Taking the Angst Out of Figuring Out Your Next Career Move

figuring out your next career moveFiguring out your next career move might be stressful.

If you’re like most people, you probably used to plan your career forward. Once you were in the workforce for a while, you might have shifted to planning it “backwards.”

When you are young, you plan forward. You try to find a field you might like. You look to join a company with lots of opportunities for you. You look for more money, more responsibility, more experience.

After a while, you probably set more concrete goals. You start to plan backwards from those goals. You want to be manager of this or head of that or land some other specific position. You figure out the steps necessary to get there and you work toward those goals.

Eventually you might find it hard to plan in these forward or backward ways. You might need to do something different.

At a certain point it becomes hard to figure out new concrete goals about specific jobs you might want to aspire to. And you might feel like taking a new job just for the money or some other vague future opportunity isn’t all that exciting anymore.

You might feel a little stuck. Frustrated. Confused.

It’s stressful to have lots of aspirations and plenty of experience but not know what to do next.

It might be time for less thinking and more action. It might be time to improvise a bit.

Working without a plan

Instead of thinking of how to write the best script, you might want to simply get moving.

I don’t mean quitting your job or making a hasty decision. I’m talking about experimentation.

I’m talking about low-risk, high-reward action.

Here’s the deal.

You already know that you learn the most from experience. It’s from experience that you learn how things really work. Experience teaches you which things you like and which things you don’t like.

Experience also gives you new skills. And new insights into what might be possible.

Why not take that lesson and apply it now? In a low-risk, but high-reward scenario.

I’m talking about a little side hustle.

Working the side hustle

side hustleA side hustle is simply your own little pet project. It’s something you squeeze into the margins of your current life.

You keep your full time job, but you take on something on the side too.

Many people do this for money or for passion. But I’m talking about doing it to learn.

To learn more about yourself, your interests, and your future. To learn what you might be capable of. To learn what you might be interested in. And to learn what might not work.

As an example, maybe you are thinking about shifting into a career in marketing.

Your side hustle experiment could be to volunteer to run the marketing for a local community group.

Imagine reading books, downloading podcasts, and studying trends in marketing and then actually applying those lessons in your volunteer position.

Consider what you might learn by trying to figure out how to restructure a web page or execute a Facebook ad campaign or starting a newsletter for the group.

Your side hustle will drive you to learn. Applying the lessons in the real-world will teach you more. The emotional journey you go through personally will help you gain wisdom.

The same is true if you wanted to try your hand at accounting or programming or project management.

Stretching at work

You can also do this in your day job.

Maybe you can volunteer to serve on a committee. Or get onto a cross-functional team. You might be able to find any number of ways to stretch yourself a bit.

Taking on a different role for a small project, using a different skill set, or working with new people are good ways to do a little “side hustle” right there in your regular job.

Keep in mind that you are looking for low-risk, high-reward opportunities to gain experience. You are running a little experiment to see if you like working new or different angles. You are looking for a chance to develop new skills. You are looking for ways to grow and learn.

The extra benefit of doing this sort of thing in your current job is that it shows great initiative and it lets people see other capabilities you can bring to the table.


Career planning can be stressful. And, at a certain point, planning takes a back seat to action.

You are going to learn more by doing new things than you ever could by just thinking about or talking about doing new things.

You need to experiment.

Setting yourself up with a side hustle is a great way to go far afield into new territory. You might stretch yourself too far. You might fail.

But it’s ok to fail and learn something if the stakes are low.

You can do the same thing at work. You might not stretch too far, but even a little stretch into new territory can help you learn valuable lessons about where you might want to go next.

And it will help you to have more fun along the way.