7 Steps To Identify You’ve Outgrown Your Career or Business and What To Do About It
“Why am I constantly throwing out food in this house?!” I exasperatedly exclaim – for the first time out loud. It seemed like for weeks now the fridge had been piling up with food and the compost was overflowing with decaying lettuce and mushy cucumber. Not to mention the containers piling up in the fridge, filled with Tuesday night’s dinner, and Wednesday’s, and Thursday’s, to be honest. And it’s now Sunday.
My husband and daughter just looked at me.
“Well, there’s only three of us now,” says Daughter.
Yes, obviously, we’re down one child who is now away at university, but that can’t be the whole reason, she didn’t eat that much, I rationalize.
There must be something else.
I looked at my daughter across the table from me and realized – “You’re not taking leftovers to school for lunch anymore.”
It was true. She had hit the age where it “isn’t cool” to eat. Not in the traditional way anyway, no more sitting down at a lunchroom table and cracking open yummy stir fry from the night before. Now lunch had to be consumed while walking, texting and talking non-stop with the 20 friends who congregated at lunchtime. This means it’s now granola bars, fruit, and handheld anything, but plastic containers are so… well… grade 8.
And what had to happen to make the new way of eating in our house work again?
“Just make less,” says my wise 13-year-old.
But it wasn’t just about making less. Maybe I didn’t want to make less. Maybe I liked the old way. Maybe I would rather my daughter was eating a nutritional lunch instead of whatever she could consume while walking. Maybe I’d rather my older daughter was still home sitting around the table with us.
Maybe I didn’t want to change. But something was going to have to change to address the new way of being. And what’s the solution going to be? What’s it going to take to make that happen?
That’s the thing. That’s the cycle.
- Notice something isn’t working
- Identify the problem
- Find solution to problem
- Make the change
It’s just that the first two steps are often easy. And the third – in this case, the solution is pretty clear – make less food. But the fourth? Making the change. That can be the hardest part.
This awareness got me to thinking about how this cycle also applies to my business. As a solopreneur for as long as I have been – almost 18 years – making shifts in my business to keep myself engaged, to keep my work on the cutting edge, to ensure my clients are happy, to make sure I’m working with the right people, to confirm I’m offering value, to ensure I’m staying relevant – are things that require regular attention and evaluation. Sometimes this process happens easily and seamlessly. Sometimes not so much.
Currently, I find myself at yet another crossroads as my business fills up, and I have to find new ways of working to ensure I am continuing to serve my clients at the highest and deepest level possible. And identifying what needs to change can be complex. The review and evaluation process can leave no stone unturned.
This is one reason why I often look to everyday examples like making too much food, to find new ways of looking at more complex business issues.
What are the questions I need to ask myself to review and evaluate the effectiveness of my business?
- Who am I serving?
- Am I serving the right people?
- Who do I most want to serve?
- How am I serving them?
- Is that process working?
- If not, why not?
- What are the opportunities in front of me now?
And if I’m looking at my career:
- Where am I working?
- Am I working in the right place?
- Am I working with the right people?
- If not, where would I rather be working?
- What would I rather be doing?
- Who would I rather be doing it with?
- What are the opportunities in front of me now?
And that’s the thing: What are the opportunities in front of me now?
Or more importantly: What are the opportunities in front of YOU now?
The challenge here is we too often want to jump to the solution when the root of the problem hasn’t been explored deeply enough. We too often get stuck in the “how” and all the reasons the various solutions won’t work before we have fully explored the problem or situation.
I invite you to use this simple four-step process to go deeper before we jump to the solution:
1. Notice something isn’t working
This is the easy part. Some clues might be that you don’t enjoy doing the thing anymore. Something feels hard that used to feel easy. You no longer “experience joy” when doing the thing. You have a negative emotion around a certain activity or experience that used to bring happiness or at least a neutral experience. Now you’ve noticed the thing isn’t working. We can move onto the next step.
2. Identify the problem
Now that we’ve identified the problem – in the example above it’s the throwing out of too much food – what are the reasons for the problem? What is causing this problem to exist? In a workplace example where you’re not enjoying your job anymore, it may show up as a new boss who you don’t like working with so much, or perhaps the company has taken a new strategic direction that is not aligned with you and your values. Perhaps something has changed in you and you’re now bored at work, or you feel your contributions are no longer valued or you’re not excited about doing what you used to do. The closer we can get to the heart of the problem – and spending a significant amount of time here to explore that – the better a chance we’ll have of finding a solution to the right problem.
3. Find solution to problem
There are many ways to tackle a single issue, and in more complex situations, we may need to take many actions to fully solve the problem. In the case of making too much food, it’s pretty simple. I can make less food. It involves a bit of a brain shift, as I’ve been cooking for four people for a very long time, and now I’m cooking for three, but the shift is doable. What about a career you’ve loved for a long time and no longer love anymore? Do you stop that career altogether and try a new one? Or, in keeping your current career, do you find new ways, people or companies to work with so you can bring the value you have to a new way of working? What if you used the skills you have built in your current career in a different way? All these solutions take time to uncover and explore as there are many variables and layers to uncover. Take time here.
4. Make the change
By Jove, you think you’ve got it! You’ve identified the problem and a solution. Now to make it happen. Like my food example, I had to go through some emotional conflict before I started making less food. I didn’t want to make less food because I was holding onto an emotional response to my girls growing up. I had to deal with that emotional response to make room for a more effective solution for now. What do you have to deal with before you’re ready to make the change? What may get in the way? You may not think you have anything to move out of the way and the things that come up for you along the way may surprise you. Don’t be discouraged. It’s all part of the process.
What comes to mind here is a card from Curly Girl Designs that sits in my office with the following quote: “Sometimes your journey will take you off of your path. It’s all part of the same trip.”
So let me leave you this reflection. Now that you have this simple toolkit to evaluate what isn’t working and explore some new options, what are the opportunities in front of you now?
What are the opportunities to shift your business so it fits YOU better now? Where can you make changes at work so it’s more aligned with the YOU who wants to give their all every day?
Hint: It all starts with you. And once you land on what YOU want, the answers will start to unfold.
To your success, in business, in your career, and in life,