I have always thought of January as the reset month – when I initiate new projects, start changing old habits, and commit to well-considered resolutions. It’s a good time to take a career inventory as well.

As I see it, this kind of reset is a process of reflecting on your experiences and feelings, reorienting your goals and commitments, reclaiming your time for what is important to you, restarting the way you engage in the world, and then revising as needs arise.

Reflect

To powerfully reset your career, you need to start with deep reflection. That reflection needs to extend beyond career considerations to encompass your whole life so that you can see where career fits in. Rather than mull things over in the spaces between other activities, dedicate substantial time in a quiet environment to think and to write so you can sort things out in your head. It’s also useful to get out of your head and into conversation with at least one other person – a loved one, a trusted colleague, a coach, or a counselor. They can help you to clarify your thinking and see differing perspectives.

These questions will prompt you to reflect deeply:

  • How do you feel about where you stand personally, professionally, spiritually, financially? What is going well and what is faltering? Why? What have you learned about yourself and your approach in these areas?
  • To what degree are you satisfied with your career? To what degree do you feel able to make valuable contributions and do work you enjoy?
  • What are your desires for each of these facets of your life (personal, professional, spiritual, financial, career)? What needs to stay the same? What needs to change?
  • When do you feel you are at your best? When are you most often in a state of flow? What are your strengths and where do you get to use them? Are you comfortable with the amount of time you spend in these satisfying, flow-inducing, and strength-stretching activities? How can you get there more often?

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Reorient

After spending time in serious thought, you are in a much better position to craft your vision for yourself, your commitments, and your goals. Your vision is your desired state of being in the world, commitments are broad resolutions about behaviors and attitudes that can help you get there, and goals are specific actions or initiatives that fulfill your vision and commitments.

The career element of your vision requires you to consider future roles, the competencies and role-specific skill sets you want to use or develop, and lifestyle implications of the job you hold (now or in the future).

Consider these questions to reorient yourself:

  • Who do you want to be? What roles do you want to play? How would you describe how you want to be present in those roles? Where do you want to be? (Geography, community, organization.) With whom?
  • How would you describe your career trajectory? Where do you see it going from here?
  • What commitments do you want to make to yourself or others? You might call these resolutions or new habits. Align these with your vision – what do you need to do to manifest your vision?
  • What are your specific goals, the steps that will help you to enact your vision for yourself? How can you operationalize your commitments? On the one hand, you don’t want to turn your vision into a soul-sucking to-do list, but on the other hand, an accumulation of actions is needed to get where you want to go.

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Reclaim

Once you have that vision in your mind, you need to – as they say – reclaim your time. As Oliver Burkman has said, “What would it mean to spend the only time you ever get in a way that truly feels as though you are making it count?” It’s very easy for activities and obligations to muscle their way into our schedule without careful thought. You may need to say “no” more often in order for there to be room for all you want to say “yes” to.

Of course, a life that is scheduled end-to-end isn’t usually desirable either. As you reclaim time from activities that aren’t suiting your needs, leave plenty of time unscheduled. When open slots come up in your schedule, you can decide the best use of them… which may be just stopping to pause and breathe!

To reclaim your time, consider these questions:

  • How have you been spending your time? What time do you feel is not well-spent? What activities take time but engender no good feelings?
  • How does an estimated allocation of time across all categories of activities align with your priorities (e.g. family activities, recreation and entertainment, work, hobbies, friend meet-ups, church)? What needs to be allocated more time?
  • Consider similar questions related to your work time only… how does your schedule align with your priorities?
  • How can you arrange your schedule to make your vision more reachable?

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Restart

Once you’ve got your vision on paper, start putting it into action. This may or may not include an actual plan or to-do list. Some people can be guided by a vision without making a detailed plan, while others need to break down activities to ensure they move in the right direction. Regularly review or recall your vision and ask yourself if you’re living into it. You don’t have to start everything at once. Pick the immediate priorities and hold off on the rest; their time will come.

Here are some points to ponder when restarting:

  • What do you need to do to make your vision a reality? Would it be helpful to break any aspect of your vision into steps you can accomplish in the short run?
  • What are the priorities, the things that need to be moved on first? Are there activities that need to be scheduled?
  • What do you need to learn in order to move forward? How will you go about increasing your knowledge or honing your skills?
  • What can you ask of others so they can give you the kind of support you need? Who can be a cheerleader for accomplishment of your vision? How can you bring these people into your confidence about your dreams?

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Revise

Think of your plan as an experiment – you laid out the purpose and procedures; you have to regularly check your progress and results. It may be useful to put regular check-ins about your vision and goals on your calendar. Hopefully, you’ll feel great about how things are going, but you may at times need course-corrections or new strategies, and it’s best to realize that sooner rather than later. Involve others in your examination of your progress; they can provide feedback, perspective, and inspiration. And don’t underestimate the power of calling your chosen path into question when it no longer feels right. Don’t be afraid to linger in an interesting detour or to change your mind about your destination – it’s all part of the journey.

When you need to monitor where you are, consider these questions:

  • What parts of your plan are going smoothly and where are there rough spots? What needs rethinking or reallocation?
  • What progress are you making toward your vision? In what ways is your vision becoming more clear or more cloudy? How can you further hone your vision from here?
  • What changes have occurred that merit reexamination of your vision? Look for emerging trends and new opportunities; how do they figure into your vision (if at all)?
  • What insights have you gained that (should) shift your purpose and goals?

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Truth be told, while you can pick any time of the year to make a fresh start, you’re likely constantly cycling through these reset activities. The world does not stay constant; doors close and windows open and you may have reason to reimagine your future before a year is even up. Stay open to opportunities and watch out for barriers that may be insurmountable. It’s important to remember you can reset your life whenever circumstances or mood seem to invite deep questions.

We always may be what we might have been. ~ Adelaide Anne Procter

This article is cross-posted from my January 2024 newsletter.