciting as this was, I also started questioning my future career. As I worked to develop training programs and awareness materials for the loss prevention department, I was no longer viewed as the “corporate loss prevention guy.” I was now the guy who could “make things look pretty on the screen.” Although I was still working within the loss prevention department, loss prevention was no longer my function—it just happened to be the subject of my work, which was now eLearning and graphic design.

Regardless of your profession, career evolution is inevitable, especially if you’re a career-minded person like me. This occurs most often with people who jump into jobs and learn a new skill or uncover a hidden talent. How do you deal with these new interests or talents when they have nothing to do with your planned career path?

Despite how scary these possibilities may seem, you have an obligation to yourself to explore them. If not, you could be closing doors for growth and future opportunities.

You Must Embrace It.

career identity crisis

As I mentioned earlier, when a career identity crisis strikes, your options are limited. Besides denying yourself the possibility of it, the only other option is to embrace it. Embracing a career identity crisis is how real growth occurs, and it introduces you to possibilities you never thought possible.

When faced with my first career identity crisis while working at Kohl’s, did I struggle with what to do? Of course, I did! Embracing change is never easy. But, after a lot of thought, I embraced it and decided to make the jump from loss prevention and into eLearning.

After making that leap, I’ve found more success than I ever could have imaged. I left Kohl’s in 2012 to become an eLearning Project Manager for the State of Wisconsin. During that time, I created my own website, blog and online portfolio, and started freelancing as an eLearning designer. This allowed me to double my income, elevate my exposure within the eLearning industry, and land my first speaking gig at the 2014 Learning Solutions Conference.

I now travel across the country to teach others to create great eLearning. I also co-authored my first book: E-Learning Uncovered: Articulate Storyline 2. I was able to achieve this success, not because I planned it (you can never truly plan for success), but because I embraced my career identity crisis. I took a risk on myself and learned the meaning of true career growth.

How did you deal with your own career identity crisis?

Tim Slade
Tim Slade is a speaker, author, and award-winning freelance eLearning designer. Having spent the last decade working to help others elevate their eLearning and visual communications content, Tim has been recognized and awarded within the eLearning industry multiple times for his creative and innovative design aesthetics. Tim is a regular speaker at international eLearning conferences, is a recognized Articulate Super Hero, author of The eLearning Designer’s Handbook and creator of The eLearning Designer's Academy.

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