When we look back at the beginning of 2020, we will all remember it differently.
Some were ramping up their careers while others prepared for a wedding, the birth of a child, or an exciting overseas trip.
Then, the world as we know it changed overnight, and relaxed dinners with friends were exchanged for frenzied trips to the supermarket to stock up on staples, all while avoiding close contact with others.
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the mental and physical wellbeing of working women; child-free women in the workplace reported increasing workloads, and professional women with children juggled the demands of supporting their families while working and schooling from home.
Professional projects, personal plans, and social support systems were all disrupted, and without the usual hustle and bustle of a busy schedule to pull focus, people were suddenly spending a lot more time at home, thinking about their life and career.
Times of crisis inspire introspection and reflection
Many interesting trends emerged during this time of uncertainty and unprecedented isolation, from obsessively baking banana bread to elaborate Zoom birthday parties.
Psychologist Dr Amanda Tobe noticed many female clients using the slower pace of life in lockdown as an opportunity to stop and reflect on their career, asking themselves if it aligned with their personal values and goals.
“This is a moment where I’m finding that people are taking the time to ask themselves: ‘is this what I really want to be doing?’ and ‘do I want more for myself?’,” Dr Tobe said.
“We need moments of pause and restoration to regain perspective of what really matters, how we feel when we are at our best, and what we want for ourselves.
“Interestingly, researchers have indicated that pandemics can trigger our survival instinct on one hand, and on the other hand can trigger a need for personal meaning and self-actualisation.”
Given the devastating impact on unemployment rates, many of Dr Tobe’s clients felt they should be grateful simply to have an income, causing a sense of survivor guilt that clouded their feelings of frustration, exhaustion, or dissatisfaction associated with their careers.
Others responded by working even harder to ensure their work gave them a sense of meaning, fulfillment, and accomplishment.
“When there is so much insecurity and uncertainty around us, it drives us to seek control and ask existential questions,” said Dr Tobe.
Times of crisis can highlight the fact that life is short, leading people to feel a renewed vigor for ensuring they make the most of the time they have, including in the workplace.
Determining the right time for a career pause or change
Knowing when to make a big change is intimidating at the best of times, let alone during a health and financial crisis affecting almost all industries, so connecting to your intuition is an important first step.
“Everyone has differing levels of self-awareness and capacity to consider a [career] move,” Dr Tobe said.
“In some cases, people are lacking motivation and haven’t yet identified career fit as a source of their tension; for others, they already know the disconnect exists. I think it’s important any time in our lives to see tension as information messengers letting us know that values we have are not being met.”
When assessing your career, Dr Tobe suggests tuning into your values and non-negotiables, including development opportunities, leadership, culture, and practical considerations like salary and location.
This can yield valuable insights to guide your exploration of what options may be suited to your skills and existing experience, while also doing work that is meaningful to you.
If you’re unsure of what your core values are, lists like the one available on Brene Brown’s website are useful in the early stages of brainstorming.
Dr Tobe also recommends regularly checking in with yourself, tuning into what you truly want out of your career and remaining open to new possibilities.
“It takes regular career introspection, ideally at least 30 minutes a day, whether that happens through listening to podcasts, reading books, or answering reflection questions,” she said.
The ability to press pause on one’s career will be different for everyone, and for many are limited due to practical and financial considerations.
Yet, there are benefits to taking advantage of this turbulent time by listening to your intuition and asking yourself critical questions, even while continuing in your current role.
“Ultimately, the last year has taught us that things can change on a dime,” Dr Tobe said.
“When you don’t know what the future will bring, it is natural to begin searching for career possibilities. For some of us, our survival instinct has kicked in and we want to know that we’ll be financially secure; for others, our mean making instinct has kicked in and we’re looking for work with greater personal fulfillment. Both are normal responses to what has been a tumultuous year.”
Regardless of how the past year has impacted you and your career, it is important to practise self-compassion, as simply surviving a pandemic and coming out the other side is an incredible achievement.
If you can carve out time among the chaos for introspection and realigning yourself to your true purpose, these challenging times may even be the catalyst for making changes that benefit your career, strengthen your confidence to navigate times of uncertainty, and empower you to build a meaningful, fulfilling life.