The first time I made a major career change, I felt lost, very alone, and not at all sure I was doing the right thing.
But some years later, as I began making my second career change, I discovered a transition model called the Cycle of Renewal that helped me make sense of what I was going through.
Introduced by Frederic Hudson and Pamela McLean in their book, LifeLaunch, this cycle is something that occurs over and over throughout our lives and includes four basic phases:
Phase 1 – “Go For It”
In the first phase of the cycle, you’ve settled into a new career or life project. You have a clear vision of what you want to do, and you feel focused, purposeful, and optimistic as you pursue your goals. This can be an exciting and productive time.
But unfortunately, it’s not meant to last. At some point along the way, you’re going to start feeling dissatisfied with your work. The activities that were once so fulfilling will begin to seem routine and less challenging. You may find yourself wanting to call in sick more often, or you may begin spending way too many hours at work. Either way, this brings you into the next phase.
Phase 2 – “Stuck in the Doldrums”
Here, you finally admit to yourself that you’re no longer happy in your work. You might feel burned out or stuck, unable to see a way ahead just yet. But as trapped as you may feel, you’re afraid to risk making significant changes in your life.
When your work and your values are no longer a good fit, it’s a clear call for you to reassess your situation. A time-out is in order.
Phase 3 – “Cocooning”
Taking time out from what’s no longer working is necessary before you can find a new direction for your life. The cocooning phase is all about letting go of the “old you” of Phase 2, so you can open up to and create something new. It’s a time of discomfort and withdrawal, as well as introspection and renewal.
It’s very important that you let it happen. Be patient and let go, as scary as it is. You may be tempted to rush through it, or to return to work that no longer fulfills, anything to get rid of those uncomfortable feelings of not knowing what’s ahead. But the quiet, inside-out process of cocooning is an integral part of your transition, and it can’t be rushed. Just know that the answers will come, in time.
After all, when you think about a cocoon, what’s in it? It’s the caterpillar dissolving in order to emerge at some point as a butterfly. Until it’s ready to fly, it remains un-formed.
Gradually, as you get back in touch with your values and purpose, you’ll begin to create a new vision and see new possibilities for your life.
Phase 4 – “Getting Ready for the Next Chapter”
After the often-uncomfortable cocooning stage comes a time of renewed optimism and creativity. This is a time for experimenting with the ideas that formed during the previous phase. As you explore new possibilities and try out new roles, you might take a class or two, learn new skills, and connect with people in the areas that interest you now.
In this stage, you start to see a way ahead and begin taking steps forward. You may find you don’t want to start over in an entirely new career. Smaller changes may be all that are needed for you to feel refreshed and ready to reengage. And eventually you will find your way into Phase 1 again, with a renewed sense of purpose.
When making a career change, we often look outside ourselves for the answers. We look to see what jobs are hot. Or we base our choice on what seems most practical at the time. But authentic career change comes from within.
This kind of change can be uncomfortable, a bit untidy, and can take much longer than we like, but it’s reassuring to know that these stages are normal and happen to everyone. That you’re not alone.
And when you know what to expect, you can take some control over anticipating and managing change. Since the Cycle of Renewal recurs throughout your life, you can plan ahead and prepare for these natural phases. Instead of reacting to change, you can meet it head on, charting your own career path with intention and deliberation.
What phase of the Cycle of Renewal are you in?