How to approach a career re-evaluation

When a career has reached a plateau, a dead end or a crossroads, it can be a very stressful and frustrating time. There is a tendency to go around in circles or vacillate for some considerable time, occasionally even decades.

It can be hard to share career concerns with colleagues and family may not understand or simply get weary of a repeating record.

In these situations, which we have seen many times during our 25 years advising the medical profession, there are a number of key issues that need addressing:

Making time for career analysis

Many people try to make big decision on inadequate information - about themselves as well as what is out there - and even worse, they try to do this in the midst of a breakneck schedule. Allocating ‘protected’ and calm time for career planning allows a comprehensive and well structured approach and is a surefire way to get results. Not doing so often causes complete stalemate or worse, a downwards spiral.

Having a clear vision of what one wants from life as well as a career

This is crucial to work life balance; not knowing where you are going, or adopting the ‘any road will take you there’ mentality applies here.

Career management skills

Identifying these is crucial in getting and keeping a career on track; otherwise, it can lead to a plateau, brick wall or fizzle out. Sometimes it is literally only one of these skills that is completely holding a person back. The trick is finding out which one.

Keeping options open, and generating more options

It is a common thought that if one is working and employed then one should be grateful. However, having the ability to generate options and decide between them throughout the whole of one’s career is a useful skill to have, not least because it stops one ever feeling trapped (the latter being a common problem in many careers, not just medical).

These are just four of many issues that arise when a career of some years standing has hit the buffers for whatever reason.

Why go to what may feel like a huge amount of trouble (even finding time to do this properly can be an enormous challenge) to reevaluate your work? The answer is simple: things change. Your health may change, the job changes, you change, your social and family circumstances change, your dreams change, your priorities change. In fact, pretty much everything changes and this influences whether a current career is now still in balance and taking you where you want to go in the manner you’d wish it to, or not.

Now this can all feel very scary. However, re-evaluation does not invariably mean radical change, nor tearing up the GMC certificate nor wasting all those hard earned skills. But it does mean the chance to explore yourself and your potential as well as face up to some realities that you may have been avoiding. Finding the courage to tackle this can be the biggest barrier to forging a career plan, one that fits you like a hand-in-glove rather than a square peg in a round hole, or a gerbil on a treadmill.

The very first step then might be a very simple one, but is not necessarily easy i.e. to merely fully accept that things have changed. If they have then it is perfectly reasonable to reevaluate your career: where you work, how you work, how much you work, what you work at, with whom you work and why you work. In fact if medics were encouraged to do this more often throughout their career, they might have more of an understanding of how valuable they are. In turn they might be able to be more assertive about what they find acceptable ways of working and what they won’t tolerate. But that's another article for another day.

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